Richard and I saw *Répons* at the Park Avenue Armory on 10/6/17.
I got a large brochure from the Armory last fall, advertising their upcoming season. I dog-eared the things I wanted to see and asked Richard what he was interested in. He surprised me.
I thought he'd want to see *Manifesto,* a 13-part film with Cate Blanchett. He did not.
I didn't think he'd want to see a recital by English mezzo Sarah Connolly. He did.
I thought he'd want to see Eugene O'Neill's *The Hairy Ape* starring Bobby Cannavale. He did not.
I didn't think he'd want to see Barbara Hannigan in recital, singing songs of the Second Viennese School. I was right about that one.
I told him with absolute certainty that he would NOT be interested in *Répons,* based on the description in the brochure:
"Pierre Boulez was a French composer and conductor who helped blaze a radical new trail in classical music during the 20th century, composing innovative scores that showcased his musical creativity. And no work better showcases his compositional audacity than Répons, a work constructed on various types of calls and responses between a combination of acoustic instrumentation from an ensemble with soloists whose sounds are digitally transformed and regenerated live.
"Rarely staged in concert halls given its unconventional configuration of the space, this spatial masterwork is realized at the Armory with the ensemble positioned in the center of the audience, who is surrounded by the soloists and amplification with waves of sound spiraling and circling throughout and above. The world renowned contemporary music group Ensemble intercontemporain, under the baton of conductor Matthias Pintscher, performs this emblematic work twice in succession each evening, with the audience changing seats in between to gain a new sonic perspective."
It all just sounded too wacko for my husband, too rarefied, too clinical. But he insisted that he was interested. Well, OK then - - don't say I didn't warn ya!
Let me give you an overview of the piece. It was written in 1981. It's scored for a large chamber orchestra, surrounded by six soloists: two pianos, harp, vibraphone, glockenspiel/xylophone, and cimbalom. I'd never heard of a cimbalom before, and as luck would have it, we were seated right in front of it. It's a stringed instrument from Eastern Europe played by striking the stings with beaters. It has a metallic sound.
Richard and I left after the first performance, we didn't stick around for the revival. I felt like hearing it twice would only have meaning if you recognized the things you heard the first time, and I doubted that would be be the case here. The music was all so abstract and kinetic, hardly anything with a distinctive profile. Part of the issue is I felt it was too long. It was forty-five minutes long, and it would have been more effective if it had been twenty minutes long (no more than twenty-seven minutes, please).
You may have heard me use the term "ants in his pants" to describe a certain style of modern music. This piece didn't just have ants in its pants. It also had termites, a handful of leeches, some scorpions, three blind mice, a gerbil (I will not discuss the location of the gerbil), a Komodo dragon, a can of cling peaches, and a copy of *I, the Jury* by Mickey Spillane.
Let me put it another way. Let's say Anton Webern came back from the dead. He was the most austere composer of the Second Viennese School, so who knows how he'd feel about that. As a result of his resurrection, he was in need of some extreme dental surgery. Let's say that while he was under general anesthesia, his dreams took the form of a 1970s Italian horror movie. "Répons" would be the score to that movie.