Harry Partch and Conlon Nancarrow Music in Kiel

The lucky opportunity of listening to Harry Partch’s music live was my reason to go to Kiel on 21st February. Festival chiffren – Kieler Tage für neue Musik were inviting ensemble musikFabrik from Köln who last year performed their giant project of the European premiere of Partch’s Delusion of the Fury during Ruhrtriennale 2013.

I was happy to hear that musikFabrik were doing another Partch piece and were coming to Kiel to play its European premiere.

And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma is Delusion of the Fury‘s predecessor. Partch worked on it from 1963 to 1966.

It was impressive to see the Partch instruments live on stage. Imagine a whole orchestra of instruments which you have never seen before!

Cloud-chamber bowls, gourd tree, marimba eroica, two chromolodeons, and the impressive surrogate kithara are only some of the instruments included in this piece. No common instrument, such as cello or clarinet, is involved.

Harry Partch himself explains his own instruments in two videos, number one and number two. Members of musikFabrik show the process of instrument building in their own video.

And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma consists of 34 verses. Each of the verses 1-23 is exactly one minute long. These verses are duets and trios. Hence, combinations of two verses are played to form verses 24-33; the last verse, no. 34 is a trio of verses.* Partch’s vivid, polyrhythmical music with its steady metre and peculiar sound colours and harmonies was catching! The extremely low bass marimba sounds, made by giant wooden bars, more than one metre long and being played using mallets of the size of a football, were a physical experience. The musikFabrik musicians played very, very well and tight, making Partch’s music groove. Never before have I been at a new music concert where each and every audience member had a red face afterwards, walking about with a big smile!

During the intermission audience were asked to come to another hall. Prof. Dieter Mack explained many of Conlon Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano, and the pieces were played on a 1927 Bösendorfer player grand piano (Bösendorfer Selbstspielflügel) from original paper rolls dating from the 1950s. Seeing and hearing Nancarrow’s pieces performed „live“ is a rare occasion. It might become even rarer since I heard that the collector and owner of many of such instruments, Jürgen Hocker, passed away about two years ago, and it is unclear if and how his pianos can keep travelling. It is understandable that his widow does not have the energy to pursue the project.

After this pleasant and interesting demonstration – a great way to bridge the one-hour intermission needed to change the stage setup – musikFabrik rocked out on some Frank Zappa songs. They started off with The Black Page #1 and #2. Originally composed for one drumset player, #1 was doubled over by the whole percussion section, giving the piece a Partchian touch which I liked as a bridge between those two composers.

If you read this article before the evening of 23rd February, do not hesitate but get a ticket to London to join the next performance of this eccentric program!

*Harry Partch: Genesis of a Music. Da Capo Press, 1947, 2nd edition 1974


About msmullerful

Freelance musician (clarinetist), mostly involved in contemporary music projects but still able to play the classic repertoire.
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