Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Eric Huebner and Steven Beck perform Karlheinz Stockhausen’s “Mantra”

On Saturday, October 14, the Center for 21st Century Music presents a performance of Karlheinz’s Stockhausen’s acclaimed concert-length work Mantra, featuring UB piano professor Eric Huebner and guest pianist Steven Beck. Performed only rarely due to its length and logistical complexities (see below), Mantra is a historically significant piece, particularly notable for augmenting the piano with percussion and live electronics and for pioneering a new musical style that is both melodic and modernist.

The 65 minute work for two pianists (each also with woodblocks and crotales) and live electronics (primarily ring modulators) was completed in 1970. Mantra marks a striking shift in Stockhausen’s style, and more broadly, as Robin Maconie writes, it “defines Stockhausen’s aims for the 1970s” and beyond, presaging the melodic structures that form the bedrock of LICHT, the cycle of seven operas that preoccupied the composer from 1977 to 2003. While many of Stockhausen’s works from the 1960s feature extended playing techniques (Mikrophonie I) and unusual sound sources like radios (Kurzwellen), Mantra features equal-tempered pitches on pianos. Likewise, while many of his 1960s works explored notational indeterminacy via open form (Momente), open-ended symbolic notations (Plus-Minus), and verbal prompts for “intuitive music” (Aus den Sieben Tagen), Mantra is a through-composed score in staff notation.

The work’s title refers to a 13 note melodic cell (heard near the work’s outset) that forms the piece’s foundation: the entirety of the piece can be related to it through audibly traceable processes of repetition and variation. The pitch, rhythmic, and textural attributes of this cell function as “kernel” for piece as a whole, in a synthesis between the serial procedures of Stockhausen’s 1950s music and 18th-19th century practices of organic thematic transformation. See below for a video of the composer explaining the work’s construction in detail.

Both pianists bring to the performance extensive backgrounds in new music and classical music. Eric Huebner is currently Associate Professor at the University at Buffalo, pianist of the New York Philharmonic, and adjunct faculty at the Juilliard School. After making his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at age 17, he has appeared at prestigious venues such as the Ojai Festival, Monday Evening Concerts, Carnegie’s Zankel and Weill Recital Halls, Miller Theatre, Merkin Hall, (le) Poisson Rouge, and Roulette. From 2011-12 he was a member of the award-winning chamber ensemble Antares, and he has also appeared with numerous NYC-based contemporary music ensembles, including the International Contemporary Ensemble, Talea, New York New Music Ensemble, American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Manhattan Sinfonietta, So Percussion and the American Modern Ensemble. His performances have been broadcast on PBS, NPR, WNYC (New York), Radio Bremen (Germany), ORF (Austria) and the BBC, and recorded on Col Legno, Centaur, Bridge, Albany, Tzadik, Innova, New Focus Recordings and Mode Records.

Huebner will be joined by Steven Beck, a frequent guest performer at June in Buffalo. As soloist, Beck has appeared with the National Symphony Orchestra, the New Juillliard Ensemble (under David Robertson), and the Virginia Symphony. He has performed at prestigious venues such as the Kennedy Center, Alice Tully Hall, Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall, Merkin Hall, Miller Theater, and Tonic, Aspen Music Festival, Lincoln Center Out of Doors, and Bargemusic, and with respected ensembles such as Talea Ensemble, Speculum Musicae, the Da Capo Chamber Players, the Manhattan String Quartet, the Pacifica String Quartet, The Metropolis Ensemble, the New York New Music Ensemble, the Orchestra of the S.E.M. Ensemble, and the American Contemporary Music Ensemble.

The performance has been in the works for a long time. Huebner writes that “it's been my dream to play Mantra since I first learned of the piece in high school.” Inspired by a recording featuring former UB professor Yvar Mikhashoff, Huebner came close to mounting a performance while a student at Juilliard but did not have access to the requisite resources. As Huebner explains, the piece is very much a team effort, requiring a range of highly specialized tasks in performance as well as behind the scenes. UB music department music technology director Christopher Jacobs will run  sound, while the department’s piano technician Devin Zimmer built custom crotale mounts to fit inside the pianos. Percussionists Tom Kolor (UB Associate Professor of Music), Daniel Druckman (New York Philharmonic), and Greg Zuber (Metropolitan Opera Orchestra Principal Percussionist) assisted in procuring the necessary crotales and wood blocks needed for the piece, some of which are not commonly used. Additionally, Huebner and Beck will use an electronics interface designed by pianist Ryan MacEvoy McCullough, integrating the original analog electronics into iPads connected to laptops, controlled directly by both performers. Huebner writes that, “I'm extremely grateful for the support of the Robert and Carol Morris Center for 21st Century Music and its director, David Felder for making this performance possible…[Steven Beck and I] are hoping our performance at UB will be the first of many.”

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