Gulbenkian commemmorates the centenary of Iannis Xenakis

The commemorative program includes concerts featuring emblematic works by this composer and an exhibition of Revolutions Xenakis, a co-production with the Philharmonie de Paris.
Iannis Xenakis @Michele Daniele Annees

The centenary of the birth of Iannis Xenakis, one of the most innovative and influential composers of the 20th century from whom the Gulbenkian Foundation commissioned over a dozen works over the course of his career, provides the pretext for this wide reaching homage taking place as from September at the Foundation. Within the scope of its season, Gulbenkian Music is presenting three programs with landmark pieces from the repertoire of this composer, including a modern recreation of his historical work, Polytope de Cluny.  In a co-production with the Philharmonie de Paris – Cité de la Musique, CAM – the Centre of Modern Art is to host Revolutions Xenakis, an exhibition recently presented in Paris that opens up insights into the origins, the context and the creative processes of the remarkable soundscapes of Iannis Xenakis. 

Born in the midst of a Greek community resident in Brăila, in Romania, and composer of a vast body of work made up of almost 150 pieces, Xenakis was, in addition to being a composer, an architect, engineer and mathematics and computer enthusiast. His writings, based on mathematics and the graphical represent of musical notes, revolutionised the notion of musical sound and his concept of bodies of sound was the source of unprecedented and unheard-of timbres. A pioneer in various domains, such as electro-acoustic and computerised music, his renowned performances of light and sound won over a huge audience and constituting one of the distinctive characteristics of his notable career.

The first concerts are taking place in September: the Gulbenkian Choir and Orchestra, conducted by Pedro Amaral, are performing two pieces that bear witness to the composer’s interest in Greek culture and science: Anastenaria and Pithoprakta (16 September) and, in a performance conceived by the percussionist Tomás Moital, the Gulbenkian Choir is to interpret a program made up of five works featuring the highlight of Pour la Paix, one of the rare occasions when Xanakis adopted a mixed electro-acoustic approach (18 September).

One of the most keenly awaited highpoints in the commemorations will be the modern reconstitution of Polytope de Cluny, a revolutionary work composed in the early 1970s that sought to establish a dialogue between music, the visual arts and architecture, thereby pre-empting multimedia works. In honour of the 50th anniversary of this work, a new version is to be presented developed by the musical collective nu/thing and the visual design studio ExeriensS, who start out with the same device as that for the original piece by Xenakis while also incorporating more recent technology. The piece will be performed in five sessions divided between the 2 and 3 December and the audience will be accommodated on the stage of the Main Auditorium (with a maximum 70-person capacity per session). 

Following the inauguration of the Revolutions Xenakis exhibition on 2 December, the date of the modern premiere of Polytope de Cluny, the public will gain the chance to better understand the many facets of this unique artist who invented a large proportion of the compositional techniques that characterise the second half of the 20th century.

Divided into six sections, this exhibition is hosted by the Temporary Exhibition Room of the Gulbenkian Museum, structuring the attention of visitors around the most defining phases in the career of Xenakis. A digital art installation produced by the ExperiensS atelier will take up the walls and the central area of the exhibition in a transposition of the renowned light and sound performance – Polytopes [Polítopos] – into contemporary times.

Polytopes represent works reflecting the maturity of the composer, conveying a summary of his thinking and with their own dedicated section in this exhibition. Another references the Philips Pavilion designed for the Universal Exposition of 1958, in Brussels, at a time when the composer was working in the office of Le Corbusier. This pavilion, which Xenakis fitted with “sound paths” made up of 325 loudspeakers, was a spectacular success welcoming over 1.5 million visitors over the course of the four months.

Another interesting facet of this exhibition comes with a recreation of the studio in which Xenakis worked, which enables the public to enter his intimate creative space and note the books that made up his library and that bear witness to his passion for Greek and non-European cultures, for music, philosophy, nature, architecture and mathematics.

The exhibition will be open for viewing between 2 December and 23 March.

Updated on 15 september 2022

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