Iannis Xenakis: Metastaseis A, Terretektorh, Nomos Gamma - Arturo Tamayo, cond.

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Iannis Xenakis: Metastaseis A, Terretektorh, Nomos Gamma - Arturo Tamayo, cond.
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  Liner notes for  mode 299 Iannis XENAKIS:    Xenakis Edition 15, Orchestral Works  — Metastaseis A (first recording), Orchestra Sinfonica RAI; Terretektorh for 88 musicians dispersed among the public; Nomos Gamma for 98 musicians dispersed among the public — Residentie Orkest The Hague, Arturo Tamayo, conductor. CD or Bluray. (2017) Ron Squibbs – University of Connecticut From Alpha to Gamma The three works that are presented on this recording span several chapters in Xenakis’s creative development—eight chapters in fact, if one considers that Xenakis begins Chapter 1 of his treatise Formalized Music  with a description of Metastaseis  and closes Chapter 8 with a description of Nomos Gamma . In between these creative “chapters” came a group of works for which Xenakis is perhaps best known—his stochastic works—even if no single work from that group (with the possible exception of Pithoprakta ) remains as iconic a representation of Xenakis’s emergence within the international avant-garde as Metastaseis . The version of Metastaseis  presented here, Metastaseis A , is the srcinal, which had long been eclipsed by its revision, Metastaseis B . In a characteristically Xenakian combination of planning and fortuitousness, Xenakis arrived at a meeting with the conductor Hermann Scherchen to discuss another work he wished to have performed, carrying the oversized score to Metastaseis A  under his arm. Although Scherchen declined to perform the other work, he asked Xenakis about the score he was carrying with him. He was interested in Metastaseis , but was critical of the size of the score and of elements of its instrumentation. He agreed to perform it if certain revisions were made. Ultimately, the première of the revised version, Metastaseis B , would be conducted by Hans Rosbaud at Donaueschingen in 1955, where it created a sensation. Because of its role in establishing Xenakis’s reputation, Metastaseis —and not any of his earlier works—would come to take on the status of his “Opus 1.” Given Xenakis’s prominence among composers of the late twentieth century, it is somewhat ironic that the public would have to wait until several years after the composer’s death before hearing the srcinal version of Metastaseis . The première of the srcinal version, Metastaseis A , took place in 2008 in Torino, with the Orchestra Sinfonica RAI under the direction of Arturo Tamayo, who conducts the work in this recording, its first commercial release. Xenakis has explained that the title Metastaseis  combines the terms meta  (beyond, after) and staseis  (immobility, stationary states). It therefore implies a dialectical tension between the processes of movement and of stasis. This dialectic is played out in quite vivid terms over the course of the work, which divides clearly into four large sections. The first and last sections feature glissandi in the strings in extreme divisi  —one player to a part. In these sections the sense of movement is direct, as the pitch varies in a continuous manner by means of the glissandi. The second section forms a stark contrast with the first, featuring short melodic motives whose elements are subjected to systematic permutations of their pitch and temporal relationships. Although not based on twelve-tone serialism, this section nonetheless participates in the permutational processes that are typical of serialism and of the structured approach to modal composition that had been developed by Xenakis’s mentor, Olivier Messiaen. In this section, the sense of movement occurs indirectly, as the permutational processes animate the relatively static elements of the melodic motives. The third section displays a combination  of the two types of musical process exhibited in the first two sections. It provides the work’s dramatic climax and leads logically, and with great musical effectiveness, to the massed glissandi of the fourth and final section. In a gesture that points back to the work’s srcin, and yet beyond it, the strings conclude in unison on G#3, one half-step above the unison G3 on which they began at the work’s opening. The dialectic that is enacted during the course of Metastaseis  is no mere exercise in cold logic, but rather—as in many of Xenakis’s scores—it bears the imprint of a struggle to come into being, or perhaps to remain in existence in the face of formidable opposition. As Xenakis explained in an interview with Bálint András Varga, the sound world of Metastaseis  was inspired by his experiences as a member of the student Resistance during the Nazi occupation of Greece: “I listened to the sound of the masses marching towards the center of Athens, the shouting of slogans and then, when they came upon Nazi tanks, the intermittent shooting of the machine guns, the chaos. I shall never forget the transformation of the regular, rhythmic noise of a hundred thousand people into some fantastic disorder … I would never have thought that one day all that would surface again and become music: Metastaseis .” (Varga 1996, 52) Far from sounding “scientific” or clinically abstract in the manner of some music composed since the mid-twentieth century, there is an elemental quality, a sense of immediacy that appeals to listeners from a wide range of backgrounds, some of whom have little familiarity with the aesthetics and polemics of the mid-century avant-garde. Now that the srcinal version of Metastaseis  has become more widely available, one is led naturally to consider the differences between the two versions. Since its first performance in 1955 and its publication in 1967, the revised version has been the only one known to performers, listeners, and scholars. It makes sense, therefore, to begin with the revised version as a reference point and then to compare its characteristics to those of the srcinal version. Both versions are essentially identical in terms of their form and their rhythmic structure. Each is 346 measures in length at a steady tempo of quarter note = 50. Somewhat unusually, each measure consists of a single quarter note. Each measure, therefore, contains only a downbeat, with rhythmic differentiation achieved solely by means of division of that beat. The greatest differences occur in the composition of the versions’ respective string ensembles. Metastaseis B  has the more conventional ensemble: 24 violins, 8 violas, 8 cellos, and 6 basses. Metastaseis A  is more unusual, both for its expansion of the viola and cello sections (with 12 of each) and its reduction of the basses (only 4). It was evidently this feature of the work that most disturbed Hermann Scherchen when he perused the score. Xenakis was wise to follow Scherchen’s suggestions for revision, for he must have sensed that there would likely be no other way for the work to be performed. Not only did he comply with Scherchen’s demand for a slightly reduced string section: he then replicated the reduced ensemble in his next work, Pithoprakta  (1955-56). Now that Xenakis has become a respected, even a revered, figure among avant-garde composers, it is more likely that the means are to be found to realize his srcinal vision for the work. A close comparison of the two versions shows that, in moving from Metastaseis A  to B , Xenakis preserved all of the violin parts from the srcinal, assigned some of the viola parts to the cellos and some of the cello parts to the now expanded bass section. In all, only six parts were ultimately deleted from the sound masses at the beginning and end of the work. While the timbre is therefore slightly leaner in Metastaseis B  than in  A , the voicing of the work’s celebrated mass sonorities is similar, though  by no means identical. Among the missing voices in Metastaseis B  is the part assigned to viola 12 in Metastaseis A , which sustains the G3 on which all of the string parts begin throughout the string cluster whose ultimate form is achieved by the beginning of measure 35. As a result of the restoration of the instrumentation particular to Metastaseis A , this cluster becomes slightly more chromatic. In neither version, however, is the voicing of this cluster merely the result of listing its component pitches in score order. It is clear that Xenakis wished to create a sonority that permeated the entire string section and that was therefore distributed spatially so as to create a complex pattern, something that could be heard differently depending on one’s position within or around the string ensemble. (The notion of patterned spatialization of sound would return in a number of his subsequent works, including Terretektorh  and Nomos Gamma , also on this recording.) There are similar differences in the voicing of the string masses at the end of work as well. In the work’s second and third large sections, however, the differences generally concern matters of doubling. In the second section, Metastaseis A  restores some doublings in the viola section that are absent in Metastaseis B . Perhaps the most striking differences of all come in the third section, in which the larger string ensemble of Metastaseis A  allows for doublings between the “extra” violas and cellos and members of the wind and brass sections. The work’s revision resulted in the elimination of this timbral blending between the string section and the winds and brass, resulting in a starker separation among the instrumental groups. It is well known that Xenakis was a great admirer of the music of Brahms. It is almost as if Scherchen’s required revisions forced Xenakis to abandon the remaining traces of Romantic orchestration in Metastaseis  in favor of a more thoroughly modernist one: less like Brahms and more like Varèse, perhaps. With this recording it becomes possible for listeners to compare the results of the more Romantic approach with the more modernist one featured in previous recordings. Terretektorh  (1965-66) and Nomos Gamma  (1967-68) are companion works. Both were composed in order to be performed with the orchestral musicians distributed in a large circle—with audience members interspersed among the musicians—and both were commissioned by the Royan Festival, where they were premièred by l’Orchestre Philharmonique de l’ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française). Both works feature a large string ensemble (16 first violins, 14 second violins, 12 violas, 10 cellos, and 8 basses) and large complements of woodwinds and brass. The total number of instrumentalists in Terretektorh  is 88, and in Nomos Gamma  98. The larger number of musicians in Nomos Gamma  is due to an increased number of bassoons, trumpets, horns, and percussion. As one moves from Metastaseis  to Terretektorh  and Nomos Gamma , one leaves the conventional concert hall behind and enters into a truly immersive experience. In the first decade of his career, Xenakis produced music—orchestral, chamber, solo, electroacoustic—that was suitable for performance at international festivals and expositions, but in the 1960s he began to diversify his work, reintroducing the human voice for the first time since his early works (those prior to Metastaseis ) and assuming more control over the settings in which some of his works would be performed. Ancient sources figure prominently in the works that include voices, for which texts were drawn from Sophocles ( Polla ta Dhina ), Aeschylus ( Hiketides , Oresteïa ) and Seneca ( Medea ), or for which phonemes from ancient Sumerian and Persian were used ( Nuits ). Terretektorh , which Xenakis has referred to as a “sonotron”—essentially a musical particle accelerator—would at first appear to be far removed from the ambience of ancient myth and drama. It is true that classical geometry is invoked in the manner in which sounds move within the circle of the orchestra—for instance, in the application of the Archimedean spiral (among several types of spiral)—but Terretektorh  also references Xenakis’s own experiences of solitude  in nature, in which he often imagined himself to be participating in a mythological past. His introductory note in the score describes the kind of experience that is offered to the listener: “[A] shower of hail or even a murmuring of pine-forests can encompass each listener, or in fact any other atmosphere or linear concept either static or in motion. Finally the listener, each one individually, will find himself either perched on top of a mountain in the middle of a storm which attacks him from all sides, or in a frail barque tossing on the open sea, or again in a universe dotted about with little stars of sound, moving in compact nebulae or isolated.” In an interview given in 1990, Xenakis made even more explicit the connections involving Terretektorh , his love of nature, and his attempts to recreate the atmosphere of a mythical past: “ … I used to camp and loved being alone on an island which wasn’t too big, in the middle of the sea, with all the storms and wind, and rain even, all around me. That is extraordinary when one finds oneself in the middle of nature, something which can never happen in the city or even populated mountains. That is to say, to be like Ulysses, in the middle of the islets. It is important to be Ulysses today because that does not exist. Even those who go around the world in a boat. They know that there are ports and all that, but anyway one can also feel the effect of total solitude in the middle of nature. In Terretektorh , the public is in this tempest of sound.” (Matossian 2005, 317) Consistent with the image of being situated on an islet in the middle of the sea—or, in the case of Terretektorh , in the middle of the orchestra—the unfolding of events suggests the changes in natural phenomena over the course of several hours, or a day, condensed within the fifteen   minutes of this work. As in Metastaseis , there are clusters of pitches in the strings, massed glissandi, and blocks of sound from winds, brass, and percussion, but rather than being organized into four large sections clearly separated from one another by texture and articulation as in the earlier work, here the emphases among the instrumental groups flow one into the other, changing over at a rate of about once per minute—perhaps more, perhaps less. Although Terretektorh  is an environment in which sound “particles” are set into motion, the work conveys a definite sense of flow, aided no doubt by the spatial distribution of sounds around the orchestra and among the members of the audience. Among the extraordinary effects in this work are hand-held percussion instruments—whips, maracas, and wood-blocks—played by every musician that help to convey the sense of the listener being buffeted by wind, rain, and hail. Nomos Gamma  is a synthesis of the large-orchestra-in-the-round of Terretektorh  and the application of the mathematical theory of groups, which Xenakis had previously implemented in the composition of  Akrata  for winds (1964-5) and Nomos Alpha  for solo cello (1966). Group theory, which allows for the generation of musical events through the permutation of their qualities (pitch, duration, loudness, articulation) is a logical extension of the kinds of permutational procedures Xenakis had applied in the interior sections of Metastaseis . In its implementation in Xenakis’s works of the 1960s, it is combined with his research into the formation of scales—sieve theory—which may be based on units other than equal-tempered semitones and which may be used to creates scales that exceed the traditional boundary interval of the octave before repeating the pattern of their scale steps. As Xenakis pointed out in Formalized Music  (Xenakis 1992, 238-41), group theory was used to generate the parts for oboes and clarinets at the beginning of Nomos Gamma , and was also used elsewhere. Perhaps most striking from a listener’s perspective, however, is the increased size of the percussion section in comparison to Terretektorh . This lends a kind of ritual brutality to the piece. In contrast to Terretektorh , the form of Nomos Gamma  is more sharply delineated. As in its predecessor, Nomos Alpha , the application of group-theoretical transformations lends itself naturally to a sectionalized form.  The works on this recording span a period of fifteen years, from Xenakis’s prodigious debut with Metastaseis  to about one-third of the way through the remainder of his career. Among Xenakis’s orchestral works, Metastaseis  has been one of the most frequently performed, and is certainly one of his most frequently mentioned works, to the point of becoming virtually an iconic representation of his distinctive contributions to the post-war avant-garde. Because of the unusual nature of the demands that Terretektorh  and Nomos Gamma  place on performers and concert organizers, however, these two important mid-career orchestral works have received far fewer performances than they deserve. Due to the emulation of the immersive experience of these works that the surround-sound medium offers, this recording makes a significant contribution to the wider dissemination of these two vital masterworks of the mid-twentieth-century orchestral repertoire. Each of the three works presented here was recorded in live performance, thus enhancing the immediacy of their impact as well as documenting the amazing virtuosity of Arturo Tamayo and the orchestral musicians. References: Gibson, Benoît. 2011. The Instrumental Music of Iannis Xenakis: Theory, Practice, Self-Borrowing.  Hillsdale, NY: Pendragon Press. Harley, James. 2004.  Xenakis: His Life in Music . New York and London: Routledge. Matossian, Nouritza. 2005.  Xenakis , rev. ed. Lefkosia, Cyprus: Moufflon. Varga, Bálint. 1996. Conversations with Iannis Xenakis . London: Faber and Faber. Xenakis, Iannis. 1992. Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Music , rev. ed. Edited by Sharon Kanach. Stuyvesant, NY: Pendragon Press. Acknowledgement: My thanks to Sharon Kanach for her comments and helpful suggestions.
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