Xenakis: Music and Math Review – Visceral Intensity Takes Us Beyond Theory | Classical music
Oith other events to mark the centenary of the birth of Iannis Xenakis this year, still rare in the UK, Birmingham’s day of workshops, lectures and concerts, presented on the day of the anniversary itself under the auspices of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, was a worthy tribute. Eight of the Greek-French composer’s works were performed, interspersed with premieres of specially commissioned pieces. The title of the day, Music & Maths, emphasized the theorization of his compositions, but what stands out most – as always with Xenakis – is the visceral intensity of his works, which sets him apart from other great European figures of his generation. .
Whether in the dense, curdled dissonances of Ittidra’s 1996 string writing, the mute howls of the soprano soloist (the excellent Anna Dennis) in 1977’s Akanthos, or the tangled knots of the wild counterpoint of Milestones, one of his greatest achievements, composed for the Ensemble Intercontemporain in 1986, Xenakis always surprises. There is something ancient, even primitive, that runs through his music, which contrasts so tellingly with the often convoluted techniques that generated it, and gives it a special charge.
All of these pieces were performed with just the right mix of savagery and virtuosity by BCMG under the direction of Gabriella Teychenné, and their concert included some premieres. Samantha Fernando’s Breathing Forest features a meditative ‘forest bathing’ text for soprano (Dennis), with voice-damping strings and percussion, while in Emily Howard’s Compass, a solo percussionist (Julian Warbuton) led a string group on a rather hesitant musical journey. .
There was also new work in the last concert of the day, an ‘acousmatic’ program presented by Beast, the University of Birmingham’s electronic sound studio. It is Happening Again by Sergio Luque extends the stochastic techniques developed by Xenakis to produce a study in sustained sounds, whose alternation and repetition increase in insistence. Luque was also behind the mixing desk of an eight-channel version of Xenakis’s La Légende d’Eer, the 45-minute piece composed for the multimedia show that opened the Center Pompidou in Paris in 1978. the 45-minute piece composed for the multimedia Diatope at the Center Pompidou in Paris in 1978. A dazzling and moving achievement, bringing together naturally derived and synthesized sounds to create a canvas of immense scope, it is a piece that deserves a place alongside the greatest scores electronics, and a perfect example of why Xenakis significance endures.