When it comes to a classical concert, how long is too long? What do you do when you get restless? And what state — one of heightened curiosity? a sharpened intellectual edge? greater empathy? physical relaxation? — should a piece of art music put its audience members? In what way is art meant to be transformative?
These are all questions addressed, implicitly, at least by the Max Richter composition Sleep. Released on DG to great acclaim — especially in the UK where it was championed by figures including Jarvis Cocker — as well as some skepticism (several music critics and classical musicians I know are not moved by it), the piece was performed recently in downtown Los Angeles’s Grand Park. All eight hours of it — with cots for the audience.
Here is my interview with the German-born, English-dwelling composer, who has roots in both the classical mainstream and the British dance music of the 1990s. (Apologies for being a few weeks late on this one; I’d thought I had posted and then overwork took my eye off the ball. I post it, even though it’s late, largely because Richter is still performing Sleep in its full or shortened “From Sleep” versions, though I’m not aware of any more outdoor concerts; this was the first.)
I attended the concert, which was, of course, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. (It was also a bit colder/ damper at night than I’ wagered.) The sound system was amazing — full enveloping no matter where I strayed. And while I found the entire time fascinating, the highlight was waking about an hour before Sleep‘s conclusion, seeing first beginnings of pale light in the sky, with City Hall looming behind the musicians, sensing that the piece was gradually returning to the tonic (or whatever piece does), with a combination of grogginess and rebirth. It made me think, at least briefly, that the previous seven or so hours had been preparation for the final epiphany.
In any case, Richter and his co-conspirators — the ACME Quintet and soprano Grace Davidson — certainly won my over with this one.