Live review

REVIEW: Rosace.8 – Pascal Schumacher & Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg

Pascal Schumacher in performance
Photo: © Alfonso Salgueiro

Rosace.8 – Pascal Schumacher & Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg (Philharmonie Luxembourg, 30 January 2019. Review by AJ Dehany)

The world premiere of Pascal Schumacher’s Rosace.8, a cinematic symphony in ten movements, impressed deep passionate melancholia and an assertion of the vitality and versatility of the vibraphone. The Luxembourg composer and vibraphonist’s 75-minute suite is a perfect realization of style, with generous pacing, wistful moments and stormy vigour, obeying visible and invisible symmetries. Inspired by a painting that remains private, Rosace means rosette, the circular symmetrical structure of flowers. From its brooding opening chords to its final release in driving four-to-the-floor rhythm we are transported into a world of trenchant emotionality. Darkly chiming, the work invites you to explore, expose and explode the chambers of its desperate heart.
Luxembourg is a country of 590,000 people bordering the grand old imperial powers of France, Belgium and Germany. The night of the premiere of this stormy music, snow was as ever falling, yellow in the lights of the freeway crossing the Pont de la Grand-Duchesse Charlotte over the River Alzette. The 1300-capacity Grand Auditorium of the Philharmonie Luxembourg is nestled in a distinctive white circular wedding cake building opened in 2005. The hall’s acoustic was clear in every detail of the amplified configuration of the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg: 20 musicians with gongs, sheet metal, concert bass drums, tubular bells, piano and celesta (the chiming idiophone that looks like a piano), timpani, finger cymbals, orchestral strings and Pascal Schumacher’s vibraphone augmented with electronics.
Rosace.8 is a contemporary classical work somewhat different to his earlier work in jazz. The award-winning vibraphonist and composer has previously made a series of amazing quartet albums including 2012’s Bang My Can, with a thrillingly dense, intense and searing alloyed sound. If your only associations with the vibraphone are Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, this is a new world. Pascal Schumacher’s work expands the vibraphone’s timbral language into a driving, aggressive rock-influenced electronically-enhanced sound.
In the liminal stasis of 8.4 Influx the machine-driven tremolo of the vibraphone rang like feedback, with electronic sparkles echoing off the high roof and the wide walls, the sheen and scrape of cymbals in painful and wonderful dissonance, the music developing into banks of arpeggio chords and symmetrical blocks of sound with pizzicato adornments. I asked him about the vibraphone parts, which are about 30% improvised. He said “I think I really love to not define everything and to be able to give to each performance the special and unique touch it deserves… of course it’s a little risky because it might distract the orchestral musicians but I like the risk.”

Pascal Schumacher & Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg on the night
Photo: © Alfonso Salgueiro

He has written for orchestra before, rescoring the 1929 Marlene Dietrich film The Woman One Longs For and in 2016 presenting his Windfall Concerto for vibraphone and orchestra. Rosace.8 has obvious comparisons to the melodic cinema of David Arnold, the accessible modernity of Max Richter, and the gut-wrenching emotional impact of Ólafur Arnaulds. The spooky tremolo of the vibraphone gives it a unique character, and the music shares the chiming reverie and infinite regress of deep house. The ice palace sound of the vibraphone and celesta together with the bright shimmer and dark thrust of the strings updates Romanticism for a jaded age that has fallen out of love with itself.
As the work progressed the quieter breakdowns and softer material including an Interregnum didn’t feel as earned as in the astonishing 20-minute opening double movement (8.0 – 8.1) where these moments relieved the intensity of the driving orchestral writing. The movements become more episodic and less individually realized in themselves, more allied to the overall structure and symmetry. Overall it might not have harmed the work to have kept to the original plan for eight movements, but the recording when it is released should give a better idea. A work of this scale and ambition often takes a few listens for its subtleties to speak out.

Breaks in the sequence allowed the audience to catch its breath and gain perspective. Pascal Schumacher injected notes of humour, apologising for talking too much, speaking in French and Luxembourgish (a sort of Dutch-looking German enriched with French vocabulary).
At times he conducted the orchestra with his fingers or his four blue-tipped mallets. During the finale, the bass drum laid down a bosh four-to-the-floor beat, joined by two other percussionists in a basic rock backbeat. A decision had been made not to have a single drummer but these parts did seem a little disjointed. Reprised in the encore the audience clapped along, following with a standing ovation akin to a rock star reception.

Throughout the course of Rosace.8, brief motifs phase in and out under long melodic lines, locking, releasing and re-forming like the rosette of a kaleidoscope. Symmetry has always fascinated certain kinds of composers. The music of Rosace.8 reaches through space horizontally and vertically, manifesting the organic rosace/rosette form in eight directions. It broadcasts a bold unifying statement from this landlocked island of Luxembourg, fraternally embracing heaven and earth, north and south, east and west. This is how it can be, it says. Music is just the most musical way we have found of making music, and life itself is music. We are music.
AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff.

Vibraphone: Pascal Schumacher
Principal Violin: Philippe Koch
Timpani: Benjamin Schäfer
 Percussion: Klaus Brettschneider and Aline Potin
Piano: Laetitia Bougnol
Members of Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg
Lighting design: Frank Reinhard


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