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The rarely-performed music by Arthur Lourié is rather harder to evaluate, especially when derivatives extend from late romantics through to contemporary part-impressions of Debussy, Ravel, Honegger, and Stravinsky who became a personal friend. But I enjoyed performances of his String Quartet by the Leipzig Quartet, La Flute de Pan, Dithyrambes, Formes en l'air, Deux Poèmes Op 8 -- Kornelia Brandkamp, flute with Steffen Schleiermacher, piano, and the inventive Concerto da Camera with the complete line-up plus Christian Ockert, doublebass. The St Petersburg-born composer who died in 1966 experimented with atonality and quarter-tones, and later fell back to writing in a modal idiom. His moves to Paris, then the USA where he wrote his biography of the conductor Koussevitzky, suggest that he was something of a musical ambassador, but he wrote music in most categories.

A move to the Neue Nationalgalerie (situated on the same precinct as The Philharmonie and Musical Instruments Museum) for a late night concert of works by John Cage was only partly rewarding. The building itself is rectangular, virtually all glass with metal structural supports, cleared internally for the performers -- Isao Nakamura, percussionist-supreme, Kaya Han, pianist and assisting percussion players who joined forces in Music of Changes for bongos, gourds and strips of metal. The 'prepared' piano had various attachments to mute the tone, and so on.

Back in 1958, Cage enjoyed a 25-year retrospective event at the Town Hall, New York. His dictum then was 'I believe that the use of noise wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating.' In the current year 2000, much of this fascination has worn rather thin, but the inventiveness is still fresh, even if the novelty has now become repetitive. Most of the piano's added bits and pieces -- but not all -- were removed for Ms Han's 48-minute marathon Amores. I couldn't begin to describe my reactions, my tired brain was unable to decipher the multi-complexities of mixed modes, lightning phrasework, half statements, glissandi, sforzandi plinks and plunks and the inevitable long pauses between. Fifteen per cent of the audience departed.

For a Percussionist was far more interesting. Nakamura, like Punch framed in his wooden structure, was poised ready to press the start button on a demonstration that would put errant football supporters, political upstarts and frustrated antique buyers to shame! One-man Isao, his hair-raising features vaguely Chaplinesque, held listeners spellbound before, with split-second timing, launching an onslaught, or alternately caressing, an array of items to bang, rattle and blow, carefully suspended from hooks above and behind him. But it all made musical sense, the contrasting timbres forming a pattern that changed and developed like a charismatic monologue growing to climactic propensities.

At certain points Cage interpolates radio transmissions of dance music and mad people arguing the toss, but when the performer really wanted to startle he would turn his head away, lower his whole body, then suddenly emerge piercing the proscenium with a variety of whistles. What did they say about Furtwängler? The pauses were part of the performance greatness. Well, Cage goes one better, making us wait up to about ten seconds before starting on a newly thought-out escapade. For those who remained, it was a riveting achievement and deserved the riotous applause that followed.

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Copyright © 12 December 2000 Bill Newman, Edgware, UK





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