Preview of Rattle and LSO performing Stockhausen at Tate Modern

We’ve just returned from our visit to the preview of Sir Simon Rattle and the London Symphony Orchestra performing Stockhausen at the Tate Modern, and what a treat it was!

The evening (of only 50mins performance; 60mins in total) started with Olivier Messiaen’s 1964 Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum (And I await the resurrection of the dead), a piece for brass, winds and percussion. Perhaps the most memorable bit about this part was how one of the musicians (no instruments/names mentioned; anyone present tonight would know who I’m talking about) thoroughly got it wrong big time, and – much more impressively – how the great maestro, Sir Simon Rattle walked up to the person in question at the end of the piece, and gently, smilingly, warmly, and clearly trying to suppress a burst of incredulous laughter, asked “What happened?”, to which the perpetrator said “I don’t know”.

The world’s most famous conductors are not known to be good people managers or gentle souls. In a similar situation you’d expect most conductors to shout obscenities, kick over a few chairs, and then take it from there. It was great to see someone of Rattle’s distinction in this metier show such humanity and friendship in a situation like this.

Well, we were not here for Messiaen. We were here for Karlheinz Stockhausen, perhaps the greatest musician of the 20th century (and I love my Jimi Hendrix!!!) and a fellow German (well, I’m now an Englishman, but I grew up in Germany).

He is known for introducing controlled chance (for more Aleatoricism at work check out our review of Witold Lutoslawski’s Symphony No.3 from 1983) into serial composition, and for his ground-breaking electronic music. (As it happens, he also studied with Messiaen in Paris.)

Gruppen (German for “Groups”, the bits in which Stockhausen split his composition up into) for three orchestras (1955–57) is quite possibly the best-known of his compositions. However, due to the effort it takes in performing it with the prescribed three separate orchestras situated in a horseshoe shape around the audience, it is also one of the least performed ones.

The spatial separation was necessitated by the compositional requirement of keeping simultaneously played yet musically separate passages distinct from each other. But there are several passages where a single tune wanders from one orchestra to another. You’re right there in the middle and hear the magic happen. A wonderful experience.

The other two conductors besides Rattle, Matthias Pintscher and Duncan Ward also impressed with their authority, calm, skill, and unpretentious star qualities.

This being a preview, we also enjoyed how all these world-class musicians, literally among the best on the planet, were sitting there right in front of us, casually dressed, joking around before the music started, then doing their magic as if it were nothing during the 25 minutes that followed.

We’re huge fans of the LSO and Sir Simon Rattle and will make sure to watch more performances soon.

Looking for more concert reviews? Try our posts about Haydn, an Imaginary Orchestral Journey with Sir Simon Rattle and the LSO, Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic at the Barbican, or Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra at the Old Opera in Frankfurt.

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