Tongue Trippin’ in Munich

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This is the first of what I hope to be a series of entries about my preparation for Zungenspitzentanz in the Munich Biennale with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra . Bear with me, I am typing with my thumbs, a technique I have yet to master.

My biggest help has been this Smart phone, which has many hours of video saved of my attempts to move gracefully and play murderous pasages while kneeling on the ground.

Some other things that have helped my preparation:
Le Freq (will insert link later). These little pieces of brass help the response of my piccolo’s low D, a crucial note in this piece.

The articulation exercises from Paul Edmund-Davies’ Warm up book (link to follow), and Moyse’s exercises “pour les sons graves”.

Of course, Kathinka Pasveer, and colleagues and students who have been willing to listen.

My next entry may be bizarre, I have had some unlikely and exotic sources of inspiration that I want to share.

Reheasal reports to follow as well.

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Stockhausen in Adorjan’s Lexicon

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When I came across the entry for Karlheinz Stockhausen in Andras Adorjan’s Lexicon der Flöte (Page 754), the elements of this blog entry started brewing. Let’s see if I can form a coherent thought or two. First of all, here is the German text:

Gegen Ende der 1970er Jahre wurden die Aufführungen mehr und mehr von seinem [Stockhausens] engsten Familien-und Freundeskreis gestaltet, die Flötenmusik vor allem von Kathinka Pasveer (*1959); eine weite Verbreitung seiner Musik wurde dadurch eher behindert. Es bleibt aber zu hoffen, dass solch wichtige Werke wie Amour, In Freundschaft oder Kathinkas Gesang noch die ihnen gebührende Würdigung und öffentliche Zuhörerschaft gewinnen werden.

This entry was probably written in English and translated to German. It may be that the author of this entry was misunderstood; perhaps an infelicity of translation into German rendered the words not exactly as he intended. If my observations are based on such a misunderstanding, I offer my apologies.

Since I have not come across the English original, I offer a crude translation of my own:

Towards the end of the 1970s his [Stockhausen’s] music was performed more and more by his family and close friends, the flute music primarily by Kathinka Pasveer (*1959), which rather hindered the propagation, (or circulation, or diffusion) of his music. One hopes however, that such important works as […] will receive their due appreciation and listeners.

 For decades, many of Stockhausen’s close family and friends have done their utmost to make Stockhausen’s music accessible to the public and to performers. To blandly blame the music’s lack of widespread circulation on the fact that it was performed by (and written for) them does them a huge disservice. The fact that it is accessible at all is thanks to the family and friends of Stockhausen. Since 1998, the Stockhausen Courses in Kürten have been run by Kathinka Pasveer and Susanne Stevens, in order to bring more musicians and public to Stockhausen’s music. Furthermore, since his death, they run the Stockhausen Foundation, which puts its money where its mouth is, offering board and lodging for musicians and musicologists who are studying Stockhausen’s works.

Who am I to comment on this? I am not a member of Stockhausen’s circle, and although I have great respect for him as a composer, and have enjoyed working with him and Kathinka Pasveer, his late works are not exactly my cup of tea. However, as a member of a soloist ensemble which counts Stockhausen as one of its local composers, I am in a position to view this matter with, I hope, some objectivity.

Speaking of objectivity, I am surprised that this entry on Stockhausen was allowed to be printed in a lexicon. A lexicon, or dictionary, lists facts and lets the readers draw their own conclusions.

The author does make a true point about our repertoire. For flutists, none of Stockhausen’s works are as prominent in the 20th century repertoire as the Berio Sequenza, Density 21.5 by Varese, Debussy’s Syrinx, Takemitsu’s Voice or Carter’s Scrivo in Vento. (This is my personal top 5 list of Contemporary works that every advanced student should know.) What is it about Stockhausen’s music that keeps it from being at the top of repertoire lists?

The most obvious elements are the requirement of memorization and the theatrical elements that some works require.  Amour, In Freundschaft, and Zungenspitzentanz are probably the least effort in this respect. Kathinka’s Gesang on the other hand requires a huge commitment of time and energy.

Is the fact Stockhausen wrote these works for a member of his close circle that which hinders their circulation among the general public? Not as I see it. Here is not the place for a lengthy discourse on Stockhausen’s aesthetics. But I can say this: his aesthetics are his very own, derived from his work with electronic music, ideas from the Urantia Book, and  the concept of all music as “opera” (having an inescapable visual aspect). His aesthetic has been called Fremde Schönheit or Strange Beauty. These are the highest hurdles to Stockhausen’s popularity among performers. His music is not for the faint of heart.

The family members and close friends with whom he worked saw to it that his music could be executed on their instruments, and did not make compositional or aesthetic decisions. They have done their jobs well; everything in a work by Stockhausen is playable and clearly notated. In contrast, how many of us contemporary flutists have scratched our heads nearly bald trying to work out a piece written for a famous flutist of our day who didn’t sweat the details of clarity of notation? I certainly have had my share of them, that is why I take the trouble to write this blog in the first place.

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Paradies Remembered

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It’s been over a month since the marathon premiere of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Klang cycle. I have been wanting to share the experience here, but I survived the project with too many mixed feelings. However if I don’t get it out, my blogging energy may get permanently clogged. Also, Robert Bigio, the editor of Flute (the journal of the British Flute Society) has entrusted me with another project: a feature on Kathinka Pasveer. So it’s time to get my thoughts in order.

Paradies is an 18-minute work for solo flute with electronics (8-channel tape). It must be played eyes closed, from memory, while wearing a specific shade of pink (HKS31, it’s called in the German textile industry). A shirt in this color, worn with white pants and shoes, is also acceptable. The piece does not require movement on stage or any sort of choreography.

I have performed this piece 12 times between April 24 and May 29, 2010, and will perform it again in November in England.

Most of the questions that come my way have to do with how I managed to memorize the work. It is nowhere near as daunting as one might think because:
1) The piece uses the same series of 24 pitches over and over, mostly in sequence and only occasionally in easily recognizable variations. Analysis of this work is a no-brainer.
2) The player is involved in the compositional process.

To begin, I must explain that the work has 24 strophes. Each of these strophes has two parts:
1) a ritornello in which a melody is given but the dynamics, speed and articulation are decided by the player (this is the “involved in the compositional process” part)
2) a composed insert. The composed parts are called inserts because they may be inserted at any point during the ritornello. (Theoretically. This piece is fraught with unwritten rules, and the insertion of the composed insert must follow certain guidelines not given in the score.)

I began work on the piece after New Year’s 2010, so had just over 4 months preparation time. There was no way for me to memorize the piece from the outset, since the ritornelli needed to be worked out and played for Kathinka. I didn’t want to write anything onto hard disk only to have to erase it later. What I did memorize from the beginning was the structure of the piece. That in retrospect was a good idea. By the way, the ritornelli’s dynamics, speed and articulation should be worked out rather than improvized. Whether you write them out or not is up to you. If your memory is at all visual or photographic, as mine partially is, I recommend writing.

I also realized the sooner I had a good version of the ritornelli, the sooner I could begin memorizing them. So my first order of business was writing the ritornelli. During the first rehearsal with Kathinka (January 25th), I ended up having to erase about two-thirds of what I had written, having trespassed many of the unwritten rules. By the time of the next rehearsal with Kathinka, on April 1st, we had a version that we could both be happy with and I could start the memory work in ernest. At that point it was not difficult. The ritornelli had been worked on for so long that memorizing them came easily, and the structure and the composed inserts had already been memorized.

I hope readers were not expecting a full discorse on how one memorizes music. For most of us it is an individual combination of visual, analytical and kinesthetic elements. For me, it is perhaps
Visual = 10%
Analytical = 10%
Kinesthetic (muscle memory)= 80%

Some of my tricks included
1) Setting a time schedule by working backwards from the date of the performance. Divide and conquer. Don’t try to memorize all at once but set a certain amount for a certain time period.
2) Going through the piece without the flute in hand or the music in front of me. This I often did in the dark before going to sleep.
3) Procrastinating as much as legally possible in order to have the peace of mind required for clear intellectual work. This means taxes didn’t get filed, Spring cleaning waited until Summer. Sort of the buy now, pay later strategy. If you can afford it, it does work.

Photos: Melvyn Poore and Liz Hirst

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