Registre des Lumières by Raphaël Cendo at the Cité de la musique

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As mentioned in our previous article (by the way, feel free to send us yours!), this beginning of ManiFeste was, above all, favorable to multidisciplinary propositions between music and performance arts or images. Could this concert-chorus at the Cité de la Musique by SWR Vokalenensemble Stuttgart and the Ensemble musikFabrik bring us back to the more-familiar shores of contemporary music?

With two pulpits of 16 singers arranged in two rows on each side of the conductor, the positioning of Ligeti’s Lux Aeterna has an interminably theatrical dimension. The SWR Vokalenensemble Stuttgart does justice to an a cappella work that is too often associated with Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey, letting us forget to state what it is: a vocal masterpiece from the second half of the 20th century. Using a very slow process, Ligeti treats the voice like an instrument with a broad range, from the deepest men’s voices to the highest women’s voices, sketching monochrome sounds that are strangely epitaphic and comforting. With impressive charisma, the director Markus Creed appropriates this relatively unspectacular work with grand gestures, as if he wanted to carry this mysterious music in his hand.

The chorus members then change their places to perform a second a cappella work on the program: ¿Por qué?/Warum? by Hans Zender. Written from two strophes from Spiritual Canticle by John of the Cross (1542-1591) these two miniatures restore a more rhythmic choral writing than that of Lux Aeterna with superb sonorous incantations, even if Zender’s language focuses more than Ligeti on the extremely contrasted trace of musical language from the 1960s and 70s despite its recent date (2012). ¿Por qué?/Warum? nevertheless makes it possible to gorge oneself on the purity of the intonation and the breathtaking mastery of SWR Vokalensensemble’s vocal colors.

Le SWR Vokalenensemble Stuttgart

Le SWR Vokalenensemble Stuttgart

The evening’s highlight was the French premiere of Raphaël Cendo’s Registre des Lumières, a large-scale work by the wild child of the contemporary French scene. Reading the artist’s statement makes one fear the worst by evoking a voyage “from the beginning of the universe” to today. If this ambitious program is terrifying in its seriousness, it is not at all when listening to the work; rather than creating a real dramaturgy, this temporal odyssey lets Cendo leave the Gothic and punk universe that works like Décombres and Introduction aux ténèbres had reduced him to for far too long.

The first electronic effects have an immersive, slaying effect, promising the best for the work’s full 45 minutes. This, incidentally, is what was most impressive in Registre des Lumières. Be it the chorus or the amplified musicians from musikFabrik, the composer, seated behind the mixing table, majestically balances the forces present. Because of the amplification, Registre des Lumières is not a work for chorus, ensemble, and electronics, but more of a three-headed monster where none of the parts is stronger than the others, drafting a sound universe where the listener looses all sense of familiarity.  Cendo is an excellent demiurge and he delays the explosive jubilations of saturated sounds that have been his glory throughout the first part in order to explore other paths, some of which are not always inspired. And when the hoped-for outbreaks burst, the effect is literally explosive and testifies to astounding virtuoso. Listening to a work by Cendo coupled with a visual element, one savors the visual performance of each musician in the ensemble (notably a cello player whose fingers move like spiders along the strings) dealing with the formidable science of the French composer’s sound effects. In spite of a narrative horizion that remains impermeable (the first time one listens to the work, in any case), Registre des Lumières is a sumptuous performance in the manner of the impressive video-electro installation by Roberte Henke and Tarik Barri, Fundamental Forces, seen at the beginning of the festival, the difference being, Cendo creates these images only with his music!