Montreal Stockhausen Project @ New Music Concerts reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Saturday, November 15, Enwave Theatre, Toronto.

For New Music Concert audiences, the name of their most frequently mentioned composer is Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928-2007).  During the ‘90’s, Stockhausen personally trained Montreal flautist Lise Daoust and four of her students, and tonight they gave a concert devoted to works he composed as part of a 25 year operatic project entitled “Licht [Light]”.

It has been said of Stockhausen that he is the “creator of sound with more direct access to the divinely-inspired rhythms of the universe than a mere composer could ever hope for.” His absorption into the spiritual dimension of music was inspired in 1951, when the 23 year old Stockhausen heard a recording of Olivier Messiaen’s piano piece “Mode of Values and Intensities,” which he described as “incredible star music.” Subsequently he went to Paris to study with Messaien who taught by showing “how he understood the music of others and how he worked himself.”

Stockhausen quickly understood how Messiaen’s single notes could be organized by applying Schoenberg’s serial principle to every dimension of sound: pitch, duration, loudness and tone color. The serial principle enabled Stockhausen to free sonic materials from the gravitational pull of time and associative meaning, enabling him to hear how even the most unlikely materials might become improbably rich sound sources.

Lise Daoust [click on the photo] costumed as ‘Spirit of the Flute’ played the solo work  “Flautina”. The piece consists of 12 main pitches spread over the entire combined range of flute, piccolo and alto flute. The changes between instruments were bridged by sung and hummed notes. Daoust elicits the ‘coloured rests’ by making rushing noises, kissing noises above the mouth-hole with key-slapping, tongue- clicks and sighing, flutter- tongued rushing noises alternating with irregular staccato spitting noises and voiceless whistling.  The overall effect, beyond the obvious virtuosity, is of great purity and a sense of freedom, as if Debussy’s ‘faun’ had escaped from his afternoon haunting ground into a more open story.

François Duval [click on photo] dancing and blowing sublime bluesy sounds on a basset-horn appears as Eve in “Ave”. He is accompanied by an invisible alto-flute played seductively off-stage by Chloé L’Abbé [click on photo] who eventually appears and engages him in a virtuosic duet/pas-de deux, moving in the space effortlessly with “daring positions, dancing virtuosity, humor, with much charm and with erotic allusions, ending with a tender kiss on the hand. [Stockhausen].” The polyphonic counterpoint of their often urbane instrumental sounds, mingle with more primitive operatic vocalizations of hissing, growling, kissing, stalking, whimpering, chattering, and ululating.

Geneviève Déraspe [click on photo] gave us “Entfuhrung [Abduction]” for piccolo and electronics. It’s not often we get to hear a 15 minute solo for piccolo that stays mostly out of the shrill registers. The music is totally gentle and without the slightest aggression. The notes merge with each other and emerge eventually as speech–smooth fluid and convincing in wondrous harmony with the electronics that gurgle in a background that sometimes resembles jungle sounds complete with Messiaenic birdcalls. I could go with Stockhausen when he writes” “Whoever hears this musical spiral will be abducted into a magic world.”

The finale of the evening, pictured at the top, was “Kathinka’s Chant as Lucifer’s Requiem”, played by Marie- Hélène Breault on flute accompanied by electronics. It is worth mentioning that Mlle. Breault was awarded a first prize by Stockhausen himself for her interpretation of this piece.

This is a dark, philosophical work having to do with the transition from life into death and perhaps beyond that—and intended as a European “Book of the Dead.” It is highly formulized around concepts like 24 stages, 6 senses, 6 layered tracks of spatial polyphony controlled phase shifts, 11 trombones, 7 signals of the high F, to be listened to over 49 days and so on.  Mlle. Breault’s flute begins with deep tones rolling in syncopated rhythms against a watery electronic background that shifts focus all over the room but constantly sends out sounds like that of children’s wild laughter. She takes up positions around the quadrants of two onstage clocks. The music is spacious, solemn, austere, ending on a dire note that rises to a shriek. Palpable silence follows and in that she walks off the stage.

What finally impresses, and what we applaud, is the vast vision of Stockhausen’s musical world and the commitment he commands from artists who get what he is doing and who are willing to keep transmitting that energy to audiences.

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