Loré Lixenberg performs Conlon Nancarrow
(Cafe Oto, 10 January 2022. Live review and drawings by Geoff Winston)
Mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg’s vocal interpretation of the works for player-piano of American composer Conlon Nancarrow (1912 – 1997) was ingenious, compelling and – in the face of its high-risk technical demands – carried off with a delightful lightness of touch.
Lixenberg’s NANCARROWKARAOKE project has been 5 years in the making and was previewed at Cafe Oto with a taster in 2018. Her immersion in Nancarrow’s oeuvre and the meticulous rigour of her approach led her to transcribe each note of many of the piano rolls to allow her to construct her vocal versions. Her unique approach was given full rein in the evening’s programme of eight of Nancarrow’s forty-nine Studies for Player Piano (list below) in which multiple recordings of her voice were simultaneously combined with her live rendition.
Half a dozen identical, black speakers on stands at head-height were placed around Cafe Oto’s central audience area. Lixenberg, elegantly clad in black, performed from centre stage, vocalising from scores on a lectern stand and, when singing, wore chunky headphones so that she could work with cues to synchronise with her pre-recorded vocal tracks in order to replicate the multi-layered complexities contained within Nancarrow’s hand-punched piano rolls.
The backdrop was a full height screen, on to which were projected, between each vocal piece, films of the late Jürgen Hocker’s Ampico Bösendorfer Grand player-piano playing individual Nancarrow Studies, moving between shots of the piano rolls and the mechanically activated keyboard. This recalled Hocker’s spellbinding concert at St Lukes in 2007 when the audience observed the keys of the very same piano uncannily activated by a seemingly ghostly presence to present Nancarrow’s work as he had envisioned it. Hocker was a long-time acquaintance and chronicler of Nancarrow who collaborated with him on many projects.
The works selected by Lixenberg ranged from roller-coaster, multi-dimensional rides at breakneck speed to calmly meditative passages where the solo voice would gradually be joined by additional vocal tracks to slowly increase in intensity and momentum.
Lixenberg added narrative throughout and prefaced with a short excerpt from a conversation which took place in Mexico City in 1977 between Charles Amirkhanian and Nancarrow to put the audience in presence of the composer’s sharp personality!
Lixenberg’s vocal range was both malleable and pin-precise, its versatility controlled with an accomplished emotional intelligence. What might be construed by some (not this writer, I hasten to add) as dry, near-mathematical exercises in their original form were given an extra injection of human warmth in this delivery. Lixenberg’s voice moved from high-pitched klaxon howls to restrained bass mews combined with fleet-footed scamperings as she navigated the unrestrained challenges at the core.
The sound quality was superb throughout and the co-ordination perfectly executed. The evening was a refreshing revelation imbued with an affirmative confidence so welcome in these uncertain times.
PROGRAMME. Studies for Player Piano by Conlon Nancarrow
Categories: Live review