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Was anyone else wondering why there were loads of helicopters flying around Birmingham City Centre today?

Perhaps there was a particularly dangerous criminal on the loose, a major traffic accident or a terrorist outrage?

Well, no it was only the Birmingham Opera Company attempting the first ever performance of a Karlheinz Stockhausen six-hour opera created to be performed in helicopters! (Presumably this was a rehearsal given that it was only for about 30 minutes).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-19291058

With a string quartet flying in helicopters, musicians suspended on giant swings and a dancing camel, Karlheinz Stockhausen's radical six-hour opera Mittwoch Aus Licht was thought to be unstageable - until now.

There are four helicopters lined up on a disused patch of tarmac just outside Birmingham city centre, and the members of the Elysian string quartet are cautiously trying out their unconventional concert spaces for the first time.

With a helicopter each, they are squeezed into their cabins, with music stands in front of them, camera rigs next to them and banks of broadcasting kit at the side, ready to beam their airborne performances back to the ground.

It is just five days before their public premiere, when they will attempt to synchronise their playing while circling high above the city, as 500 audience members watch and listen on four big screens in a disused factory somewhere down below.

They have rehearsed on the ground, but now they are looking a little nervous.

"The thing we haven't done yet is play the music with the massive loud noise of the helicopter at the same time, so that will be a challenge," says Jennymay Logan. "And also be on a vibrating surface, and play the violin at the same time, and read music, and not be sick."


Director Graham Vick has worked in venues from La Scala to the Royal Opera House
This fleet of helicopters will become a regular sight in the skies over the city in the next couple of weeks, forming part of an ambitious opera by the experimental and highly influential composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, whose ideas were inspirational to some, and ridiculous to others.

Opera companies in Bonn, Berne, Basel and Bregenz have previously tried to stage Mittwoch Aus Licht in full. All have failed. Now, it is Birmingham's turn.

"The fact that it's never been done was very attractive," says Birmingham Opera Company artistic director Graham Vick. "But I love the music, I really do, and I wanted to do this music with this company."

There is a cast of 200, including 11 orchestral musicians suspended on giant swings, being gently lowered and raised from the ceiling of the old chemical factory that is being used as a venue; two choirs, one of which will be perched atop a forest of 40 giant chairs; a trombonist in a paddling pool trying to sound like an elephant; and the dancing camel (not a real one).

The audience will spend the six hours sitting on the factory floor and walking between areas of the building, with long sections performed in the dark.


Karlheinz Stockhausen (right) influenced artists including The Beatles, Pink Floyd and Kraftwerk
Does Vick ever think he is in the middle of one big practical joke?

"Unquestionably there's an enormous amount of humour," he replies. "And, yes, on one level there's a laughter. But do you know, the Orientals think that laughter is God, don't they?"

Mittwoch Aus Licht (Wednesday From Light) is one part of Stockhausen's epic Licht cycle, written between 1977 and 2003. The idea for the helicopter segment, which lasts for 15 minutes, came to him in a dream after he was commissioned to write a string quartet in 1994.

"Stockhausen said: 'I'll never write a string quartet in my whole life,'" explains Kathinka Pasveer, Stockhausen's long-time collaborator and music director for this production. "He never used traditional forms - he never wrote symphonies or concertos.

"But then after he had refused this commission, he had this dream of four helicopters with four string players in it. When we went the next day into the studio, suddenly he saw four helicopters flying by the window."

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He was articulate beyond belief, fertile, with a mercurial, wicked sense of humour and limitless imagination”

Graham Vick on Karlheinz Stockhausen
He took heed of this sign from above and, putting the trifling matter of technical requirements to one side, went ahead with his vision of musicians in the skies.

"Stockhausen loved this sound of rotor blades because for him it's music - the different rhythms, the different pitches," Pasveer adds.

The members of the string quartet will not be able to hear each other, but will wear headphones through which they will be fed clicks to keep them in time as well as the voice of Stockhausen's son Simon, counting which bars they should be playing.

Graham Vick, who has staged work in venues from La Scala to the Royal Opera House, once worked with Stockhausen for five days and describes the composer as "a dazzlingly brilliant man".

"He was articulate beyond belief, fertile, with a mercurial, wicked sense of humour and limitless imagination," Vick says.

Enthusiasts are due to travel from around the world for the four performances, and Birmingham is hoping to succeed where others failed thanks to funding from Arts Council England as part of the London 2012 Festival, as well as from Birmingham City Council.

Vick will not confirm the reported budget of £1m, only saying it cost "a lot of money". So why is it worth it, especially at a time of cuts?

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"Because it's a great work of genius that's never been done" Vick replies.

"Because it's celebratory and will bring a huge amount of attention to the company. Because all of the people involved will be stimulated creatively beyond anything they've experienced before, as will the audience, and they will take that away with them."

Back on the tarmac, in his helicopter, viola player Vincent Sipprell is reflecting on the rigorous rehearsals they have been put through on the ground by Pasveer.

"If we make one slight mistake, she knows," he says. "But once you're in the helicopter I think it's going to be a bit of a free for all. We'll just try to survive it."

Mittwoch Aus Licht opens on Wednesday 22 August. Elements of the opera will also be broadcast on digital arts channel The Space.
 

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I did notice actually, although I thought it was just the one heli. It was doing some unusual turns, so I figured it was doing aerial photography.

Awesome idea, though!
 

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I saw it from St Andrews. Was standing in the Tilton thinking- Ross kemp:Small Heath/Afghanistan. There were many jokes going around our block, it really did seem odd, with some very strange and unorthodox manouveres in action.

Later noticed all the Helis were parked at Curzon Street Station, I saw them on the way home.
 

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On subject of why - Telegraph sums it up, "Although all of its six chapters have been performed individually, Mittwoch has never before been staged complete".

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/...a-Company-Argyle-Works-Birmingham-review.html

It's another fantastic performance by the Opera Company that will garner more publicity and highlight one part of our burgeoning cultural scene. They did Othello which was amazing on tv let alone if you'd been there, http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2009/dec/06/othello-review.
 

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I just don't get it? Why?

Karlheinz Stockhausen spent 27 years composing the seven operas, one for each day of the week, that make up his monumental Licht cycle.

He finished the whole work in 2004, and while every individual scene of each opera had been commissioned and performed separately over the years, by the time he died three years later, he had also been able to see all but two of the operas complete on stage.

Cologne Opera put on one of the missing ones, Sonntag aus Licht (Sunday from Light) last year; now, as part of the London 2012 festival, Birmingham Opera Company has added the final piece to the Licht jigsaw, with Graham Vick's production of Mittwoch (Wednesday).http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/201...sen-mittwoch-aus-licht-birmingham?INTCMP=SRCH
As feltip says it hadn't been performed before, which I guess is solely down to cost. I was speaking to one of the singers at the end who was saying that it may be the only time it will be performed.

I went on Thursday and if I'm honest I struggled with the fifth act (the one with the camel :nuts:) but the first four were amazing. I turned up slightly late without knowing what to expect and the Wednesday greeting blew my mind http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmYVSXEIPxE

I read someone describe it as a cross between Arthur C Clarkes' 2001 & Aphex Twin but there's a bit more about it here if you're still in the dark http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LdK1-sbASYA
 

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It looks like it attracted some attention in the States!

BIRMINGHAM, England — Who would be crazy enough to write an opera called "Wednesday" and require for one scene that four noisy helicopters — real choppers like the ones that drive us to distraction at the Hollywood Bowl — fly over the theater with microphones on their rotors so that the chop, chop, chop can be mixed into the sound of the score?

There is also a dancing camel that becomes president.
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What kind of director in his right mind would want to stage this? What opera company needs this kind of headache? Such meshugas doesn't come cheap, so where might funding be found?
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The composer was the German visionary Karlheinz Stockhausen (I know "visionary" is overused, but Stockhausen was a visionary), and his "Mittwoch" (its German title) is themidweek opera from his seven-day, 29-hour "Licht" (Light) cycle.
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Although completed in 1995 (Stockhausen died five years ago), "Mittwoch" had never beenstaged in its entirety until the noted British director Graham Vick mounted it last week with Birmingham Opera Company, which he founded 25 years ago to present exceptional special annual projects.

Being part of Britain's Cultural Olympiad, nearly all the "Mittwoch's" $2.5-million cost came from public funds. Tickets sold out instantly for the four performances, and people from dozens of countries headed to an abandoned chemical factory in a dicey part ofBirmingham on a stormy night, only to sit on the floor or sometimes awful little stools for an opera that lasted more than six
hours.
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However bad "Mittwoch" was for the back, the event was astonishing for the soul and simply beyond belief. If opera is meant to change your perception of what is possible and worthwhile, to dream the impossible dream and all that, then this is clearly the spiritually uplifting way to do it. And it was funny too.
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There might seem a lot to scare people away from "Mittwoch." The score is based upon complex and intricate musical formulas. It involves vast amounts of electronic technology, and the technical demands on singers and instrumentalists are staggering.
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The first scene is an hour-long electronic music "Greeting," which Stockhausen suggests should be played in the dark and listened towith our eyes closed unless you want to watch someone fly a kite. Hey, it's Stockhausen.
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Vick's solution was to unpredictably pierce Stockhausen's multidimensional electronic wonderland with unpredictable, illuminated screwball tableaux vivants, so brief as to seem like afterimages. Characters popped out of the audience. They climbed walls. Someone* flew a kite. There must have been a hundred extras, members of the community whom the director admirably likes to draft into hisBirmingham productions, one or two a year.
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It is hard not to make "Mittwoch" sound silly. In the second scene, 12 groups of world parliamentarians sing, in unknown languages,that all you need is love (the composer spent part of the '60s in Northern California). A small chorus surrounded the audience in a large circle, their faces painted like flags. At the bit where love was likened to "cosmic gluten," the singers smeared the paint on their faces and writhed on their high chairs. The extremely strange vocal writing is like nothing you've ever heard, unless, that is, you come from a different solar system, as Stockhausen was convinced he did.
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In the third scene, the 13 instrumentalists float overhead. Vick strapped brave players onto trapezes. Each competed for virtuosically weird effects, while we lay on cushions looking up.
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Stockhausen envisioned musicians ultimately leaving Earth, and the next step for him was to require the members of a string quartet to be strapped into the seats of four circling helicopters. The strings make continual vibrating sounds that interact with the helicopter noise, the audio and video piped back down to the audience. The effect can be arresting, the rotors starting to seem like musical* instruments — the conventional ones — as if they could propel a listener into other realms.
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Unfortunately, this is the one scene in which the performance was not outstanding. The Elysian Quartet lacked the proper sizzling edge. Stockhausen also wanted the scene to have a live narrator and for the quartet to come back to the hall and take questions from the audience. But having a pop music DJ be the MC was a rare Vick misstep. The Elysians mostly talked about being scared aloft this night because of the rain.
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The quirky camel scene followed. It takes place in a different universe, and it felt that way too. Vick offered the "Mittwoch Farewell,"more electronic music meant for the dark, as an opportunity for the audience to mingle and feel the love. We did.
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On a local note, Vick's assistant director was Yuval Sharon, founder of the experimental new L.A. Opera company the Industry, which he modeled in a modest way after the untraditional Birmingham Opera. I hope the "Mittwoch" production can be interpreted as a sign of where the Industry might go in the best of all possible worlds. Or should I say other worlds?

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To read the full article, click on this link or copy and paste it into your browser: http://www.latimes.com/la-et-cm-stockhausen-mittwoch-review-20120828,0,3551693.story
 
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