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May 2024

June 2024

Music in Space: Stockhausen's "Inside Light" at the Park Avenue Armory

Kathinka Pasveer at Inside Light at the Park Avenue Armory, 6/9/24In music, as in life, there are certain things that are so rare and essential, it's worth dropping whatever else you have going on to make way for them.  One of those things is the music of Karlheinz Stockhausen - specifically, his electronic music, which he developed in presentations of increasing complexity over some six decades, from 1956's electroacoustic masterpiece Gesang der Jünglinge (Song of the Youths), to the cyclonic 24 track Cosmic Pulses, premiered seven months before his death in 2007. (I was there.) Due to the specific sound fields Stockhausen creates, where the music seems to be coming at you from all directions, this is not the sort of thing you can listen to at home (though we are getting closer.) The only way to experience this music is to hear it live, and the only way for that to happen is with the permission of the Stockhausen Verlag, which has sanctioned all performances of Stockhausen's music worldwide since 1975. 

So, when I heard that the Park Avenue Armory would be presenting some five hours of electronic music from Stockhausen's seven-opera cycle Licht (Light), I cleared the decks. This is not the first time the Armory has presented Stockhausen's music: in 2012, the NY Phil performed his three-orchestra work Gruppen (1957), on a concert that also included works by Boulez, Ives and (weirdly), Mozart. The following year, the Armory presented Oktophonie (1991), a 70 minute excerpt of electronic music from Licht, with Stockhausen's longtime collaborator (and companion) Kathinka Pasveer doing the sound projection, having learned the craft from Stockhausen himself starting in 1982.

Pasveer, now 65, was back in New York over the past two weeks (June 5-14) to run the soundboard for "Inside Light", devised by Park Avenue Armory Artistic Director Pierre Audi as part of a larger - though still incomplete - presentation of Licht for the Holland Festival in 2019. The "light" in the title refers not just to Stockhausen's magnum opus, but also to the cinematic light display designed by Urs Schönebaum, aiming high beams at criss-cross angles across the cavernous Wade Thompson Drill Hall. Despite Stockhausen's stated aversion to visuals accompanying his electronic music - he actually preferred that the audience sit in complete darkness, though he eventually allowed for a hazy projection of a moon to keep audiences from "going paranoid" - Schönebaum's monochromatic lighting is subtle and abstract, enhancing the music rather than detracting from it. (The same, unfortunately, can't be said of Robi Voigt's video projections, which bounced along to the music like a light-up Karaoke machine.)

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A Quartet of Concertmasters Join Sejong Soloists at Zankel Hall

Sejong Soloists 30th Anniversary Concert, Zankel Hall, 5/22/24It's not unheard of for concertmasters of major orchestras to take a brief leave from their positions to perform as soloists, or even fill in for other orchestras in need (see Cleveland and, until recently, Boston.) Which is understandable, given the prodigious talent these violinists exhibit on a nightly basis, often at the expense of a solo career. But, to have four prominent concertmasters performing together on the same stage? Unheard of. 

But, that's exactly what took place on May 22, when the concertmasters of the Met Orchestra (David Chan), NY Philharmonic (Frank Huang), Montreal Symphony Orchestra (Andrew Wan) and the Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra (Daniel Cho) joined forces with the chamber orchestra Sejong Soloists for their 30th anniversary concert at Zankel Hall. It made slightly more sense to have such a starry collection of violinists when I learned that all four performed with the Sejong Soloists earlier in their careers, and studied at Juilliard with Sejong founder Hyo Kang.

But, what does one do with four concertmasters? The repertoire of music featuring four violin soloists is - well, nonexistent. So, naturally, Sejong commissioned a new work for the occasion: Texu Kim's with/out for four violins, strings and percussion. (In recent years, Sejong has commissioned more than a dozen new works, including Tod Machover's Overstory Overture (2023) and August Read Thomas' saxophone concerto Haemosu's Celestial Chariot Ride (2024). with/out, which Kim says is about the alienation pervasive in contemporary society, featured evocative names for each of its three movements: "lonesome and fluorescent" was soft and plaintive; "subdued and imploding" felt anxious and Bartòk-creepy, while "festive!!" was bright and cheerful, with the four soloists digging in. (Kim must not be a fan of capital letters.) 

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