Rare performance of the mystical work

23.02.15, The New York Times

THEATER OF VOICES in Carnegie Hall


Zankel Hall

Stockhausen composed his sprawling vocal sextet “Stimmung” in a house overlooking the frozen Long Island Sound late in the winter of 1968. The weather then likely wasn’t much different than that on Saturday evening — cold, snowy and windy — when Theater of Voices gave a rare performance of the mystical, sensual, above all warming work at Zankel Hall.

“Stimmung” is both simple and not: a continuous 72-minute set of variations on a single note, a low B-flat. Their voices curling upward with the metallic twang of throat singing, the six vocalists gradually explore the note’s overtones, forming elusive, slippery chords dotted through with whispers, whistles and babble.

Excerpts from Stockhausen’s erotic poetry are intoned, as are the days of the week, in both English and German. Periodically exotic words are announced: these are “magic names,” drawn from lists of the gods in mythologies from around the world.

Saturday’s performance brought out the humor and charm in a work that can sometimes feel forbiddingly recondite or merely meditative. Its tempo, volume and mood malleable, “Stimmung,” performed here at a low table with a globe of light in the middle, has a lightness and agility of tone that rescue it from being just a dated remnant of the trippy 1960s.

The founder and director of Theater of Voices, Paul Hillier, worked with Stockhausen on this so-called “Copenhagen” version of the score, which the group recorded on Harmonia Mundi and clearly relishes. Its performance was confident and luminous, controlled yet free, both playful and solemn.


Read the review online here