KAGEL Works for Cello
With its sensual, pear-shaped physique and knack of making even the most banal melodic utterance sound room-warming, the cello is a difficult instrument to find a reason to subvert. When Mauricio Kagel composed Match for two cellos and percussion in 1964, he worked from a chart he had prepared that catalogued every conceivable method of producing a sound from the cello. To be fair, he did the same for every instrument he wrote for during that time but, as the cello was Kagel’s own instrument, the need for distance was greater.
Match is one of the unsung masterpieces of post war avant-garderie. Its premise might feel a tad whimsical – the “match” is between two cellists who play a game of musical ping-pong, flinging material over the net, as the percussionist acts as an officious referee – but, typically for Kagel, this theatrical starting-point is only relevant for what it can render in sound. As Christophe Roy and Rohan de Saram plink-plonk sound backwards and forwards, their brutal ritual (more John McEnroe than Tim Henman) focuses the mind: supple nuances of attack become a big deal as the power struggle with an increasingly deranged referee keeps Kagel’s sonic drama alive, unpredictable, impish.
Shorter works, including the sheets of sound of Siegfriedp’ and Happy Birthday reworked as Webernesque Klangfarbenmelodie, set the scene for Motetten for eight cellos, which again thinks the cello into a new future. Kagel reimagines the motet as a purely instrumental form, as voices within the ensemble fluctuate between single voices and complex polyphony. Like Match, compositional lateral thinking triggers new perspectives on old sounds.