Gruppen review – LSO's artful three-way split enthrals Turbine Hall

Tate Modern, London
It was concert as surround-sound art installation: Simon Rattle triumphantly filled Tate’s giant gallery space with the ringing beauty of Stockhausen’s three-orchestra spectacle

Karlheinz Stockhausen was no stranger to writing music that turned a performance into an event – this, after all, is the man who wrote music for a string quartet playing from within four helicopters. The importance of making concerts into events is something that Simon Rattle has brought back to the London Symphony Orchestra in his first season as music director.

Stockhausen’s 1958 masterwork Gruppen für drei Orchester (Groups for three orchestras) involves no helicopters, but the forces it does require – three spatially separated orchestras comprising about 100 musicians all told, and three conductors – plus its sheer intricacy, are enough to make it a rare work to experience live. But this is as much an art installation as a concert work, and in many ways it was right at home in Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall.

Surround sound … the audience was encouraged to move around to find different perspectives.
Surround sound … the audience was encouraged to move around to find different perspectives. Photograph: Doug Peters/PA

Saturday’s two performances had a paying audience standing on the hall’s floor, but could be seen and heard by other gallery visitors from the windows and balconies all around.

The work Rattle had chosen to precede Gruppen was equally at home here. Messiaen’s Et exspecto resurrectionem mortuorum, commemorating the dead of the second world war, is a monolithic piece, scored for a barrage of wind, brass and percussion.

The public nature of the space felt entirely appropriate and the music made a forceful impact, but there were moments of quiet, intense beauty too. The final movement, with the gong pulsing, suggested a giant creature slowly breathing; then the sound grew into a mass of noise that seemed to feed off itself. It was exhilarating to the ear.

Gruppen is a different beast. For all its massed musicians, it is a thing of tiny, pin-drop details. The three stages were set up at the points of a triangle, so the conductors – Rattle, Matthias Pintscher and Duncan Ward – could have eye contact.

Rattle encouraged us to move around, quietly, to gain different perspectives and so one found oneself perhaps next to the trombones as they offered gruff punctuation, or to the side drum as it tried to whip up the argument.

The passages that worked best, though, were the moments of true surround sound, where the three orchestras came together to send single notes or chords scything around the space.

Again, it was impossible to hear every detail – but if you wanted that you could have stayed at home with a recording. This was something different: a live performance, music as an event.

Exhilaration … Pintscher, Rattle and Duncan Ward after the performance.
Exhilaration … Pintscher, left, Rattle and Ward after the performance. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Philippe Parreno’s Turbine Hall review – mesmerising and unmissable
Anywhen is one of the very best Turbine Hall commissions, filling the space with sounds and furies, stillness and movement

Adrian Searle

03, Oct, 2016 @2:11 PM

Article image
Cecilia Vicuña review – the most moving Tate Turbine Hall installation for years
The Chilean artist and poet has hung up huge mobiles of fraying wool, knotted rope and debris mudlarked from the Thames, as an elegy to lost language and wilful destruction

Adrian Searle

10, Oct, 2022 @3:48 PM

Article image
Danish artists Superflex next for Tate Modern Turbine Hall
Art world waits to see how collective known for highly political work will fill huge exhibition space in London

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

16, Mar, 2017 @1:50 PM

Article image
One Two Three Swing! by SUPERFLEX review – no escaping gravity in the Turbine Hall
After Olafur Eliasson’s weather and Carsten Höller’s slides, the Danish collective have filled the Turbine Hall with swings. It’s a playful, welcoming space, but no world-changing work of art

Adrian Searle

02, Oct, 2017 @4:08 PM

Article image
In full swing: Tate's Turbine Hall turned into adult playground
Tate Modern installation One Two Three Swing! uses three-person swing to combat social apathy through collective action

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

02, Oct, 2017 @12:05 PM

Article image
Anicka Yi’s Turbine Hall review – invasion of the floating pod creatures
Attracted by human heat, Yi’s flying organisms home in on visitors and release smells – perhaps we should be glad they don’t quite fulfil their promise

Adrian Searle

11, Oct, 2021 @12:36 PM

Article image
Plans for new London concert hall move step closer after architects announced
New York firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro chosen from six-strong shortlist, and will work to submit a design for the building by December 2018

Mark Brown

10, Oct, 2017 @9:00 AM

Article image
Detained, grilled, denounced: Tania Bruguera on life in Cuba – and her Turbine Hall show
Whenever she leaves Cuba, the authorities tell her not to come back. What does the Cuban artist have in store for Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall? Will the mounted police have to be called out again?

Charlotte Higgins

26, Sep, 2018 @5:00 AM

Article image
Tania Bruguera wins Tate Modern Turbine Hall commission
Cuban performance artist known for politically charged work to undertake next show

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

21, Feb, 2018 @9:00 AM

Article image
Simon Rattle says Barbican hall can't fit in a fifth of LSO's repertoire
Orchestra’s musical director in waiting says new major venue is needed but acknowledges challenges of building one

Mark Brown Arts correspondent

17, Jan, 2017 @4:27 PM