Described as a “masterpiece” and “monumental work” by the New York Times and The Guardian, respectively, Austrian composer Georg Friedrich Haas’ hour-long work for twenty-four musicians, in vain (2000), is a seminal work of our time. By heightening of the listener’s aural acuity through the absence of concert hall lighting, this composition creates an unforgettable listening experience. With most of the music performed in complete darkness as the performers play from memory, the sounds are liberated, and “the focus lies on what is trapped under listening habits”.
In trying to describe the essence of in vain, Sir Simon Rattle compares it to that of Rothko’s paintings: “...the piece, like those paintings, seems to throb and glow. And one of the things about the paintings is that the longer you look, the more dynamic they seem to be”. Indeed, just as “the natural light that illuminates the murals…accurately show the nuances and subtleties of his color palette” in Rothko Chapel, Haas’ in vain uses the absence of light to create an experience of “waves of opulently strange, beautiful sounds”. As Vivien Schweitzer of the New York Times described it, “it was often hard to believe that these otherworldly sounds were coming from acoustic, not electronic, instruments”. Music critic for New Yorker magazine, Alex Ross, describes it as a “modern masterwork [which] transforms the concert hall into a place of shuddering mystery, suggesting that the way of truth goes through the dark”.
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