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Review: BBC Proms – Stockhausen’s Mittwoch Aus Licht: Welt–Parlament

Posted by Weeping Tudor from Cardiff - Published on 09/09/2013 at 13:30
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Ex Cathedra & Kathinka Pasveer
Royal Albert Hall, London
Friday 19th July 2013 (Prom 11)

After the concert from the Orchestra of the Academy of Santa Cecilia of Rome, the evening was not over just yet. A late night prom was underway not to long after the first. It was an all music programme by Karlheinz Stockhausen.

He is a huge figure in experimental music in the second half of the 20th century. Having passed away in 2006, he is the stuff of legend. Yet in later years, he is said to have become a megalomaniac and his music lost its radical edge. His electronic music of the 1950s and 60s is some of the inspiration for today pop music. This concert would prove to be intriguing yet also baffling. Oh, and you must watch the link of his interview I have put up. It proves to be very interesting and mildly hilarious…

Two pieces were on the programme. The first was Gesang der Jüunglinge. This electronic work was bombarded out of numerous speakers in the huge hall to great effect. Translated from the German as The Song of the Youths, it depicts the Biblical story (taken from the Book of Daniel) of the Jewish youths who reuse to worship the idol of Nebuchadnezzar and are thrown into the Burning Fiery Furnace as punishment. The songs the youths is when they are in the furnace. They emerge from it unharmed and in his amazement, Nebuchadnezzar smashes the statue and converts to the boys faith. A great convert tale and one of my favourite stories from the Holy Book.

Here, Stockhausen uses a chorister from Cologne Cathedral. Here his voice is deliciously manipulated with tonnes of effects. The sounds hurtled around the hall. His voice and all the other goings on electronically bubbled, chortled and whizzed to our ears content. This work heralded in a new era of all things electronic. The music world has never looked back.

Stockhausen had also created Licht, a series of seven operas, each one for the days of the week. A wonderful idea and a very ambitious project which spanned decades. For this concert we were given an extract (and the London Premier) of Welt Parlament (‘World Parliament’), the first scene of Mittoch (or ‘Wednesday’ to you and me). Here the parliaments meet on the top floor of a sky scraper, high above the clouds to discuss the ideas of love.

Having heard this was the premise this sounded really interesting and would make great music. The reality was a work which didn’t work on its own and left me rather cold. I would love to hear the whole of Mittoch. Ex Cathedra are a great group of singers and the varying techniques incorporated into this are very impressive. English was used as well as made up languages.

They came in singing and in shirts and dresses. The ladies were on one side of the stage, the gents the other. The conductor Jeffrey Skidmore was also in on the action (if you can call it that) and shook hands with choir members like it was a real conference. In each turn two singers, one male one female came into the middle from where they were sitting and debate with the other person about the value and necessity of love.

The men were bad winners and gloated amongst themselves if they appeared to have beaten the women in the debate. A bizarre moment was when a man in council uniform came into the stalls and started yelling. The music stopped and he asked would the owner of a particular car please move it immediately. For a brief moment I though it was real, but it turned out it was part of the performance. The scene ended with the choir leaving, still singing as they did and a man coming to the front of the stage and stuttering the words ‘The next scene will follow’, then giving us a thumbs up once he had achieved this.

This confused me and I found myself asking an usher was that it, even though I knew the concert was under an hour long and as late as it was. I was quite baffled. Kathinka Pasveer guided us through the electronic side of things as the sound projectionist for the evening. If I was going to hear anything from this day of the week, it would be the third scene, the which features no less than a string quartet in helicopters. That is truly the pinnacle of modern art.

Having attended two late night Stockhausen concerts this year, they appear to be a common occurrence now.

I do hope to attend more.

Rating: 5/10

The Proms continue till Saturday 7th September 2013 at the Royal Albert Hall and Cadogan Hall and they're all live on BBC Radio 3 with some televised on BBC Two and BBC Four.

Related Article: Review: BBC Proms - Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony

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