AMN Reviews: Gregory Oakes – Aesthetic Apparatus [New Focus FCR196]

Some of the most challenging music of recent years—challenging to play as well as to listen to—has been written by German composer Helmut Lachenmann (b. 1935). The conceptual core of much of his music has consisted in laying bare the conditions underlying and assumed by music production—essentially, the physical prerequisites of performance practice, as well as the determinations, both accepted and rejected, of genre. For Lachenmann, musical sound is a complex of factors reaching back within the tradition or genre in relation to which it is created, and reaching forward into the moment—the physical situation of specific possibilities and the choices they elicit—in which it is actually produced. Thus the title of his book of writings, which translates as “music as existential experience.” This standpoint puts extraordinary demands on the performer, who must be familiar with all the aspects and resources his or her instrument has to offer. With Aesthetic Apparatus, a set of three Lachenmann compositions, clarinetist Gregory Oakes takes up the challenge.

Oakes, who is principal clarinetist for the Des Moines Symphony Orchestra as well as an assistant professor of clarinet at Iowa State University in Ames, is particularly interested in contemporary art music. Much of his repertoire is the product of collaboration with currently active composers, and he seems especially drawn to new music that assumes a broad notion of what kinds of sounds are permissible in the concert hall. Thus Lachenmann’s music is a natural fit for him.

The affinity between Oakes and Lachenmann’s sound world is immediately apparent with the first piece, 1970’s Dal Niente (Interieur III) for solo clarinet. The composition calls for a number of extended techniques for the instrument, many of which involve the sounds of breath on the borderline of silence. In his liner note, Oakes points out that the title of the piece derives from a musical marking that translates as “from nothing;” his performance accordingly pivots on the flux of sounds proceeding from and returning to nothing. The Trio Fluido for clarinet, viola and percussion of 1966, in which Oakes is joined by violist Jonathan Sturm and Matthew Coley on marimba, also centers on sound but in a more assertive way. The piece begins with a fragmented Modernist counterpoint that, through a kind of compositional auto-deconstruction, gradually dissolves into abstract sound. What’s striking about the piece is its underlying consistency; the division of the three voices focuses attention on their individual timbral characteristics, whether played conventionally or with the extended techniques that come to dominate the final third or so of the performance. The interplay among the three performers manages to be both refined and (subtly) dramatic. The final performance, the nearly 32 minute long Allegro Sostenuto (1986/1988), is a trio for clarinet, cello (George Work) and piano (Mei-Hsuan Huang) that Lachenmann has described as mediating between resonance and movement. The piece begins as an archipelago of rapid bursts, truncated phrases and points of sound that accumulate and build length and mass over time. The resonance inheres in the individuation of each of the three instruments, which is helped by the three players’ precise articulation. Here as on all three pieces, Oakes plays with a fine-grained, well-modulated and vivid sound.


Daniel Barbiero


Talea Ensemble in NY

From the Talea Ensemble:


Thursday, July 9, 2009, 8:30PM (note later start time)
43A W. 13th St., NYC (5th and 6th Ave.)
$15/10 (students) tickets at the door

James Dillon: Siorram (1992) for viola
Jean-Luc Hervé: Rêve de vol I (1996) for clarinet and viola (US premiere)
Pierluigi Billone: Mani.MONO (2008) for solo springdrum (World premiere)
Tristan Murail: Les ruines circulaires (2006) for clarinet and violin
Helmut Lachenmann: Trio Fluido (1966) for clarinet, viola, and percussion

performed by Rane Moore (clarinet), Alex Lipowski (percussion), Elizabeth Weisser (viola), and Joshua Modney (guest violinist)

Don’t miss the Talea Ensemble’s only summer appearance this season! “Fluid Soundscapes” centers around Helmut Lachenmann’s early masterpiece, Trio Fluido, the oldest and in many ways still the most radical work of the evening. The timbral investigations of Lachemann find their way into the music of one of his most acclaimed students, and one of the most admired composers working in Europe today, Pierluigi Billone. In a unique world premiere performance of a new piece for solo springdrum (Mani.MONO), the sounds emitted from a simple tube the size of one’s forearm with an attached spring are endlessly manipulated into a unique sonic universe unto itself. James Dillon’s Siorram (Gaelic for “in an enchanted sleep”) is moving and affecting, with a strong, folk-like lyrical pull amidst bursts of almost vocalized intensity. Jean-Luc Hervé, whose music is being played in the U.S. for the first time on this concert, plays on the pairing of viola and clarinet through contrapuntal and coloristic imitations and deviations. In a similarly microtonal harmonic world, Tristan Murail’s Les ruines circulaires generates momentum and continuity through arcs of expanding and contracting cycles, overlapping and overreaching between the duo of clarinet and violin.

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Sixth Sacrum Profanum Festival begins in Krakow

Karlheinz Stockhausen at Old Billingsgate Mark...Image via Wikipedia A new music festival is underway in Poland.

German music is the main theme of the Sacrum-Profanum Music Festival, which began in Krakow last night, with the concert in which Sinfonietta Cracovia under the famous French conductor Marc Minkowski performed Kurt Weill’s Symphony No. 2 and Seven Deadly Sins (with Ute Lemper as soloist).

The programme also includes a wide selection of works by Karlheinz Stockhausen, one of the household names in 20th-century avant-garde music, who died last year. His music will be performed by such renowned groups as Theatre of Voices, the Schonberg Enssemble, Ensemble Modern and Asko. Works by Helmut Lachenmann, Heiner Goebbels and Wolfgang Rihm are also featured on the programme. Kraftwerk, the legend of German electronic music, will give three concerts (19-21 September), in a post-industrial venue of the former steel mill, seating 10, 000.

Founded in 2003, Sacrum-Profanum is among the youngest music festivals in Poland but it has already gained considerable international reputation. Its aim is to explore the fundamental role of the sacred and the profane in the music of the 19th and 20th century. Each year the focus is on a different country. After Russia, France and the United States in previous years, the organizers are planning to make British music the event’s main theme in 2009.

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