Helmut LachnemannSaturday March 29th, 2008 | 8pm
Helmut Lachenmann

UBC School of Music Recital Hall

This has been a pretty great year for composed music in the Pacific NW, with performances of Feldman, Rzewelski and now Helmut Lachenmann.  Apparently Lachenmann is doing a year residency at Harvard and has taken the opportunity while he is in the States to visit a number of colleges and present some of his music.Vancouver New Music along with the UBC School of Music and the University of Victoria managed to have him come up for a week or so and present programs at both colleges. I of course jumped at the chance to not only see rarely preformed works of a modern composer, but the composer himself.

It’s been odd weather here this last week, where it would go from 65 (f) one weekend to snowing the next. Snow in late March is very rare in this region and the fact that it was doing so the day before I had to make the three hour drive north was a bit worrisome.  Luckily the weather was fine here, the snow hadn’t lasted, but as I made my way further north there was a lot more evidence of this weather.  The border also proved to be a challenge causing me to wait an hour to get through. Combine that with a bit of wandering to find the campus and then the recital hall I made it in around 7:20pm. Just as I walked in they finished introducing Helmut Lachenmann who was going to do a little pre-concert Q&A with a UBC faculty member.

The Q&A was pretty interesting, basically Lachenmann was asked about the style of his music, the critical reaction to it and then some details on the pieces that were to be performed that night. Lachenmann apparently refers to his music as Musique Concrète Instrumentale, by which he means he tries to approximate the sound world that was explored in Musique Concrète via electronic means with traditional acoustic instruments.  He talked of industrial sounds, the noises of the everyday and how he wanted to uses those as materials. Thus he worked with such extended techniques, extremes in pitch and unorthodox methods of playing. This he said often brought a negative critical reaction, which he implied came from people seeing something they loved used in such a way. He gave the example of a ‘cello, and how if you loved the ‘cello seeing how it was abused in Pression, would bring about that negative reaction.

After a bit of a break Giorgio Magnanensi of Vancouver New Music came out to introduce the performance and note a program change.  He said that Lachnemann had agreed to perform one of his pieces and that was added to the beginning of the second half. So with that the show began with the one non-Lachnemann piece.

Post-Prae-Ludium per Donau, composed by Luigi Nono
performed by Max Murray on Tuba and Daniel Peter Biro, Randy Jones and Kirk McNally on live electronics.

Luigio Nono was Helmut Lachenmann’s teacher in the late ’50s so it was appropriate that the concert began with this tip of the hat to his old mentor.  This piece was for solo tuba and live electronics.  The soloist sat on stage with just his head and the tuba peeking up behind two music stands. Three electronicians sat in the midst of the audience with a table full of laptops and electronic effects.  The piece began with this dry gasps and burbles of air through the tuba with a pretty good separate in time.  The electronics kicked in with rather lower level echos, stereo panning and what seemed to be very distant murmuring voices. The tuba’s sounds became increasingly more longer, continuous tones to which the electronics echo would merge and create shifting patterns. The murmur went away about half way through and it just seemed to be shifting layers of delay. The end was very beautiful with this wash of sound as the tuba played a continuous tone that was echoed and interfered with by the electronics.

Serynade, composed by Helmut Lachenmann
performed by Jee Yeon Ryu, piano

This was a solo piano piece and was in a pretty stark contrast to the Nono piece that preceded it. Massive attacks on the piano, from huge two handed chords to an entire arm crashing down on the keys began the piece. Usually these would played with massive force and seperated in space. Not lengthy gaps but enough to really focus on the resonances of the piano. This seemed to be a major aspect of what Lachenmann is exploring, how the piano resonance can be setup, altered and worked with. The sustain pedal was used a lot, often coming in or cutting out post the sound event to modulate and alter this resonance. Other components of the piece included quick arpeggios and glissando’s that again seemed to be done for the resonance that remained afterwards or layered above a lingering roar from one of those smashed chords. The piece concluded with single notes hammered with a lot of force fully spaced out to allow their sound to die out.

Franklin Cox

Pression, composed by Helmut Lachenmann
performed by Franklin Cox

This solo ‘cello piece had been moved out of the second half to allow for the added Lachenmann piano performance. This piece is a full exploration of all the varieties of sound that can be eked out of a ‘cello. It began with this dry half scrape of the bow across the strings and then continued with two fingers rubbing up a set of strings in an ascending whining sound. The body of the ‘cello was rubbed and then the bow itself which was still motionless across the strings. The bow then came into play underneath the strings, generating dry crackling, sounds as it was rubbed against them. Then more percussive sounds as it was slapped against the strings. Some staccato bowing beneath the bridge created with staggering guttural sound before the strings themselves were bowed in the normal position but with his hand muting the strings just above the bridge. A bit of slow bowed strings, dry and with no vibrato faded in and out in the last couple of minutes. This was a really great piece and I really enjoyed the vast soundworld that was revealed by the instrument.

Helmut Lachenmann
Helmut Lachenmann

Ein Kinderspiel, composed and performed by Helmut Lachenmann

There was a short intermission after and then Helmut Lachnenmann walked on stage and took a seat at the piano. He began to play this jaunty little melody way high in the upper register.  After he had gone through this tune he stopped and turned to the audience and said that he should give us the titles of the pieces. This piece is made up of seven German children tunes and he gave us all the titles and then said he would begin again. So again with the nearly one fingered tune eked out in the upper register with the sustain pedal down. The next little tune was similar but midrange on the piano. Then a super short one also about in the midrange followed by one that he played with one hand crossed over the the other. This seemed to be the melody played in both hands clashing with each other. The next piece seemed to take this a step further and was just chords by the overlapping hands in this dense wall of sound where I could pick out no melody. The sixth little tune was back to the simple one finger melody but this time way down in the lower register. The final part began in the low end but quickly moved to the extreme upper register where those dry tones with little resonance eked out the simple melody a note at a time.  An odd piece, I think the point was how these simple melodies could generate the same odd colliding resonances on the piano as his extreme and more abstract pieces. It was good fun overall and neat to see Lachnemann playing his own compositions.

Jee Yeon Ryu, AK Coope and Franklin Cox

Allegro Sostenuto, composed by Helmut Lachenmann
performed by Jee Yeon Ryu on piano, AK Coope on clarinets and Franklin Cox on ‘cello.

The final piece of the even was a trio for clarinet/bass clarinet, ‘cello and piano.  This was the longest piece of the evening and the only real ensemble piece.  Each of the three instruments seemed to work through a bunch of different sounds and techniques with only the most oblique reference to each other. The piano was most sounds seperated in space, short chords and runs, mallett work on the strings and body of the piano and some inside/outside playing. The ‘cello explored a lot of the extended techniques and sounds that we had heard in Pression, with quite a bit of very dry bowing.  The clarinet mostly did short little sustained tones and little runs. At several points she would stand up and emit a blast into the pianos cavity. About half way through the piece the clarinetist switched to bass clarinet and began generated wispy breathy sounds through it. After a bit of this she again transition to short continuous tones.  The group interaction was hard to determine, it really seemed like three simultaneous explorations of sound. However at several points they stopped completely for nice little silences that demonstrated them working together very well. This piece in many ways sounded the most like stereotyped twentieth century composed music, with this myriad short passages, wide variety of sounds and that feeling of disconnectedness. It was though a nice contrast to all the solo pieces and constantly engaging.

Another really well put together event from Vancouver New Music and a really rare opportunity that I’m glad I got to experience.