Total Immersion: Iannis Xenakis

Friday 13 March 2009

There was a battle of loud, irridescent shirts on stage during the Saturday evening Xenakis concert at the Barbican – quite possibly to match the music. Pianist Rolf Hind played Mists again, this time in a shiny green shirt, instead of the shiny red shirt last time I saw him play. Not to be outdone, Christian Lindberg trotted on stage in a shiny red shirt of his own, but much tighter, covered with Chinese symbols, and unbuttoned to reveal a silver medallion as well. Game: Lindberg.
Lindberg’s trombone playing was equally flashy during Xenakis’ late concerto for the instrument, Troorkh. The long, swooping glissandi, sudden leaps in register, and repeated excursions into the highest range of the instrument make this a fiendishly difficult piece for the soloist; something well telegraphed by Lindberg as he jogged on the spot, nodded his head and hummed along with the orchestra to psych himself up between phrases. The orchestra sounded good but remained in the background through most of the piece, though this may have appeared so due as much to the soloist’s antics (and tight-fitting clothes) as the solo itself.
A much stronger work was the earlier orchestral work Antikthon, who roiling mass of conflicting textures was employed as a statement in itself, instead of providing support to a solo. It’s incredible to think the heaving, protean force of this music was conceived as a ballet.
The evening also included a rare performance the Anastenaria trilogy. The final section, Metastasis, is famous as Xenakis’ Opus One, all but completely obscuring the seldom-heard preceding sections. I thought the programme notes’ comparisonsof the first two pieces to Carl Orff and Bartok were a bit silly, until I heard the music. Metastasis is another thing entirely, compared even to Xenakis’ previous music, let alone any other.
To complement the Xenakis, the rest of the Barbican was given over to organised chaos for the day. Thousands of small children were running around doing various activities, making craft projects that spread debris throughout the building, and generally creating pandemonium. For some reason, a late-night knitting circle was set up immediately outside the concert hall. It was annoying to come straight out of the hall with Antikthon still ringing in your ears only to be instantly confronted by a Latin American folk band serenading the punters (and the knitters) at the bar.
It was also annoying that there was a late night gig by Haswell and Hecker using Xenakis’s UPIC system, but it hadn’t been advertised anywhere in the rest of the promotional materials, and it started at midnight, two hours after the last Xenakis gig. Anyway, I’d seen ’em so I went home to bed.