A Musical Discourse On Wartime and Cities
Heiner Goebbels Works in Tully Hall / Tully Scope Festival at Lincoln Center, New York
Tully Scope, which offered 14 concerts over nearly a month, ended on Friday night with a program of two works by the German composer, music director and theater artist Heiner Goebbels performed by musicians from the London Sinfonietta, a top-notch contemporary-music group, and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, a leading period-instrument ensemble also from London. They were led by the brilliant young Estonian conductor Anu Tali.
And at its conclusion the theme of Tully Scope still seemed amorphous. But any festival that brings Mr. Goebbels to New York is fine with me. And to judge from the audience reaction, I was not alone.
Mr. Goebbels, 58, is known for works that boldly mix styles: old and modern classical music, jazz, avant-garde rock and more. He has written for the theater and incorporated texts into his multimedia pieces, along with unconventional, invented instruments, as in his gripping work “Stifters Dinge,” a highlight of the Lincoln Center Festival in 2009, presented at the Park Avenue Armory.
The first part of Friday’s program offered the “Sampler Suite From ‘Surrogate Cities.’ ” This 30-minute piece comprises 10 instrumental excerpts from the 90-minute “Surrogate Cities,” completed in 1994, a work for large orchestra, mezzo-soprano and digital sounds that grappled with the phenomenon of the city. The excerpts amount to a modernist homage to a Baroque dance suite, with movements called Courante, Gavotte and such. But the music is no pastiche.
In his fresh, strange way Mr. Goebbels evokes the rhythmic swing and contrapuntal intricacy of Baroque dances. There are toccatalike bursts of spiraling solo lines; pungently harmonic woodwind and string chorales; a frenetic Gigue; and most haunting, a Chaconne that uses fragments of Jewish liturgical chant heard on purposely scratchy old recordings, in which the vocal lines are harmonically enshrouded by the orchestra. Ms. Tali conducted grippingly.
After intermission came the 60-minute “Songs of Wars I Have Seen.” The title is adapted from Gertrude Stein’s book about life during wartime, published in 1945. A longtime resident of Paris, she was living in a village near Lyon under the collaborating Vichy regime. Her comments focus on the daily rituals of trying to continue a domestic routine amid the disruption, danger and deprivation.
Stein’s matter-of-fact observations on the difficulty of obtaining certain staples like sugar could be taken as callous except for the vulnerability and fear that come through in her curiously soothing words, alternately perceptive and daffy. The tone of her thoughts is given added poignancy and depth by Mr. Goebbels’s remarkable music.
The texts were recited by female musicians in the orchestra when they were not playing. The music is a haunting combination of modernist harmonies, jazzy bursts and actual quotations of melancholic dances by the 17th-century English composer Matthew Locke. Digital sounds evoke rustling winds, rattling machines and cosmic atmospherics.
After the concert, as with all the Tully Scope events, the audience gathered in the lobby and mingled, given glasses of sparkling wine. You were surrounded by animated conversations about the music. Lincoln Center should find a way to keep this welcome innovation of Tully Scope going.
NY Times (US), 21 March 2011