by Peter Kalal
Trudging through the forest to a 6am performance of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s Stimmung, I could see scattered remnants of an all-night woods rave in amongst the stumps and dried leaves. Upon arrival at the Waldkunstpfad – a raised, circular stage overlooked by a massive wood-and-iron sculpture encasing a high section of adjacent tree-trunk – there were human remnants of the rave, too, plopped down on blankets and pillows. One resourceful raver had thought to bring a tent.
Bookending the final day of the 2018 Darmstadt Summer Course, ChorWerk Ruhr’s two spirited performances of Stimmung nimbly skirted cliché while offering a chance for repose and rumination on an intense preceding fortnight. At dawn in the forest, at dusk in St. Ludwig’s Church, the performances emphasised the spiritual and sensual texts that accompany the resounding overtone chords of the piece’s foundation.
The crunching footsteps of latecomers offered a counterpoint, but nothing could distract from ChorWerk’s six singers – their depth of tone, crystal-clear declamation, and impeccable tuning. The odd misaligned entrance might have gone unforgiven in a different situation, but the warmth and humour each singer brought to their part lent the performance an intimacy that made such quotidian critiques irrelevant. The performance became especially magical when the forest birds decided to add their morning songs to the mix.
The nighttime church performance offered a strikingly different listen. Songbirds singing from the forest canopy gave way to pigeons peering down from St. Ludwig’s vast cupola. Intimacy turned to inescapable immersion. The six voices careened off the walls before swelling together with booming resonance. In the forest, the text could be heard clearly, the meaning of the words considered. In the evening only a few words could be deciphered – you had to just surrender to the sound.
Stepping out into the night after the concert, I found myself wondering how the music and ideas of the past two weeks would change when they too were relocated – and in what form they might return to Darmstadt in two years’ time.