"Oh, no." "Oh, yes, Mr. Ligeti."

A question I never thought to ask myself:  "What if Maude Lebowski were the genuine article?"

Say what you will about YouTube's recommendation algorithm, but this morning it suggested this video to me.  Why me?  Why today?  Is it because it's Halloween?  "Mysteries of the Macabre" certainly sounds Halloween-themed.  Anyway:  Holy moly.

I learned at least four things from this: 1) Gyorgi Ligeti had a sense of humor, 2) symphony audiences in Gothenburg are up for anything, 3) Barbara Hannigan is a force of nature, and 4) if you practice, and are very careful, it's possible to do a deep curtsy while wearing two-inch platforms.

I've heard maybe five things by Ligeti, and four of them are in 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Ligeti was very serious.  "Atmospheres," the piece that appears in full on the soundtrack, is a fantastically difficult piece of music:  it was hard to write, it's hard to learn, it's damnably hard to perform, and it sure isn't easy to listen to.  The notes that the singers are hitting slide up and down the scale in unmeasurable increments, leading to intervals and chords that aren't found anywhere in traditional Western music.  He didn't exactly invent a new kind of dissonance - any two singers messing around can make sounds like this - but he went all in on it.

This piece - it's an aria from his opera Le Grand Macabre - uses microtonality here and there, but that's not the main focus.  The main focus is...how to put it?  Maybe it's expressed best by the trumpeter who stands up around 5 minutes in and yells, "Vad fan är det som händer?" or, in English, "What the fuck is happening?"

This is a riot.  There's rattling percussion, blasts of wind instruments, weird swells and cascades.  Early on there is the sound of tearing and crumpling paper.  From the very first moment, it's all executed with absolute precision.  These notes may be all wrong, but they're the right wrong notes.

Last week, I posted a video of Karl Böhm conducting, and said something about he was practically the Platonic ideal of symphony-orchestra conductor.  This performance reminds me of the saying that Ginger Rogers had to do all the dancing that Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in heels.  (If Rogers ever wore heels like these, it wasn't in the movies.)  

And conducting while singing?  While singing this?  And dancing?  This is a virtuosity piled atop virtuosity here.  

When that trumpeter stands up and yells, it's to close a section where Hannigan has stretched a note that starts out so quietly it wasn't obvious that she was even singing into a loud, wild ululation that briefly turns into a duel with the clarinetist.  She's hunched down, hand over her ear, with mad eyes, and then she's shaking her black wig around and flailing her arms wildly, and then she sings "code name: Loch Ness Monster," and all I can think of is Calvin saying, "Those are the cannons. And they perform in crowded concert halls? Gee. I thought classical music was boring."

I hope you enjoy this as much as the good people of Gothenburg did.


Popular Posts