August 2008

Stockhausen would have been 80 today so I’m at the Albert Hall to hear Punkte at the Proms.

Up on Holy Island for the 3rd time this year. This time as a student. It’s wonderful being here without any organizational concerns. Though I’ve been so dizzily busy of late that it’s taking a while to float back down into my body.

John, my AP, who’s just been rescued from a ditch by some helpful passing builders who spotted his stranded car:

‘Yeah, the fruit of human kindness… It’s worth waiting for. I mean there’s no point not expecting it, is there?’

The Proms! the Proms!
How I love the Proms when they come to the Royal Albert Hall every summer. 70+ concerts in 50 odd days and every day, one, or maybe 2 world class ensembles.

This is the first Prom season in a while where I’ve been really smitten by lots of the programming. That’s partially to do with the good fortune of anniversaries. There are Vaughan Williams and Messaien anniversaries this year, two of my faves, and a healthy dose of modern composers. Not least Karlheinz Stockhausen who died last year, at 79.

Stockhausen the epitome of rigorous German experimentalism was one of my first exciting discoveries at Gosport Public Library. His still fabulousSong of the Youths is one of the seminal works of electronic music from the 50s and he was ferociously – perhaps, obsessively – interested in the furthest expanses of sound experimentation.

The opera cycle Licht runs for about 9 days in total ( I exaggerate) and includes a string quartet played in four helicopters. When he died he was working on Klang another enormous cycle. 24 pieces, one for each hour of the day.

At the Prom on Saturday, there was a ragbag of Stockhausen pieces. The early (and frankly rather academic) Gruppen, and the amazing Kontakte for electronics, piano and percussion (a hair-tingling performance from Colin Currie and Nicholas Hodges). But the best for me was Cosmic Pulses a 32 minute electronic piece where sound rotated around and around the massive circle of the Albert Hall, creating a living, morphing landscape of sounds. Please don’t listen to it on the BBC iPlayer because it sounds dreadful in paltry stereo. In 24-dimensional circular space it was like an ayahuasca trip.

If you want a taste of Stockhausen, better listen to Stimmung that was sung by Theatre of Voices at the Late Night Proms that night. 70 minutes of amplified voices from the late 60s.