Leuk 2015: The collapse of the concert hall

ForumWallis 2015: Festival of New Music

By Peter Hulm

That headline had to come, didn't it? in view of my previous reviews.

Luckily for me, it's an accurate representation of the 2015 ForumWallis. Its most spectacular event was a production of Stockhausen's Helicopter String Quartet, rarely performed because of its logistic and technical demands.

The organizer Javier Hagen enlisted Air-Glaciers' helicopter pilots in the performance by the Arditti Quartet. The piece sends the string players into the air, each in a separate helicopter, to play together while the aircraft carry out presecribed manoeuvres.

Sound engineer-producer André Richard fed the sounds — like the murmuring of bees, Stockhausen suggested accurately — into a concert hall while television cameras projected the players and the scenery into the packed hall. To keep in time, the musicians had earphones that blipped timed sounds to control their playing.

Then musicians and pilots came onstage to reflect on their experience. Arditti apparently told the organizers this was the best prepared performance they have given of the helicopter quartet. Irvine Arditti said he didn't expect to be having such fun at his age (in his 60s).

A helicopter pilot, asked now he found the experience, pointed out in stereotypical Swiss fashion that he is used to landing in very difficult mountain terrain to rescue people, so this mission was nothing special.

Breaking the boundaries

Once again Hagen stretched the boundaries of what audiences expect from new music: this time breaking out of the concert hall.

It was a special occasion. The piece has been performed only six times since 1995, while being described as "the most iconic piece of classical music from the 1990s".

It wouldn't have been more than a show stopper if Hagen hadn't included a number of equally significant pieces in the 2015 festival.

These included an hommage to the founder of the festival, Pierre Mariétan, for his 80th birthday — a performance of his works in the bar-vestibule of the concert venue, Leuk Castle.

Egyptian premiere in Europe

Reversing the outside-inside formula of the helicopter quartet, the Egyptian Contemporary Music Ensemble presented the European première of a haunting work that used the sounds of a chanting football crowd, known for their democratic political sympathies, who were later attacked by Egyptian thugs "in plain clothes", resulting in some 70 deaths.

Basam Halaka's Ultras (2012), according to the progamme notes, starts with Bassem Youssef's voice, an Egyptian surgeon and broadcaster, saying 'those dead young men were not just football fans [...] Their guilt was saying the word of truth, whilst many others surrendered early. Righteous men who kept their word until their death'. Afterwards recorded cheering from a previous football match is played. It says: 'when I stop cheering, I will definitely be dead'. In the background, we hear a recording of part of the piece as a deformed playback accompanied by an obstinate sound from the cello playing the same rhythm of the previously heard cheering. "This piece reflects the panic, fear, escape, chaos and agony which broke out when hundreds of thugs brutally attacked peaceful football fans, killing 74 of them and injuring hundreds with no ambulance vehicles nearby to give any help. Even the closer ones ran away from the area leaving the young men alone to face death."

She, Hera

The astounding Swiss group Le Pot announced a peformance of their latest CD, Hera, recorded in the St. Romanus church from nearby Raron, with churchbells and Benjamin Britten fragments.

That didn't take place. Instead, the group performed some newer pieces that gave them a chance to explore a completely different world. You can find their CDs, including the church recording, at everestrecords.ch. I'd recommend She an extraordinary varied ensemble with titles like Desert Whale Song and Me, Mo and Mu.

Lecture for Nothing

It would be forcing the presentations into a Procrustean bed of theory to suggest this performance indicated the collapse of concert boundaries. But one of the major events worth noting was John Cage's rarely performed "Lecture for Nothing". This patterns a lecture in the same way as a piece of music, with themes and repetitions, and strange boundary markers for each section. Javier Hagen used a cough.

Ulrike Mayer-Spohn, meanwhile, the other half of UMS'nJIP, played recorder and orchestrated gasps on the other side of the platform, ending up on her back after representing the last gasping moments of a human life.

This could be considered as sabotaging the idea of the concert hall from inside.

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