Listening to the Throbbing of the Stars

Since the composer Claude Vivier’s dying in 1983, at simply 34, his work has hardly been obscure. His music, shimmering with the spacey solemnity of childhood video games, was taken up by influential figures like the impresario Pierre Audi, the composer Gyorgy Ligeti and the conductor Reinbert de Leeuw. In 2005, the writer Boosey & Hawkes started overseeing and selling his scores.

[Read extra about Vivier’s “death-obsessed search for connection.”]

Yet he stays a determine extra referred to than heard in efficiency. So it nonetheless counts as information that two main Vivier items had been performed in New York on back-to-back evenings this week, Tuesday and Wednesday.

The juxtaposition was a coincidence — given Vivier’s celestial leanings, we’d say the planets had been in alignment — but it surely was nonetheless slightly landmark. “Listen to the throbbing of the stars,” the singers chant in his solely opera, “Kopernikus,” which had its New York premiere at Issue Project Room in Brooklyn on Wednesday. We’re listening, increasingly.

Once you’ve gotten that picture in your thoughts, in reality, it may be arduous to let it go: Vivier’s music does usually appear to evoke a starry throb. Close, mystical harmonies are tinged with microtonal dissonances that vibrate nearly visibly. Waves of ardour are cloaked in a shining, medieval purity — and a use of babbling invented languages — that feels otherworldly; the impact is concurrently out and in of physique.

The finest Vivier performances seize his delirious, jeweled grandeur but additionally his modesty — the earnest depth of his want to talk, even by means of nonsense syllables. At the DiMenna Center for Classical Music on Tuesday, the soprano Alice Teyssier was transcendently clarion and clear as the soloist in “Bouchara,” an elegiac 20-minute outpouring that’s like a Liebestod from the floor of Saturn; Ensemble Échappé flowed round her in clear, quivering exhalations.

Written in the late 1970s, a number of years earlier than “Bouchara,” “Kopernikus” is bigger scale — 70 minutes, for seven singers — and extra mystifying. It’s not about Copernicus, for one factor; the story this “opera-death ritual” tells, barely, is of the fireplace god Agni, who strikes abstractly towards the nice past. The different six singers characterize mythic-historical beings on Agni’s path, Mozart and King Arthur amongst them, with out being characters in any conventional sense.

The plot is sketchy, to say the least, however Vivier did conceive a form of drama — a protagonist, a progress. The American premiere in 2016, directed by Peter Sellars, made it a white-robed ceremony; different stagings have introduced out darkish clowning in the piece.

The Brooklyn manufacturing, that includes the Americas Society’s vocal ensemble Meridionalis and the International Contemporary Ensemble, carried out by Sebastián Zubieta, bent far in the wrong way. The performers had been positioned behind the viewers, which confronted a looming display on which was projected video (by Sergio Policicchio) of star-filled skies, rotating photo voltaic our bodies and sun-dappled bushes.

The musical efficiency was excellent — alert to Vivier’s tumbling babble, lush but lean in sustained drones — however there was deliberately (and, to my style, overly) no sense of character, in favor of enveloping, sweetly apocalyptic sonic spectacle.

Without our bodies to take a look at, what comes to the fore in the piece is, for higher or worse, Vivier’s honest, crazy libretto, which is in the custom of his instructor, Karlheinz Stockhausen: “We are the migrants of the sacred galaxies,” “A cosmic flower is given to us to see at last,” and the like, together with pages and pages of invented language.

A eager for childhood permeates many works by Vivier, who was adopted at three, by no means knew his start mother and father, and thought of himself as one thing of an unceasingly remoted teen. (It’s no coincidence that one of his most interesting works, luxurious and plangent, is known as “Lonely Child.”)

“In a crisis of civilization as profound as the one we are going through now on this planet,” Vivier mentioned simply earlier than the premiere of “Kopernikus” in 1980, “the human being perhaps has a need of a return to the fetal state, an intimate one.”

That perpetual eager for the intimate state earlier than start can also be, for Vivier, a perpetual eager for dying. For something, that’s, aside from grownup consciousness.

It’s potential — a minimum of I hope it’s — to be seduced by his music with out approving of his disdain for mature life. Perhaps the pleasure we discover in it’s vicarious: Vivier will get to be trippy and morbid and life-hating in order that we might be, fortunately, the reverse.


Performed on Tuesday at the DiMenna Center for Classical Music, Manhattan.


Performed on Wednesday at Issue Project Room, Brooklyn.

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