25 Iannis Xenakis Troorkh


Durata 17 min__Rec: BIS-CD-__Publ: Edition Salabert__Lindberg performances: 15

On a rainy November day in 1985 I took the train to Paris for an appointment with Xenakis. I had just graduated and, having decided to make a living as a professional trombone soloist, I was in desperate need of new repertoire. The train was seven hours delayed, I missed my appointment, and when I called Xenakis he had no time to see me. Having spent almost my entire student loan on the train ticket, this was bad news, so there, in a Paris telephone box, I begged. Finally he gave in and I was given a new appointment, some hours later. While waiting in a cold Paris, I entered a bar and found myself robbed of the last cash in my wallet...
Finally I entered Xenakis’ studio, ready to play for him. Interrupted by the phone after two minutes, Xenakis said that he had to leave and only had five more minutes to spare, so I immediately asked him if he would consider writing a trombone concerto. His very clear answer was that he was not interested, and that he was busy for the next five years at least. On my way home I wondered why I had bothered to make this humiliating trip, but two years later, to my great surprise, I received the music for a short solo piece for trombone, Keren. The piece had an almost unplayable passage: F, G flat, F in fortissimo, but after having worked very hard on it, I recorded the piece, and sent it to him. Two weeks later I received the following note: ‘Thank you for the recording of Keren. I could have a concerto ready for you in June 1991. Iannis Xenakis.’
In June 1991 I once again entered the studio of Xenakis. He shook my hand and gave me the new score with the following words: ‘My aim was to write a piece without superficial effects, and with substance enough to live for more than 50 years. If you like it, I will be happy; if you don’t like it you can throw it in the bin, and I will be equally happy.’
It was an amazing piece of music, BUT PRACTICALLY UNPLAYABLE, with no less than 56 high Fs and three G flats in it! There were two alternatives: either throw it in the bin, or create a special lip-strengthening programme that would make me strong enough to manage the 56 high Fs. After two years of hard work I was ready to play the piece, which at the première received a standing ovation. Afterwards Iannis gave me 28 red roses, half a rose for each high F...


Troorkh for trombone and orchestra (1991) was commissioned by the Swedish Radio and Rikskonserter (Concerts Sweden). It was to prove the last work for solo instrument and large orchestra that Iannis Xenakis (1922 - 2001) wrote.

Two invariably prominent ingredients of Xenakis´orchestral creativity was the striving for continuous change, and the treatment of the orchestra as one instrument rather than a combination of many instruments. This was obvious already in his first works, and he continued his endeavours in the orchestral works of the nineties. By this time, however, he was no longer using the glissandi and pizzicato ‘clouds’ which were his early trademarks. In the late orchestral works there are few if any glissandi sections such as we know them from works like Metastasis (1953-54) or Pithoprakta (1955-56).
Instead he maximizes the density of thick wind and string blocks (there are no percussion parts in Troorkh). This makes the orchestral writing dense and opaque, with specific pitches entirely obscured. The orchestra becomes a single body of sound; if one perceives melodies this is owing to the ear’s tendency to register high frequencies. In contrast to music which uses different forms of culminations, Xenakis stated intention in regards to Troorkh was that ‘the climax is at the beginning and it never stops’.
The music is not a result of polyphonic structures or correlations. It is visionary music which gives the orchestra a partly new and entirely relevant role, music which opens up the orchestra to today’s sensibilities. One could perceive it as reminiscing about modern life; the orchestra representing the clusters of activities and information of today’s world, the trombone giving voice to the individual expressing himself. Concerning this concerto and the violin concerto Dox-Orkh (also written in 1991), Xenakis offered a rather more particular analogy: ‘Perhaps it’s like life, sometimes one is silent and sometimes one is upset’.
In a conversation with the author, Xenakis said about the interpreter on this CD, Christian Lindberg, that ‘he is, I think, the best trombone-player at this time’. The solo part of Troorkh is in fact extremely demanding, forcing trombone technique beyond previously realized limits. Here glissandi are put to use, partly because they are close to the idiom of the instrument, and partly because this, for the composer, was one relevant means of achieving continuous change in a solo part. The role of the orchestra is mainly to create acoustic spaces. The trombone fills these with virtuoso cadenzas, or with pregnant signals hinting at ancient lur instruments. 
The title alludes to the combination of trombone and orchestra. The spelling comes from the hard ‘k’ sound of classical Greek. The Greek ‘kh’ became the Latin ‘ch’, but was still pronounced the same. Later the ‘c’ became a soft consonant in the Latin languages, hence the composer’s preference for the spelling used here.

C Anders Jallén

Note: All quotes come from an interview with the composer, shortly before the first performance of Troorkh, in January 1993.