Alarm Will Sound

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Alarm Will Sound

Post by lennygoran » Sat Mar 10, 2018 7:29 am

I admit this would probably be of some use for someone like me but I won't be there March 16th --ironically we leave from NYC that day after our Met operas. The article has many audio clips. Regards, Len
How Do You Teach People to Love Difficult Music?


A striking moment occurs midway through the opening movement of the Hungarian composer Gyorgy Ligeti’s 1970 Chamber Concerto. After spinning a dissonant web of melodic strands in the opening minutes, the instruments arrive at that most fundamental of intervals: the perfect octave. Time is momentarily suspended.

But a dense tone cluster of brass and Hammond organ interrupts this repose, and the music devolves into a buzzing, asynchronous mass.

For audiences accustomed to Tchaikovsky’s lyricism and Mozart’s familiar harmonies, this music borders on incomprehensibility. Even as some of their works are almost a century old, modernists like Ligeti, Pierre Boulez, and Ruth Crawford Seeger still pose a challenge. What are you supposed to pay attention to? How should you listen to this stuff?

To answer these questions, ensembles are rejecting a longstanding premise of both musical modernism and the traditional concert hall: that music is best appreciated through hearing the abstract structural relationships between its various elements. (In other words, valuing “art for art’s sake.”) So when the ensemble Alarm Will Sound performs Ligeti’s music at Carnegie Hall on March 16, the emphasis will be on the history surrounding the works as much as on the sounds themselves.

The concert, “This Music Should Not Exist,” uses Ligeti’s early life experiences to illuminate his later music, using a mixture of storytelling, recorded audio and performance that is being billed as a “live podcast.” That is a nod to the indispensable “Meet the Composer” podcast organized by Nadia Sirota, who will serve as a co-host for the Carnegie show and developed it alongside Alarm Will Sound’s artistic director and conductor, Alan Pierson. (The ensemble had a similar collaboration with the podcast last year for its album “Splitting Adams,” a tribute to John Adams.)

“To an unusual degree,” Mr. Pierson said of Ligeti in an interview, “he’s a composer who has these very complex-sounding works that are animated by very simple, very understandable ideas. And that always made me feel like this is a composer whose music you could really talk about.”

That means the audience will hear about how Ligeti’s childhood amid the printing presses, typewriters and industrial machinery of Transylvania resurfaced in the mechanical, clocklike layering of various pulses and tempos in the opening movement of his 1988 Piano Concerto, and in the chaotic, ticking energy of his “Poème Symphonique” for 100 metronomes. For the dense textural music of “Atmosphères” and “Lux Aeterna,” which Stanley Kubrick incorporated into “2001: A Space Odyssey,” Ligeti drew on a terrifying childhood dream of being trapped in an immense web with buzzing insects.

Alarm Will Sound has experimented with unconventional formats before. “1969,” one of the group’s most popular programs to tour, combines archival video, photographs, acting and music to explore how composers including Leonard Bernstein, Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Lennon reacted to the tumultuous late 1960s.

“One of the things that Alarm Will Sound has been interested in from the beginning is creating performances that feel like experiences instead of concerts,” Mr. Pierson said. “The starting point isn’t the music we want to play as much as the story we want to tell.”

Symphony orchestras, which operate under the weight of even more tradition than chamber ensembles, have struggled to alter the concert format beyond adding preconcert lectures, program notes and conductor remarks. Some have tried. In the 1970s, Boulez offered a summer series called Rug Concerts with the New York Philharmonic, replacing the orchestra-level seats of Avery Fisher (now David Geffen) Hall with carpets and cushions.

In recent years, the San Francisco, New World and National symphonies, and other orchestras, have offered their own nontraditional concerts, typically late-night ventures in alternative, clublike spaces. The Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s series Beyond the Score, which Gerard McBurney organized from 2005 to 2016, fused acting, stage design, film, lighting and music in compelling explorations of works such as Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire,” an early landmark of modernism. (The series is no longer originated by the Chicago Symphony because of costs, but it tours to other ensembles.)

“I have no desire to explain any work of art,” Mr. McBurney said in 2014 interview. “I have a desire that we should read the world around us. That means being aware of the texture, the smell, the taste, the culture out of which the work of art came.”

This kind of audience engagement contrasts with the more idealized form of listening — sometimes referred to as structural listening — that is as embedded in classical concert culture as formal attire, reverential silence and dimmed lighting. “The most essential condition to the aesthetic enjoyment of music is that of listening to a composition for its own sake,” the critic Eduard Hanslick wrote in the mid-1800s.

“To me, the most pernicious thing ever written in the history of music is the Hanslick treatise about absolute music,” said Michael Lewanski, the conductor of Ensemble Dal Niente. “Removing music from the world in that kind of autonomous sense has provoked almost two centuries of misguided ideology.”

As a partial remedy, Dal Niente has developed a number of unorthodox concert formats that try to strip away, according to Mr. Lewanski, “the prevailing cultural narratives about what difficult music is, what new music is, what unfamiliar music is, even what old music is.” Performance series such as Party and Hard Music, Hard Liquor offer listening contexts without the ritualized trappings of the traditional concert model.

Dal Niente’s Party series is a nod to American party culture — freely mixing food, drink and an atmosphere of social mingling. This June, the group will play a world premiere by Sky Macklay and “Pierrot Lunaire.”

“Our initial idea is that we’re going to stage ‘Pierrot’ as a sort of cabaret piece,” said Mr. Lewanski. “In terms of autonomous artworks that seem impenetrable and are highly composed, ‘Pierrot’ is near the top of that list for me. Talk about difficult pieces! We want to do something different with it to let the audience feel unafraid of it, but also to not apologize for it, either. Parts of it are weird, so let it be weird.”

Alarm Will Sound
March 16, at Zankel Hall; 212-247-7800; ... ctionfront

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