Last Sunday, a few dozen listeners gave themselves over to Morton Feldman’s trio For Philip Guston for over four hours. With an unlikely degree of concentration, the three musicians of Het Collectief were able to convey a sense of adventure and freshness as if every note were new.
By Wynold Verweij
One of the characteristics of Feldman’s work is its focus on the here-and-now, where expectations are irrelevant. As a result, there are hardly any structuring elements for the listener to cling to. At the most, the audience can observe that the first two hours cause a form of auditory rootlessness, after which a soft and endless carpet of more tonal and rhythmic motives gently unfolds. Even the piccolo dances a little.
Feldman’s harmonies are unique. Triads of neighbouring notes regularly occur and only unfold when they are spread over three octaves. Feldman handles these sparingly. Sometimes they work like vague signals, at other times like glittering celestial bodies. It requires perfection and discipline to allow these elements to come to surface. Thomas Dieltjens (piano and celesta), Toon Fret (flute, alto flute and piccolo) and Tom De Cock (vibraphone, glockenspiel, bells and marimba) succeeded completely. Their ability to concentrate fully was the determining factor, especially in the pieces in which the parts are played in different time signatures. The musicians had to count continuously: the percussionist with his sticks, the flautist with feet and hand posture, the pianist with feet and head nods. Moreover, they had to be one with their instrument. “Because”, Feldman once said, “the musician’s natural enemy is his instrument”.
In this performance, the listeners did not have to do anything. This reviewer had settled into a beach chair on the stage and after half an hour was on a journey through a clear starry sky — without departure, let alone destination. Sometimes he was floating through the density of the Milky Way, later he was wandering in an empty black cosmic space. At other times, he found himself on the back of a slender boat cutting through the waters of a windless lake. He watched the stern waves disappear almost immediately. An endless series of short motifs that only linger for a moment.
On his compositional process, Morton Feldman said, “I’m all about pure concentration. I have no ideas that I want to work out. My starting point is the moment I am empty. As soon as I start deleting chords and notes, I know I have lost my concentration. This music can only be written in extreme concentration”.
The musicians did not experience a moment of relaxation during these four hours. Their concert consisted of a balm of tones that they did not let slip into ambient repetition. They played tiny variations on variations, culminating in a moving mosaic of tones and colours. The Collective showed maximum nurturing ability, carefully and lovingly doing justice to each note.
WHAT: For Philip Guston – Morton Feldman
WHO: Het Collectief
HEARD: Sunday October 11, 2020, 30CC/Schouwburg, Leuven