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Three concerts featuring the music of Claude Vivier combine to offer a weekend profile on the composer on 6-8 May. The programmes at the Southbank Centre in London include Lonely Child and a staged performance of Musik für das Ende by the London Sinfonietta and Soundstreams.

The Southbank Centre in London presents a focus on Canadian composer Claude Vivier (1948-83) on 6-8 May with three concerts featuring his music. Performing groups include the London Sinfonietta in combination with the Royal Academy of Music’s Manson Ensemble and a visit to London by the Canadian ensemble Soundstreams that has done so much to champion the composer’s music internationally.

Vivier events are launched on Friday 6 May with the composer’s most well-known score, Lonely Child for soprano and chamber orchestra, which he described as “a long song of solitude”. A melody becomes embellished with other-worldly spectral harmonies, while the text reflects his own experiences as a boy seeking nocturnal comfort against loneliness, darkness and terror. The Queen Elizabeth Hall performance features players from the London Sinfonietta and Manson Ensemble under the baton of Ilan Volkov, joined by soprano Claire Booth. The programme also includes Vivier’s Zipangu for 13 strings and the world premiere of a new work by fellow Canadian composer Nicole Lizée commissioned by the London Sinfonietta.

The concert at the Purcell Room on Saturday 7 May presents four works by Vivier performed by Soundstreams. The voice is featured in multiple treatments in Love Songs for seven a cappella soloists, originally created as a ballet score for Canada’s first professional modern dance company Le Groupe de la Place Royale, and in Hymnen an die Nacht for soprano and piano combining texts by Novalis and the composer. The programme also includes two works inspired by Vivier’s travels eastwards to Iran and Bali, Shiraz for piano and 5 Chansons pour percussion, together with the UK premiere of Oceano Nox by Toronto-based composer Christopher Mayo.

The finale of the Vivier weekend, Musik für das Ende, is staged on Sunday 8 May at the Queen Elizabeth Hall by Soundstreams in the production by Chris Abraham. It combines the title score with Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele – left unfinished at Vivier’s death – and a monodrama written by Zack Russell, Il faisait nuit, drawing on the composer’s letters and diaries to foretell his fateful last night in 1983, when he was murdered in Paris. The production was due to tour in Europe in 2020 and 2021 with plans put on hold by the COVID pandemic.

This 25-minute work Musik für das Ende, forming the final section of the staging, depicts a ritual journey through life and death to a final ecstatic state—a rebirth beyond all conceptions of life and death. Conceived for a vocal ensemble (playing handheld percussion) and one actor, the challenging score for Musik für das Ende relies heavily on ‘chance music’ and demands a high level of interaction and some nuanced improvisation as performers are instructed to exchange musical information on stage. At certain points in the piece, the performers are invited to weave their own stories and music of personal significance into their performance. Soundstreams has assembled an extraordinarily diverse vocal ensemble that has rehearsed to achieve remarkably complex exchanges of rhythm, pitch, and language.

Lawrence Cherney, Artistic Director of Soundstreams, explains: "Vivier lived a dangerous life—at the very edge of human experience—from there, he brought back a new sound, the sound of eternity. This production powerfully probes the relationship between the man and the music like no other has ever done before." Vivier described how, "as if in a dream, I experienced the increasingly strange ceremony of beings fainting into forever and becoming ‘an infinite moment’ in eternal silence… The Music of the End is where all is forever erased, where all becomes infinite silence."

May also brings Vivier performances in Germany and Belgium, with Et je reverrai cette ville étrange featured in Cologne’s Eight Bridges festival by the Canadian ensemble Constantinople, and a tour of the composer’s orchestral work Orion by the Hessicher Rundfunk Orchestra visiting Frankfurt, Antwerp, Berlin and Hamburg under the baton of Brad Lubman.

>  Further information on Work: Musik für das Ende

Photo: Blake Hannahson

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