Happy birthday Mister Manoury

Concerts 14.12.2022

An anniversary evening at the Cité de la musique for Philippe Manoury to whom the Ensemble Intercontemporain conducted by François-Xavier Roth offers a portrait concert featuring two world premieres.

The first is a commission for an ensemble of 29 musicians from the patrons Françoise and Jean-Philippe Billarant and theEnsemble Intercontemporain. Grammaires du sonore is above all a concerto for soloists addressed to the members of the EIC, to whom Manoury feels close and whom he admires. It is an opportunity for him to enhance, if it is still possible, the virtuosity and color of each instrument, and even to integrate new ones, such as the saxhorn, the double-bell trumpet or the baritone oboe with which the composer had to familiarize himself. Apart from the strings, which will remain the wisest, each performer makes several instruments of the same family sound, from the piccolo to the bass flute, from the Eb clarinet to the contrabass clarinet, from the horn to the Wagner tuba, etc. The arrangement of the instruments on stage, in "recomposed families", takes on a decisive importance in order to approach original combinations of timbres. A third of the way through the work, six wind instrumentalists (Wagnerian tubas, trumpets, trombones) leave the stage to parade upstairs, with that Stockhausenian theatrical dimension that invites the trombones in particular to perform certain gestures in space. The sonic joust that takes place, close to jazz riffs, is of great beauty. An electronic thought also emerges from the instrumental writing through the treatment of a resonant percussion that extends and reverberates the instrumental figures. The delicate participation of the steel drums(Adélaïde Ferrière) operates in live the hybridization of the sonorities of the ensemble as could do it, there again, the technological tool. The writing is dense, crossed by flashes of light, multiplying the sound trajectories and stimulating the movement of the figures in space and the vibratory tension of the tutti.

François-Xavier Roth 's chiselled gesture is marvellous, preserving the transparency and fluidity of the movement while ensuring the organicity of the components, this underlying syntax - the grammar of sound - which arranges and organises without restricting the primary energy.

As the title suggests, the Vier Lieder aus "Kein Licht", for mezzo-soprano and ensemble are taken from Manoury's latest opera, Kein Licht and given tonight in its world premiere with Ukrainian singer Christina Daletska, who was present at the opera's premiere in 2017.

Manoury speaks of four Lamenti, the first three of which use texts by Elfriede Jelinek. The heavy shocks of the piano in the low register (obtained by blocking the resonance of the string) set the dark color of these vocal pieces: Das Land bebt aber nicht vor Angst (The earth trembles but not with fear) sings Christina Daletska, whose long and radiant voice rises above a very chiseled orchestration. Der Wind brings back Jelinek's verbal outbursts in an aria where the overall movement seems to matter more than the detail of the words. In Der alte König und das Meer (The Old King and the Sea), the evocative power of the bass drum, combined here with the alto flute, a nod to Pierre Boulez and his Marteau sans Maître (Hammer without a Master), can be heard. Ô Mensch (from Nietzsche's Ainsi parlait Zarathoustra ) brings back the dark impacts of the piano and a slow depression of the vocal and instrumental writing, in one of the most striking pages of the score. 

Given in the second half of the concert, Fragments pour un portrait is a much older piece (1998) but written, like Grammaires du sonore, for the thirty soloists of the EIC and in the same luxuriance of orchestration. The title refers to the paintings/studies of Francis Bacon who produced several variations of Velásquez's Portrait of Innocent X. Fragments pour un portrait is divided into seven sequences and as many sound perspectives(Incantations, Choral, Vagues paradoxales, Nuit (avec turbulence), Ombres, Bagatelle, Totem) which must be heard as a whole, thanks to this "generative musical grammar" which allows him to shape the formal unity of the piece from within. Manoury divided the ensemble of musicians into three groups placed in a triangle on the stage. If the two oboes that respond to each other at the beginning of the work, fleshed out by very active percussion (celesta and anvils) distantly invoke Varèse, the slow movement, Nuit (with turbulence), the neuralgic center of the piece, looks more precisely towards Charles Ives and his famous Central Park in the Dark playing on two spatio-temporal strata. The "distant music" is that of the four string soloists who weave their continuous and unchanging fabric on which heterogeneous and discontinuous sound events are printed, "like hordes of birds flying through the night", the composer emphasizes: clattering percussion, riffs from the brass, wiggling woodwinds, crackling tumbas, laryngeal growling from the contrabass clarinet (inimitable Alain Billard). The end of Nuit (with turbulence) is deferred, and only comes in the seventh movement, Totem, where Manoury suspends listening to the resonance of three revolving cymbals. The limitless sonic imagination and formal power are at work in this other Manoury masterpiece, which has not aged a bit, restored tonight by its dedicators with prodigious enthusiasm and generosity.

Michèle Tosi

Philharmonie-Cité de la Musique, Paris
Concert hall on 9-12-2022
Philippe Manoury (born in 1952) : Grammaires du sonore for 29 instruments (CM) ; Vier Lieder aus " Kein Licht " (CM) ; Fragments pour un portrait, for 30 instruments. Christina Daletska, mezzo-soprano; Ensemble Intercontemporain; conductor François-Xavier Roth.

Photos © Anne-Elise Grosbois
Photos © Quentin Chevrier


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