The music of Louis Andriessen
Those naked dancers are doing what?
by James Leonard
The Dutch post-postmodernist heir to the Dadaist tradition of Old Europe, Louis Andriessen composes music that melds anything to everything to nothing while fusing high culture with low culture and no culture in a high-concept music of stuttering magnificence. The concert planned for Wednesday, February 15, is a veritable three-ring musical circus. It begins at 7:30 with Andriessen's Arrival of Willibrord played on the Burton Tower's Baird Carillon and then moves into the Power Center for a musical double bill that opens with a performance of Andriessen's La Passione featuring the original soloists and closes with a showing of M Is for Man, Music, and Mozart, Peter Greenaway's film with a score by Andriessen. The question, of course, is "How many tickets can even a post-postmodernist three-ring musical circus hope to sell in a town that likes to spend its weeknights at home watching satellite TiVo?"
The answer, one can only hope, is "All of them." This is precisely the kind of event the prestigious University Musical Society should present and exactly the kind of event the Ann Arbor audience should celebrate. Andriessen's music is not for listeners who think music stopped with the death of Webern it's for listeners who can embrace everything that's happened in music since the death of Webern. Some people who know and love Andriessen's music describe it by analogies, talking of Stan Kenton and Igor Stravinsky, of J. S. Bach and the Beatles, of bebop, hip-hop, and pyrotechno. Others speak of his minimalist polyrhythms, lyrical melodic fragments, predominantly consonant harmonies disrupted by explosive blocks of concentrated dissonance, and novel color combinations, including electric guitars, bass guitars, and, in one work, an ice cream bell. As impossible to imagine as it is to forget, Andriessen's music has to be heard to be believed.
And with the composer himself in residence for the week preceding the event, each performance on the program promises to come as close to definitive as one
can imagine. The first work, 1995's Arrival of Willibrord, will be played by Steven Ball, U-M carillonist and the Michigan Theater's house organist. The second work, La Passione, from 2002, will be performed by jazz vocalist Cristina Zavalloni and violinist Monica Germino the composer affectionately calls them his "muses" plus an ensemble of winds, brass, violins, electric guitar, bass guitar, keyboards, and percussion drawn from the U-M Symphony Band, led by Michael Haithcock. The third and final work, M Is for Man, Music, and Mozart, from 1991, will be performed by Zavalloni with Haithcock and the band as the accompaniment for Greenaway's film of the same name featuring a quartet of naked dancers representing the gods in the act of inventing man, movement, music, and, improbably enough, Mozart.
Anything is possible, but only by attending will you ever know for certain what you would otherwise have missed.
[Review published February 2006]