There is such an abundance of new and recent work on show at the various Edinburgh festivals, it is always surprising to find that contemporary “art” music so underrepresented there. It is thus exciting to discover a concert of 20th/21st century music at Canongate Kirk, in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Presented by the organist Mark Spalding and the percussionist Haworth Hodgkinson, it celebrates the 40th anniversary of one of Stockhausen’s most performed works, Tierkreis (Zodiac).
Tierkreis is first contextualised by four works for solo organ: an organ transcription of Judith Weir’s solo piano work, Michael’s Strathspey; Versetti from György Kurtág’s collection of pedagogical performance pieces, Játékok; Monodie, by Olivier Messiaen; and Et Puis, Et Puis Encore?, by Dijon-born organist Jean-Pierre Leguay. Tierkreis, in a version for organ and improvised percussion, ends the concert.
The performance, however, seems very monochrome throughout. The solo organ pieces are so similar in character, or at least performed in this way, that they appear to join together to form a swatch of greys. The Kurtág, Messiaen and Leguay are played with such short pauses between them (the audience asked to reserve their applause until the end), that for those who do not already know these works, it must be difficult to differentiate between them.
There needs to be far more contrast: the Weir (the piano version of which, probably works better) should be light, intricate and accurate; the Messiaen, Gallic and full of unbounded joy. Even more importantly, any concert of Stockhausen needs to have real theatre, both in terms of the way the music is played, but also in terms of the way the performers present themselves. Although Mark Spalding is hidden from view at the organ console, Haworth Hodgkinson, while clearly an excellent percussionist, provides the audience with no sense of theatre at all.
Overall, this seems to be a very old fashioned approach to presenting contemporary music: very worthy and committed, and executed by real enthusiasts, but it does not address the “concert experience” as a whole. It needs to be less cerebral and more in the moment, connecting fully with the audience, like any music should.