Courageous presentation of a mammoth task

Festival-goers are getting their fair share of electronic manipulation of acoustic sound this year, with the Diamond Quartet (George Crumb’s Black Angels) introducing the concept in Samson Diamond’s recital concert earlier this week.

In Mantra each piano’s sounds are ring modulated and the pianists co-ordinate their playing with the operation of a scaled sine-wave generator and performances on numerous percussion instruments.

Arnold Schoenberg’s grundgestalt thematicism, the evolution of serialism and twelve tone writing, later total serialistic developments (Boulez and Messiaen), electronic music experimentation and aleatoric philosophy merge into a macro-configuration of sound and musical ideas in Stockhausen’s Mantra.

Formed around a thirteen note mantra - so named so as to avoid terminology with technical associations such as theme, row or subject - the variation compositional principle of this generating simultaneity is at the centre of this work’s construction and organisation.

Mantra blends acoustic sound production and electronic sound manipulation in an avant-garde concoction of soundscapes.

Jill Richards and Liza Joubert, who have been preparing Mantra for more than two years, performed with a seriousness of approach, intense concentration and total commitment to the work. Their loyalty to the score and devotion to the project drew the audience towards the music.

Stockhausen’s intricate score was handled with aplomb, each poignant nuance and articulation shading executed with careful grading of tone and much evidence of self listening.

As a chamber duo these two performers have welded into a unified ensemble producing an integrated, cohesive musical response, especially impressive during the ‘bird-call” sections.

Doubtlessly Messiaen’s influence on Stockhausen was immeasurable with Stockhausen’s bird incantations and dialogues transcending the inspirational evocative effectiveness of his mentor. Here and during the lengthy florid bravura section, which led to the work’s moving conclusion, Richards and Joubert evidenced pianism of the highest order, testimony to their intense and very thorough preparation.

In the hands of Richards and Joubert Stockhausen’s musical intent unfolded with understanding and artistic purpose.
Thank you for having the courage to present this work (as well as the energy to complete the task of mammoth stage preparation for the concert) at the National Arts Festival.

This piece is from Cue Online, a project of Rhodes University’s New Media Lab.

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