Wednesday 5 November 2008

I’ve spent the past week dealing with flu, apathy, and the Karlheinz Stockhausen festival at Southbank. Normal service should resume tomorrow, with a violent disagreement between my girlfriend and most of the audience at the weekend performances of Trans.
It’s nice to know a piece of music nearly 40 years old can stir up as much debate now as it did at its premiere. We both went to the performance last year by a student orchestra (Trinity College?), which was a fine example of the low-road approach to presenting Stockhausen’s music. The weekend’s high-road approach brought up some interesting contrasts in how we react to ostensibly the same music.
Conceived as an 80th birthday celebration, now an unexpected memorial, the festival focuses on his last, unfinished cycle of works, Klang. Having witnessed a few more pieces from the cycle now (after hearing two at the Proms in August), what I wrote last year seems more appropriate than ever, to Stockhausen’s later work as a whole.

Audience and orchestra, equally lost in the purple fog, partook of the event in a state not unlike the suspension of disbelief required to embrace the enactment of a myth. Its alien weirdness and denial of rational meaning suspended judgement, the music and its theatre an unquestionable, unalterable fact to be experienced. We all deferred to the indomitable arrogance of Stockhausen, an arrogance that was necessary to trust that he could put across a work he could not understand, without a safety net of explanation or justification.