WWith other centenary events of Iannis Ksinakis still few and far between in the UK, the Birmingham Day of Workshops, Lectures and Concerts, held on the exact anniversary under the auspices of the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, was a fitting homage. Eight works of the Greek-French composer were performed, interspersed with world premieres of private pieces. Today’s title, Music and Mathematics, emphasized the theorizing behind his compositions, but what stood out most – as always with Xenakis – was the profound intensity of his works, which set him apart from other great European figures of his generation.
Whether it’s the thick, coagulating dissonance of strings in 1996’s Ittidra, the silent screams of soprano (excellent Anna Dennis) in 1977’s Akanthos, or the tangled knots of wild fronting in Jalons, one of his greatest accomplishments, author Intercontemporain in 1986, Xenakis remains a surprise. There is something ancient, even primitive, running through his music that clearly stands out from the often complex styles that produced him and gives it such a special fee.
All of these tracks were performed with the right mix of ferocity and subtlety by BCMG under the direction of Maestro Gabriela Taichen, and their concert together included some premieres. Samantha Fernando Breathing Forest sets a meditative text on soprano’s “Waldbaden” (Dennis) while the strings and drums soften the voice of Emily Howard’s Compass, solo percussionist (Julian Warbutton), who leads a group of strings on a somewhat stalled musical journey.
The closing ceremony of the day also featured a new work, Acousmatic program presented by Beast, the University of Birmingham’s electronic recording studio. Sergio Luke’s Happening Again expands on the stochastic techniques developed by Xenakis to create a study of continuous sounds whose alternation and repetition grows in persistence. Luque was also behind the mixer for an eight-channel version of Xenakis’ La Légende d’Eer, the 45-minute piece of the multimedia show that opened the Center Pompidou in Paris in 1978. The 45-minute piece composed in 1978. A stunning, stunning performance that combines sounds. Derived and synthesized naturally to create a palette of massive scale. It’s a piece that deserves a place alongside its top electronics score, and a perfect example of why Xenakis continues to matter.