Mittwoch – the reviews

Here they are – the (English) reviews of MITTWOCH aus LICHT. I’ve listed them in roughly the order in which they appeared online, and given links and my favourite bits for each. More will be added as they come in. I’m also including selected blogs and links to German reviews that I’m aware of.

Igor Toronyi-Lalic, The Arts Desk:

Judge the work on the last 60 minutes – in which we appeared to be inside the head of Tom Cruise – and you’d have to conclude that the whole thing was a self-indulgent and ill-making farce. But look back to the smoky electronic opening, the well paced theatre of the World Parliament or the holistic sound art of the Third Act and you’d have to be pretty mean-spirited not to acknowledge that this was the work of a genius, whose playful innovations have a lot to teach contemporary opera.

Andrew Clements, Guardian:

What saves it all from becoming just a parade of weird images and pretentious ideas is the sheer power and grandeur of much of Stockhausen’s music, with moments that recall his fiercely original works of the 1960s and 70s, and especially the electronic music, which no other composer could have come close to matching.

George Hall, The Stage:

Mittwoch is a characteristically idiosyncratic piece of music theatre, involving actors, singers, instrumentalists, dancers, mimes and electronics, and not least – in the piece’s most famous sequence – the four members of a string quartet flying in separate helicopters with their synchronised music-making screened to the spectators beneath; ironically, this turns out to be the least interesting musical segment, and the hardest to place in the overall vision.

Rupert Christiansen, The Telegraph:

I was both exasperated and enchanted, bored and riveted. Best of all is the World Parliament scene: voluptuous, melismatic and polyrhythmic, it shimmers ecstatically as the delegates debate the truth about love. The helicopter quartet seemed in contrast a banal gimmick, wasting an obscene amount of money and fuel to generate only a hideous amount of pointless noise. The intergalactic parliament also contains passages of dazzling virtuosity for brass instruments as well as voices, but it runs out of steam long before its end.

Nick Richardson, London Review of Books:

The BOC’s production probably doesn’t look as glam as a composer with Fibonacci fairy lights might have imagined. Despite the many thousands of pounds spent and the months of planning, rehearsal and engineering, it feels pleasingly lo-fi. So much the better. Mittwoch exploits a tension between cosmic grandeur and slapstick. And so does the venue, the Argyle Warehouse, a disused chemical factory in the heart of industrial Birmingham: approach from one side and you pass through a recently yuppified enclave of cafés and urban art galleries; come from the other and it’s all factories, forges and scrap yards.

Timothy Ball, Classical Source:

One of the great strengths of this production was the fact that, at times, it was very funny. Much of this scene certainly was, with an endearing, playful quality about it. Something altogether less sinister than the description by Robin Maconie in his definitive book about Stockhausen’s music (Other Planets; Scarecrow Press, 2005) – where the instrumentalists are described as “insects, microbes, small scale living creatures after the manner of Messiaen’s birds.”

Richard Fairman, Financial Times:

It seems clear from everything that Stockhausen wrote about Licht that he intended it to be an outpouring of the ego on an intergalactic scale. Vick’s Mittwoch was not like that at all. With its grungy atmosphere, its band of extras sitting among the audience, its sense of a local community experience borne on enthusiasm and a dash of humour, the brave and enterprising Birmingham Opera Company brought Licht down to earth – apart from the helicopters, of course.

Stephen Pritchard, Observer:

Was it worth the expense? Undoubtedly. This repertoire pushes the musicians to their absolute limits; the score may appear random but it’s extraordinarily controlled and tightly organised, with passages of exquisite tranquillity. The message is resolutely warm, heartfelt and loving, moving in and out of language, space and time. It’s a major achievement.

Anna Picard, Independent:

London Voices replaced Ex Cathedra in the loopy denouement of “Michaelion”, as the pantomime ungulate Lucicamel enjoys a pedicure, drinks champagne, shits planets, squashes a trombonist and unzips to reveal the Operator (bass Michael Leibundgut), a final blast of madrigalian folly before the submarine hum of Pasveer’s electronic “Wednesday Farewell”. Only a composer born on Sirius, as Stockhausen claims he was, could create this.

Mark Swed, Los Angeles Times:

However bad “Mittwoch” was for the back, the event was astonishing for the soul and simply beyond belief. If opera is meant to change your perception of what is possible and worthwhile, to dream the impossible dream and all that, then this is clearly the spiritually uplifting way to do it. And it was funny too.

There might seem a lot to scare people away from “Mittwoch.” The score is based upon complex and intricate musical formulas. It involves vast amounts of electronic technology, and the technical demands on singers and instrumentalists are staggering.

The first scene is an hour-long electronic music “Greeting,” which Stockhausen suggests should be played in the dark and listened to with our eyes closed unless you want to watch someone fly a kite. Hey, it’s Stockhausen.

Vick’s solution was to unpredictably pierce Stockhausen’s multidimensional electronic wonderland with unpredictable, illuminated screwball tableaux vivants, so brief as to seem like afterimages.

Anthony Arblaster, Independent (again):

We need to hear – and see – more Stockhausen. His use of space to complement sound is extraordinary, and was brilliantly realised in Vick’s production. But Mittwoch as a whole isn’t a whole, it’s a hotchpotch.

No one need apologise for playing or performing its best sections separately.

Leo Chadburn, The Quietus:

Not only has everyone involved in this piece staged the unstageable, they’ve done it with generosity, understatement and humility. I don’t imagine anyone who saw this event will forget it anytime soon. More than that, it would be nice to think that this project goes someway to dispelling the idea of Stockhausen as a formidably unapproachable and ridiculous figure. In more than 30 years this is only the second part of Licht to be staged in the UK. May it be an inspiration for a rehabilitation, for more soon, please. Or, at the very least, may it be an inspiration for everyone to start listening to the work of a master with fresh ears.

Some blogs: OperaCreep; Classical Iconoclast; Boulezian (also includes full list of performers).

The view from Germany: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

5 thoughts on “Mittwoch – the reviews

  1. Can we get a quote from The Times review of Mittwoch aus Licht? It is subscriber-only behind the great Sky/News International paywall and Times Arts reviews have consequently slipped out of many peoples lives along with Test Cricket et al. The double bassist in Orchester Finalisten was among performers aware of a “Times Reviewer” heckling and slow hand clapping during his solo at the Preview. I have pretty strong views about such behaviour from non-paying privileged guests who already have a platform in the press.

    1. I’d like to include the Times in here; I didn’t see the paper earlier in the week and I don’t have a subscription. I’ll have a look around online. I read both Saturday and Sunday papers however, and there was nothing in either.

  2. Thanks, Tim, for this round-up of reviews. I’ve linked to you and Mark Berry and begged for a patron to come up with $75 million (okay, that could be in any currency 🙂 and three opera houses so the whole damn thing to be mounted as a cycle.

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