Towards the end of the year, we are inundated with lists. The best CDs, the best books, the performances you shouldn't have missed, etcetera. In this sea of choices from reviewers and other opinion makers, one post stands out, from opera critic Olivier Keegel. He started a veritable petition to prevent ''Aus Licht' by Karlheinz Stockhausen will be performed in our country in June 2019.
What possesses Keegel? - First the facts
The Royal Conservatoire, De Nationale Opera and the Holland Festival joined forces to stage the German avant-gardist's magnum opus at Amsterdam's Gashouder. Light stings in ambition and scope Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen well to the crown. Against the four full-length operas of his older colleague, Stockhausen places 'Sieben Tage der Woche', lasting some 26 hours in total. Never before have all seven operas been performed at once. My heart leapt when I heard of this bold venture, which will once again put the Netherlands on the map as a modern-music-loving country.
In times when culture and intellect are under attack worldwide, those who want to realise a grand dream cannot be praised enough. So kudos to the three institutions for wanting to take us on this exciting adventure. Too bad the ambitious project comprises only a 16-hour selection. - Hence the title 'Aus Licht'. Flutist and artistic director Kathinka Pasveer explained at the press conference that it is simply impossible to master the demanding scores in two years.
Two-year master's programme especially for 'Light'
The musicians are not only expected to play the difficult parts entirely by heart, but also have to act and operate a large amount of electronics. Preparations for the production Donnerstag aus Licht in Basel in June 2016 alone took a year.
To familiarise young musicians with Stockhausen's sound world, the Royal Conservatoire is setting up a two-year master's course. Here, students are taught by teachers who have worked with Stockhausen personally. Besides his heirs Pasveer and clarinettist Susanne Stephens, they include pianist Ellen Corver and percussionist Renee Jonker.
36 notes for 26 hours of opera
Whatever you think of Stockhausen, he was a visionary. He based his entire opera cycle on one so-called 'super formula' of three times twelve tones, assigned to the three main characters Eve, Michael and Lucifer. This seemingly cerebral starting point notwithstanding, he thus created works of enormous eloquence. Like, for instance Michaels Reise um die Erde for ensemble and soloists (from Donnerstag), Luzifers Tanz for orchestra and three soloists (from Samstag) and Eva's Song for three basset horns, soprano, seven boys, three keyboards and percussion (from Montag).
Why does Keegel want to prevent this production?
The opera critic cites a number of reasons. They basically boil down to this: I don't see anything in Karlheinz Stockhausen's music and don't want others to hear this nasty 'beeping grunt'. His arguments are lacking in substance, to say the least.
For instance, Keegel argues that Stockhausen named "9/11" - the 2001 attack on the Twin Towers - as "the greatest work of art possible in the cosmos". First, this has nothing to do with the quality of his music - and don't we also love rabidly anti-Semitic artists like Wagner and Céline? Secondly, his remark is taken out of context. Indeed, Stockhausen added that it is unthinkable in the music world for people to 'rehearse like madmen for ten years before a performance and then die'.
What will that cost?
In addition, Keegel asks four more questions, which can be summarised as: what will that cost? The Dutch grocery mentality at its best. Anyone who wants to realise something big doesn't look at a few cents. Moreover, the three institutes finance the production largely from their own resources. I am convinced that the currently missing funds will still be found. For instance, the master students pay a hefty tuition fee and sponsorship by the aviation industry is conceivable since the renowned Helicopter string quartet on the programme.
Keegel cannot imagine that Stockhausen's 'beeping grunt' music would attract an audience. Apparently, he sees his own taste as normative. I predict that all screenings will be sold out long in advance, as was the case with the retrospectives for Luigi Nono and Pierre Boulez.
That several of my colleagues signed his petition I deeply regret. It shows a spiritual narrow-mindedness and intolerance that seems to reflect questionable social sentiments: what the farmer does not know, he does not eat.
I too am not a Stockhausen aficionado, but consider it a godsend in my own city to have such an extensive selection from Light to be able to experience. So once again: three cheers for De Nationale Opera, the Royal Conservatoire and the Holland Festival. - I will be in the front row at each of the three evenings in June 2019!
Postscript 8-9-2018: the programme is known and the project has now been given its own website.