Xenakis, continued

Wednesday 26 October 2005

I’m afraid this is badly written, but I can’t fiddle about with it forever…
Did I mention that these gigs were almost all sold out? That you can fill a hall with people who want to hear nothing but Xenakis, except maybe for a bit of Feldman and Messiaen* to break things up a little? It’s not often you get to hear live performances of music by composers who wrote stuff which requires musicians to put an effort into getting it right. Most of the time, when a 20th-century composition does get programmed at a concert, it’s something dull that performers and audience alike can safely doze through pretending it’s either Brahms or Gershwin and not caring too much if they get it wrong. Then they fill up the rest of the program with 2nd-rate Brahms, under the assumption that the subscribers will like it (they won’t, but they won’t complain about it either). It seems I’m not the only one who’s been hanging out for a concert where I don’t have to leave early, or arrive late.
Rolf Hind knew how to keep the punters happy at his piano recital, starting and finishing with two of Xenakis’ blockbusters for the solo instrument: Mists and Evryali. Don’t mistake the title of Mists – this is not a soft-focus montage of dewy impressionism, but an implacable study of thousands of motes in a constant roil of Brownian motion. The sheer sonic fireworks of Xenakis’ piano music, coupled with the theatrics of a pianist playing music of such obvious, stupefying virtusoity, makes for superb entertainment. It’s very hard to pretend you’re appreciating the intricacies of Xenakis’ use of arborescences and number sieves in these works when the sound just blows you away.
Evryali is, if anything, even more dazzling – long barrages of rapidly hammered 10-note chords ranging far and wide over the entirety of the keyboard. Given a quick look at the score for the piece, you’d think it was written for four hands; after closer examination you’d still need convincing that one person can be capable of playing it. It’s a great way to finish a concert, especially for an audience who are thinking “This cost me less than half the ticket price of watching Stockhausen operate a tape deck.”
A good way to impress the crowd is to play Evryali immediately after Morton Feldman’s Palais de Mari, a work as soft and still as Evryali is loud and frantic. I went to this recital as much to hear the Feldman as the Xenakis – he’s just about my favourite composer, yet I hadn’t heard this piece before. I was surprised at how overtly beautiful, even romantic, this piece was – at least as Hind performs it. It was written right near the end of Feldman’s life (he died in 1987), between compositions of deep, hermetic ambiguity and spareness of almost opressive austerity (but still beautiful, just not in such a showy way).
Of course, it would have been more impressive to bash out the Xenakis and then sustain the delicacy of touch needed to play Feldman right. Roger Woodward actually did this at the British premiere of Mists, using it as the opener for the premiere of Feldman’s 90-minute long Triadic Memories – although this may explain why his interpretation of Feldman is as mad as a two-bob watch. The biggest problem about this part of the concert was that the punters wre so pumped up by the preceding music that they got restless and fidgety – moreso than usual during a Feldman piece, in which the quiet atmosphere really amplifies those squeaky chairs.
Theatrical highlights: Rolf Hind’s shiny red shirt, like he was Mischka (or Grischka) from Octopussy. And his hunching and gurning throughout the recital, like he was Norman Wisdom/Steve Martin/Tim Ferguson (pick whichever comedian suits your nationality) miming to a record.
(Tomorrow: last instalment, promise! Now I have to post a picture of a cigarette packet.)

* WARNING: Hideous 1996-style website design. Kids, learn how Gorak saw the web!

  1. Yowzer! That Messiaen page is a bit special. And I don't even think he ever included a hummingbird song in his music…

    I enjoyed reading the two new posts on Xenakis, thanks!

  2. A pleasure, glad you liked it.

    As for the hummingbird in Messiaen: maybe someone heard a performance by Glenn Gould?