Although I will make this brief, I wanted to be absolutely sure I said something clearly: hearing the Mivos quartet play the Lachenmann 3rd string quartet was one of the great musical experiences of my life. Lachenmann, within 10 seconds, offered up a vision of God-tier compositional mastery that was overwhelming to me. I know that many of the audience members felt basically the same way. It felt like an elemental spirit coming to life– autonomous, volatile, and powerful. A true force of nature summoned by Mivos, sweeping into the auditorium like a hurricane, riveting us. While my intuition was overtaken by this arcane presence, my composers mind wept at the level of mastery: exquisite subtlety of timbre, control of proportion and texture and color, and awareness that stretched from the barest scratch of the bow to, yes, part-writing and tonality. I could glimpse to the very depths of his technique, and what I saw GG’d me faster than you can say Ken in Street Fighter III. I can only recommend you listen to it, closely. It would be a herculean task to do a full analysis. I only will describe my experience of the piece.
Firstly, his expansion of timbre could fill a textbook, and creates as lush a soundworld as the greatest of orchestrators (Ravel, I’m looking at you). Secondly, the flow of energy never stops–much like polyphonic music of earlier time, we always sense a volatile, immense energy behind even the quietest moments. I personally feel that is a very “German” thing; Wolfgang Rihm also has it in a lot of his output. And there are quiet moments. Lachenmann can handle harmonic color expertly–glowing microtonal thirds and clusters bloomed under the most oblique hint of tonality. I almost had a conniption near the end of the piece because of this. We had been led into a tonal pasture and were not aware we were there, Lachenmann had subtly stationed us in a harmonic framework; so I heard this interval, a 6th, and it started being repeated. Now, those of you who know part-writing know that the 6th is a consonant interval but also a weak one. So this 6th kept happening (the lower note was the “tonic”), so we entered a fragile zone, and just by articulating that interval, he created a sense of lightness not altogether comfortable. My ears were hearing it as a suspension of the tonic, and I was wondering if it was just my darn preconceptions. Then, after some digression, lo, it resolves to the 5th, just like I was hearing it should. To me, this spoke to Lachenmann’s awareness of tonality and proportion and intervals in a big way. And the musical effect was what it would’ve been in tonal music, a sense of “resolution: now we can get on with it”. But not a word I’ve said does this piece justice. Listen to it. It gave me too much to think about.
The Ashley Fure piece: Huge oscillating something-or-others were stationed around the auditorium (sounded like a fan, but no air), and different types of paper were placed in front of them, so there was this fluttering that changed in depth and texture and intensity, and then these soaring notes by these two soprano singers—it sounded somewhat like the voices of two sirens echoing through the void. And then this very faint timpani drumbeat was going on. There was a juxtaposition to a clicking sound, and then that built up with other instruments. The whole thing washed over you and transported you—it was like being on a ride. And it worked compositionally; the world was consistent and well formed. The lighting was also changing–a fact I wasn’t hip to until near the end, when I opened my eyes. The opening to the piece was slow and very quiet, with the singers making sensuous sounds with their mouths, at intervals, connecting us with a primordial awareness of our own bodies. This is what the sounds did for me: it was like being born in a new land. The slow opening is necessary to get into the work: as the proportions of the piece are very large. While I wasn’t as interested in the very beginning of the piece, musically, I understood that it was necessary to bring us naturally into the sound world. And the sound world of the oscillating fans (I’ll just call them fans) did create a marvelous sense to me of hurtling through a void.