Scelsi, an 87-year-old singer, and aural purging

4 Apr

MUSIC: Veronika Krausas

On Friday, April 2, 2010 I went to a fabulous concert featuring an 87-year-old singer MICHIKO HIRAYAMA who sang CANTI DEL CAPRICORNO, a 20-song cycle written expressly for her between 1962 and 1972, by the eccentric Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi (1905-88).

The concert started with this tiny Japanese woman slowly ambling onto the stage in a bright red print gown, high gold heels, and a gong hanging around her neck.

She had thick glasses on and sometimes, when she was reading the top line of the score, and because of the light and the glasses, it looked like her eyes were 5 times their normal size and were staring right at me.

These amazing vocal pieces use no text, but phonemes to color the pitches.

They’re chant-like songs that are mostly a capella except for a few:  one is with saxophone, two are with percussion, and one is with double bass.  And of course, the first one is with Michiko Hirayama accompanying herself with the gong, hanging like a large bauble on her chest.

The zodiac “capricorn’ relates to an area extending from India to Central America, which Scelsi mentions as the last refuges of a prehistoric human culture.

When the concert was over there were two things going through my mind:  one, what an amazing singer AND she’s 87, and second, I felt as if Hirayama was a witch doctor or shaman who, with her singing,  had completely purged me of all evil spirits!

There’s a CD (I think it’s out of print?) that has 19 songs on it.  I picked a copy up in the mid-90’s and every time I hear it, it still sounds like an ancient ritual that is sometimes shaking a finger at me, sometimes ignoring me, and at other times slightly smirking.

There are some excerpts on youtube:

Here’s her link:


There are two events that are NOT to be missed at Disney Hall in the next week or so.  The British composer Thomas Adès is conducting a concert of his works including his spectacular Violin Concerto with the violin virtuoso Anthony Marwood.  Concerts are April 8-10th.   The second concert is LA COMMEDIA by the Dutch minimalist Louis Andriessen on April 13th.  It’s based on Dante’s Divine Comedy.  Check out the LA Phil’s website for more info.


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