Summertime with Xenakis

Iannis Xenakis

In the fall of 2008, ICE gave the US premiere of Iannis Xenakis’s opera Oresteia. This summer, the recording of that concert will soundtrack a marionette version of the opera, directed by Luca Vigetti, to be held at the Swedish Cottage Marionette Theater in New York’s Central Park.

On the same day, ICE’s own Nathan Davis will join master percussionist (and Xenakis expert) Steven Schick and others for the first open-air U.S. performance of Persephassa. The concert will take place around the lake in Central Park, with the audience in the middle of the lake on rowboats. Xenakis, on a lake, in the middle of Central Park. Seriously.

It’s all part of Make Music New York on June 21, 2010. More details on these and other Xenakis performances here.


Xi_in_rehearsal: San Diego



Xi/Perspectives: “a little bit of craziness” – David Byrd-Marrow

David Byrd-Marrow

David Byrd-Marrow

ICE’s rockstar horn player David Byrd-Marrow gives us some insight into what it’s like to prepare for the experience of playing Xenakis.

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Xi/San Diego

ICE UCSDICE & Steve Schick bring it to the West Coast.

Just stumbled on one blogger’s response to the Chicago show from June 2009:

Regarding last week’s one night only ICE performance of Iannis Xenakis’ work at the MCA: [...] Best performance of the year thus far.

Read his full post here.


Xi/Perspectives: “Lucky enough to be in the room” – Ryan Ingebritsen

Ryan IngebritsenDuring an interview about the new piece he wrote for ICE, composer Ryan Ingebritsen recalls hearing the ensemble’s Xenakis show at the MCA Chicago.

“It gripped you from the inside and pulled your insides out…”

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Xi_Chat: Interdisciplinary Connections Panel at Miller Theatre

Friday, October 16, 2009 at 7PM, ICE and Miller Theatre are co-hosting a panel discussion, focusing on Xenakis as an interdisciplinary innovator.

Steve Schick will perform Psappha, and then a diverse and distinguished panel will discuss the music.

Click HERE to meet the panel.


Mme Xenakis in Conversation, Part II


Madame Françoise Xenakis, in conversation with Andreas Waldburg-Wolfegg, looks back on the fraught relationship between Iannis Xenakis and fellow composer Pierre Boulez, and recounts French President Georges Pompidou’s failed attempts to bring the two of them together. Listen to excerpts from the interview in the latest podcast from Tracing Xenakis.

Andreas: What fascinates me, speaking of construction, is that when I look at this period of Xenakis’ work, and I look at what he was doing as an architect and a composer, someone like me thinks—it’s something that I, personally, adore, that I find very interesting—but it’s not very popular. I wonder how he lived with that.

Mme X: He wasn’t preoccupied by it. I don’t know if he thought about it; it wasn’t his problem. He had this expression—“it’s not my problem”—which he used to brush a lot of things off. When he didn’t feel like dealing with some triviality, he would just say, “It’s not my problem.” His problem was creating, seeking, finding the unbeaten path. The rest…he never said “I don’t have time,” but he would say “I’m not interested.”

W-W: There were moments, if I’ve understood correctly, in which there was a lot of distance between him and his fellow composers.

X: He was hated. He was subverting…and then he met Boulez at Louis Saguerre’s. Saguerre was an old homosexual; delicious, but a bad composer. And [Saguerre] had put together this kind of salon where all the emerging composers came to see him. And Boulez was there—it was a musical atmosphere, and he was already a conductor, and Boulez had a group of followers who were all exceptionally eloquent. He is a man of striking intelligence. But Boulez hated Xenakis so much that he would speak out against him violently and in public. For him, [Xenakis] was something terrifying. That a man who was nothing, who only had a half a face, who was a communist … that was untenable for him, even though he may have thought highly of him. It never went away. They crossed swords. Boulez would say that Xenakis was telling architects that he was a composer and composers that he was an architect. But of course it wasn’t like that. He was dishonest. Read More »



On Saturday, October 17 at 8 PM, ICE’s X-fueled Aural Assault will take on the Fashion Capital of the World. We’ll be ready.






On October 17, ICE and Steve Schick will bring the Xenakis show to Miller Theatre. And for you New Yorkers who’ve waited so long to experience the ferocity of this unparalleled experience, they’re bringing a little something extra…


Thallein 2


ICE/Xi in Flavorpill

International Contemporary Ensemble: Xenakis

The MCA’s retrospective for multidisciplinary visionary Buckminster Fuller has been extended into next month; in its theater, the work of another brilliant theorist with roots in architecture is getting play. Although composed for live performance, the larger works of Iannis Xenakis are so intricate and complex they’re rarely experienced. In absentia death sentences and severe shrapnel wounds followed Xenakis’ engagement in political dissidence, while formal architecture training and collaboration with high-modern guru Le Corbusier helped shape his music composition and theory, which embraces the idea that artistic expression can be translated mathematically between media. Top-shelf percussionistSteven Schick and the International Contemporary Ensemble — 30 musicians with one foot each in Chicago and New York — perform five of the master’s works tonight. 

– Zachary Whittenburg


ICE/Xi in Newcity

Preview: Steven Schick & the International Contemporary Ensemble/Xenakis

Chamber MusicChicago ArtistsClassicalExperimentalVocal MusicWorld Music


A unique twentieth-century presence, Greek visionary, composer, engineer, architect, philosopher and mathematician Iannis Xenakis’ influence remains uniquely felt across various disciplines eight years after his death.  His extreme use of angles in buildings have become signature sights of modernism, an angularity that often characterizes his music as well.  He somehow was able to straddle right brain and left brain by using mathematical formulas as the basis for music that also achieves a ritualistic and mystical quality to it.  Like Schoenberg early in the century, Xenakis created a new post-World War II vocabulary of sound that ultimately was appropriated by others yet never fully duplicated in its originality.  His music has been more widely known more by reputation than by performances, as Xenakis makes such extraordinary demands on performers—to say nothing of listeners—that only the most adventurous and virtuosic musicians program him.  The International Contemporary Ensemble and percussionist Steven Schick have made exploring Xenakis a performance pastime and are presenting the fruits of their labors in this all-Xenakis program that includes his “Psappha,” for solo percussion instruments of wood, metal and skins, “Echange,” a concerto for bass-clarinet and chamber ensemble that makes use of extended techniques, “Akanthos,” for soprano and chamber ensemble, “Palimspsete” for piano, drums, winds and strings, and the Chicago premiere of Xenakis’ final composition, “O-Mega.” (Dennis Polkow)      

June 4, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, (312)397-4010, 7:30pm.


ICE/Xi in the Reader

Excerpted from this week’s Chicago Reader

*Critic’s Choice
International Contemporary Ensemble
When: Thu., June 4, 7:30 p.m.
Phone: 312-280-2660
Price: $25, $20 members

Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, who died at 78 in 2001, remains one of the most original and intimidating voices in contemporary classical music. His often radical music is a tough sell for orchestras, though, who can be reluctant to program it for audiences who may know they’re supposed to appreciate it but don’t actually like it—it’s not hard to find a Xenakis recording, but chances to see his work performed live are few and far between. He sought to apply tools from math and architecture to composition, constructing his pieces as much as writing them, and he formulated a theory of stochastic music that borrowed concepts from the probabilistic behavior of atomic particles—to borrow a phrase from the New Yorker’s Alex Ross, “he began looking at the orchestra as a scientist looks at a gas cloud.” Approaches like this might sound like they’d result in dry, dull music, but some of his compositions are among the most exciting and frightening ever written. For this program of Xenakis’s chamber pieces, percussionist Steve Schick, a music professor at UC San Diego, joins 17 members of the International Contemporary Ensemble, a top-flight crew based here and in New York. Despite their relatively conventional orchestral instrumentation—there’s no music for tape scheduled tonight, no amplified harpsichord, no computers “reading” graphic notation—these are some of Xenakis’s most satisfyingly jarring works. The evening begins with Schick performing the percussion solo Psappha and continues with several ensemble pieces: Echange (with solo bass clarinet), Akanthos (with lead soprano), and Palimpsest. Closing the show is Xenakis’s final composition, 1997’s O-Mega for percussion soloist and ensemble, in its Chicago premiere. —Peter Margasak


An Interview with Madame Françoise Xenakis

ICE Board Chair Andreas Waldburg-Wolfegg in conversation with Madame Françoise Xenakis, widow of Iannis Xenakis. Andreas and Françoise met in March, 2009 in Paris at the same apartment where she and Iannis had lived for nearly fifty years, until his death in 2001. Stay tuned for portions of the audio recording of this interview in ICE’s podcast series: Tracing Xenakis.

Part I
Madame Xenakis tells the story of how she met Iannis, and speaks about his experience in the Second World War and his upbringing.

Mme Françoise Xenakis

Mme Xenakis: Oh, I can tell you the story, it’s very strange. It was in 1950, in winter, you’ve got to understand that because your mother made you learn French and now, etc. My mother was schoolteacher and was remarkable with children, who obeyed her, and they became firemen, teachers, two of them were graduates of the ENA [Ecole nationale d’administration], etc, and me, it didn’t work on. I refused to take her orders. I refused. I ran away, yes, yes. And so she decided that I was a fool and needed to go to a trade school to learn how to make brassieres.

So finally she made me take an examination in order to be a seamstress at 17 years old. I flunked high school, I got myself expelled…I just didn’t want to do it. [read more]


Xi/Perspectives: Frankenstein?

by Doug Laustsen

When I first sought out Xenakis’ music, I made a trek to my favorite new music record shop.  I discovered that the few albums present in the racks lacked the details I hoped would give me an idea of which album to pick.  So, naturally I picked the album with the coolest artwork.  On the back of the album was a picture of Xenakis looking like a mad scientist at work over a large sound board. 
The music on that album, Mode’s release of the electroacoustic work La Legende d’Eer, sounded like the work of a mad scientist.  The label, I also found seemed to fit the composer pretty well – armed with well refined complex mathematical principles, he was working to create a sonic landscape previously unthought-of.  I’m sure his detractors would relish in the idea of his music being the auditory equivalent of Frankenstein, but to me his music is able to find a distinct balance between the grotesque and gorgeous all at once.  The bursts of motion and angular a-lyrical sounds – both in the electro-acoustic works and ones for conventional instruments – sound like the way the world we live in looks.  I wouldn’t expect anything much else from an architect, of course. 

Doug Laustsen is a musician and host of Endlesss Possibilities on WRSU-FM in New Brunswick, NJ. He blogs at epmusic.


Xi/back_story: Steve Schick on ICE/Xenakis

by Steve Schick

I have had the great privilege to play the music of Iannis Xenakis many hundreds of times over the last 35 years. The collaboration with ICE on Palimpsest, Echange, Akanthos and Omega has been one of the most satisfying and exciting of any of those performances.  The group is superb, dynamic and passionate. The extraordinary Tony Arnold is, well, extraordinary.  What she does is so engaged and exacting, she seems to re-write the rules of singing.  I think the MCA concert in Chicago will be mind-blowing!