Heather O'Donnell - Piano recital broadcast from Cologne 23:00,
8 December 2006
This recital interested us from several points of view. We had kept in touch with the American pianist Heather O'Donnell since her inexplicable failure to make the finals of the
International Gaudeamus Interpreters Competition, Rotterdam in 2001. It is good to be reassured once again that competitions aren't everything!
The recital featured the world premiere of Privatsammlung, commissioned by Heather O'Donnell and WDR Köln from Arnulf Herrmann, and finished with Differenz/Wiederholung 12" from a set of over 20 pieces for various instrumentation by the Austrian composer, Bernhard Lang - a leading figure in the "repetition-perpetrator" movement. His tantalising and finally engrossing half hour piece brought to mind the repetitions which begin Stockhausen's Klavierstucke IX, which signalled the end of the "ban on repetition".
Reception on line from WDR 3 was excellent, and I arranged to copy the broadcast with the free-download editing programme Audacity, and am listening to it again as I write. All three works have Beethoven connections, and I reproduce below translations of the introductory announcements.
The playing sounds authoritative (confirmed by reviews of the Lang from Stuttgart) and the quality of transmission from Cologne is excellent (better than BBC R3's streaming of piano music which tends to be slightly distorted).
MP's readers may be recommended to explore WD3's schedules for music which may rarely or never reach our concerts or broadcasts in UK.
Peter Grahame Woolf
Introductory notes for the broadcast:
Bernhard Lang Theatre of Repetitions
As a 'spin off' from Heather O'Donnell's broadcast, I have been pleased to receive from KAIROS a double-CD of Bernhard Lang's: Theatre of Repetitions, a tri-lingual music theatre piece after texts by Sade, Burroughs and extracts from the minutes of the Nuremberg trials, in content about ‘a possible history of atrocity’...
Our leading British cellist recently took part in a chamber music festival in Norway; he told Radio 3 listeners that he found himself at a disadvantage because everyone else there was trilingual...
As a typical Englishman of a much earlier generation, I could get little from the French and German sections of Theatre of Repetitions, which are not translated for readers of the Kairos booklet. But my multi-lingual Swiss wife, despite being intrigued by the music, especially those parts with instruments, was troubled to find a total disjunction between meaning and sound in the German and French sections, with consequent disinterest in the philosophical basis of the whole.
Paraphrasing a few excerpts from Wolfgang Reiter's commentary: The shifting of difference to the mind, or the perception of the observer, is really a strategy of minimalism, which sought a reduction of difference in the repeated object in order to allow more room for subjective differentiation. For Bernhard Lang's compositional work since 1995, repetition can be the carrier of a highly complex internal differentiation within the object - - repetition in music can lead to self-forgetting, to states of trance. At the same time, it is precisely repetition that serves as our primary mnemonic tool. Difference, on the other hand, is what enables us to proceed from the identity of the same to the perception and memory of a particular element in the first place. Subtly differentiated music demands an analytical consciousness, a constant intellectual detachment from the immediacy of primary sonic experience.
How new that is is questionable? All music builds upon repetition and differentiation. Leaving aside philosophical questions and verbal meaning content, the important thing for me was to discover in Lang's music a new way to assemble motives in speech and instrumental discourse. I found it irresistibly compelling, and disturbing too - I have played the CDs twice. Lang averts incipient boredom (as can lead to Glass's mimimalism becoming tedious) by introducing change at just the right moment.
The performance by Klangforum Wien/Johannes Kalitzke with the Ensemble les jeunes solistes is impressive, and the musical treatment original - at the opposite pole to other 'minimalist' musics which rely on repetition. The sounds are to my ears (which others may think 'put on wrong' - Ives) beautiful and riveting.
If there is no "word setting", that is so also for renaissance polyphony, and the seeming perversity of Lang's reminds me that in bygone decades of my youth the same was said of Stravinsky's treatment of his texts.
This is definitely a gifted composer worth trying to understand and to come to terms with his position, and I thank Heather O'Donnell and WDR 3 for pointing the way. I look forward to hearing more of Bernhard Lang's music, for which opportunities in England are rare.
Peter Grahame Woolf