Bogenstrich. Liebes-Lied. Liebes-Lied. Bogenstrich. A love song. A love song full of sadness. A piece for piano and cello. The German poet Rainer Maria Rilke published the poem “Liebeslied” in 1907, and the British composer Sir Harrison Birtwistle put his meditations over that love song to music between 2006 and 2009. He gave it the title “Bogenstrich” (bowstroke), an allegory that Rilke uses in the poem.
Occasionally I like to make fun of myself. I am less enthusiastic about someone else making fun of me. And whenever I listen to Pyotr Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in F minor, op. 36, I have the feeling that the composer is making fun of the audience and thus of myself. Do I mind? Actually, I find it hilarious! The symphony is written in four movements, but the four movements are so different one from each other that they could be four different symphonies by themselves without anything linking them.
My initial reaction to the incident in Cologne was indignation: How could the audience in the Philharmonie be so narrow-minded and react in such a primitive way to Mahan Esfahani’s performance of “Piano Phase”, a work written by Steve Reich in 1967? 1967 – that is 16 years after Karlheinz Stockhausen started to experiment with new acoustical and electronical effects at the WDR sound studios – in Cologne. 1967 – that is 49 years ago, half a decade, and the world of contemporary classical music has moved beyond both Stockhausen and Reich. Listening to Reich is a delight compared to listening to some of the pieces written by Pierre Boulez or Wolfgang Rihm for example.
Exceptionally I will point you to a text from two foreign sources. It has to with music and the lack of tolerance in Europe. And I rate it a first class scandal: The audience at the Philharmonie Köln (Germany) forced the British-Iranian artist Mahan Esfahani to cancel after four minutes his performance of a piece written in 1967 by Steve Reich: Piano Phase. Part of audience considered the piece too boring, to modern or both and started yelling, laughing and whistling. The fact that the pianist had introduced the piece in English compelled someone from the audience to shout: “Speak German!”