Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Stockhausen at the Concertgebouw, 1980

Eastside Road, November 9, 2015—
FOR VARIOUS REASONS there's no reason to go into here I've been re-reading a journal from thirty-five years ago, from which I have pulled thoughts on a production we saw at the Concertgebouw on June 14, 1980:
STOCKHAUSEN: Michaels Jugend / Michaels Heimkehr

The house was pretty well full, but one took the seats one wanted. Stockhausen was at his mixer in the center of the Concertgebouw. The concert began pretty well on time. Michael is the protagonist of Donnerstag, the (third?) of a seven-opera cycle called Light. “Michael’s Youth” is the first act, “Michael’s Legend” is Act III scene 1.

It’s hard to get an idea of the effect of the finished work, of course — except that it’s Teutonic, long and rambling, introspective (fictionally autobiographical), philosophical but not intellectually so. It made me think, often, of Hitler: a film from Germany: intelligent bricolage spun out. Stockhausen ran the whole show, credited with regie, costumes, choreography, everything in Heimkehr (save Mary Bauermeister’s “lichtcomposities”), the texts in both included traditional Hebrew texts, but were otherwise — therefore mostly — by Stockhausen.

Michaels Jugend was for very small forces and developed a sort of childhood-of-Siegfried narration. Three protagonists, each represented by three performers: singer, instrumentalist, dancer-mime: Michael (Robert Gambill, T; Markus Stockhausen, trumpet; Michèle Noiret); Ea (Annette Merinweather, S; Suzanne Stephens, bassethorn; Elizabeth Clarke); Lucifer (Matthias Hölle, B; Mark Tezak, trombone; Alain Lonati). Three continuous scenes: Childhood, Mondeva, Examen.

So: music began with a drone from the loudspeakers — a dozen or so — surrounding the audience. Drone largely electronic (and vocalized chorus?), one pedal, [illeg.] a mosaic of various overtones. House lights dim; Soprano, then Tenor enter; she sings the fifth of the pedal, he the sixth below her. Two or three times in the course of the act the pedal rose or fell a alf-step, and it [pedal] wasn’t always present, but it defined the “tonality” of the piece throughout: and tonal relationships began to dominate — even including Picardy thirds! — by the end of the act. The loudspeaker music was very quiet most of the time. The singers’ music was well written for voice — idiomatic and very effective, both solo and ensemble. Instrumental music was not like the vocal, but not as arbitrary as, e.g., Zeitmasse. A prominent piano part played by Majella Stockhausen served obbligato in scene 3. (Se program for further notes on articulation of scenario.)

IN GENERAL: mostly through-sung in traditional vocal technique, the three instruments often doubling voices. Harmonically tonally grounded, though approaching conventional major-minor tonal practice only at end. House loudspeakers very subtle reinforce, or counter, or punctuate, or accompany stage sound. Very simple, naïve; a childlike masque. Rather well received.

“Festival” (sc. 1) from Michaels Heimkehr (Act III). Full orchestra on Concertgebouw stage, with five eight-voice choruses. Soloists as in Michaels Jugend, but Michael Rosness replacing Robert Gambill. Musical material as in Jugend, but greater resources (still including the house loudspeakers) lead to more complex sound. Still, music is much more conservative than [for example] Aus dem sieben Tagen, often recalling Momente, Mixtur, Klavierstücke.

The melodic material was the organic result of a montage — mélange of tonal phrases, a process similar to Hymnen. And the “Biblical” sound often derived from parallel clusters, a rather Messiaenic sound. “Festival” more developed, varied, episodic than Jugend. The action more varied, with more subsidiary roles, and articulated by arbitrary activities: devil-mime [emerging] from globe, old lady with cane from audience (the rhythm of her stick leading the orchestra into a new “moment”), toy tank up inclined board, the three film segments (camera panning across Mary Bauermeister paintings, occasionally finding childlike drawings of a face, a figure). The music is clearly retrospective, and the action recalls Originale: Stockhausen seems bent on summing up his musical life in an operatic version, cosmically ambitious, of the late [Beethoven] quartets.

The performances were superb. A violist told me they rehearsed it for three weeks — too much, but Stockhausen insisted. The vocalists were magnificent, not only technically, but tonally too. “Heimkehr” got an extended ovation, with some ostentatious booking. Stockhausen directed the bows, pushing out various soloists from the lineup!

Stockhausen looks older, slacker, heavy, otherwise much the same. We talked some after the performance; he gave me his address. He seemed, well, a little spacey, but the evening must have been exhausting — and he’d been nervous as a cat before “Heimkehr,” which had been given its premiere.

What about the music? Interesting; slow; naïve; often uneventful; a little soft. Reserve judgment for the full piece until next year’s Milan premiere.

WELL, I NEVER got to the Milan premiere. I don't recall, now, if I was on the job at this performance; perhaps I took these notes in order to write a review for the Oakland Tribune, which actually paid me to attend occasional out-of-town performances — Carmel Bach Festival, Santa Fe Opera, even the Holland Festival if I paid my own transportation and per diem, while otherwise on leave or vacation. Imagine a local daily newspaper doing that today!

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