Words FROM CELEBRATED PIANIST AND COLLABORATOR and Friend ROGER WOODWARD
We worked throughout the UK, Athens, Sydney, Geneva and Paris together. The Xenakis "Kraanerg" collaboration was a memorable inspiration for all who participated in the twenty-six performances at the Sydney Opera House, and, shortly after, video footage of the 1990 Sydney Spring at the AGNSW was as important to me, as my chance to prepare with him, tracks throughout the 1990s for the Dutch label of his music which was, all of it, recorded live in the AGNSW by Ralph Lane (ex-ABC- retired).
The Festival d'Automne collaboration was equally memorable as was the comedy of the pages of his work blowing away in the Odeon of Herodes Atrticus. I fumbled a tribute mostly written by him in the recent Harper Collins publication and other articles here and there but none of this did him justice. In many ways he was a more important figure, musically, than his mentor and colleagues and I will continue to pay tribute to his memory. His fabulous rewriting of Tokamak for piano and orchestra (especially the final movement with pounding percussions) is still to be realised along with his piano piece. Perhaps only this piece was too close to the computer than my grasp of it would allow and so it took me years to warm to it. It was the same with Erikhthon. It took time to simply go "with" the conceptual strength of the parabolas and glissandi and in this sense, others were there for Rolf and Iannis when I wasn't although I gave both my best shot. Refocus on health, exercise, eating habits and use of time now propel me forward in a way which makes Rolf's piece more accessible and Iannis's too although perhaps this was inevitable given the extra time it took me to feel close to works which remained more elusive when I first read them.
I'm only ready now (that's it's too late) but I will, given half a chance, continue to perform Rolf's music and if I ever find myself AD of another new music festival, will program both Iannis's and Rolf's music with renewed vigor. In particular I would love to perform and record Iannis's three works for piano and orchestra, a few of the chamber works and a recording of Rolf's keyboard music. I suppose it could only happen in a festival but at least that would allow recordings. - visual and auditory.
Rolf belongs to the great line of German-born musicians and other achievers (kings included) who were regarded as British and a tribute to his creative genius awaits him like never before. Whether or not that takes place in our lifetime I wouldn't know but there is no doubt about the inevitably of that taking place when planners with audacity and vision might finally, give Rolf Gehlhaar his due as the very great musician he is and will always be.
It was a colossal privilege working with this modest giant. No project was too small for him. As if Music were insufficient he took one look at my house one day and suggested it be rebuilt. He turned up several weeks later with a toolbox and telephone and began dismantling it before taking two-up and two-down in the very heart of Brixton, to a quite fantastic new level; which even the estate agent found difficult to believe. It turned out that she bought it for herself, married and had her kids grow up in it many years later.
His stories about Stockhausen were simply unbelievable. He actually kept house and managed Karlheinz not only when he was busy on tour with him but when he wasn't. He then had to manage Karlheinz's family business and personal life as well. At the end of the day when he finished working on my house (went on for two or three years - lost count) he would drive from Brixton across London to Hampstead to start work on his own home. I didn't know that he also composed for hours into the early morning as well. When he ever slept was impossible to imagine but God knew he revered and loved his wife and sons more than anything else and his sense of family, like Nouritza's, was very strong.
The wide of range of performers who revered his music and knew him well, were all knocked out by his total devotion to family. His contribution to Music in the UK was inestimable and the quality of his work places him at the cutting edge (a term he sincerely loathed) of Music Now. The sense of contemporaneity in all his works remains fresh, undiluted. It was not dated by style or time but retained a value which is rare among composers of our time. He was the very best at everything and will be missed. If in many ways things may seem to have come to an end it is perhaps only in this moment, that the wider recognition he was denied in life will now come. I lost count how many times that occurs to truly great composers, commencing with JS Bach whose music ended up in a Leipzig butcher's shop in the 1830s before Fanny Mendelssohn did something about it.
Like Bach, Rolf Gehlhaar's achievements are well known to a loyal band of devoted follows who always knew that he was one of the true greats of his time so, as we look in sadness to an end, he is just at the beginning of a much longer life. It was, as I mentioned earlier, a great privilege to have shared part of it with him.
I suppose you know the von Karajan joke told by members of the Berlin Philharmonic when one of its illustrious performers is pleasantly surprised to find himself at the pearly gates. He is admitted and to his delight meets Bach, then Mozart, on another occasion Beethoven and the son of God who shows him the heavenly kingdom. He introduces him to his Father who welcomes him. God tells him that if anything is not to his liking, to not hesitate to let him know. There is a pause because there is no way this "joke" could go any further until the musician replies: "Is there any chance I might get to meet with Herbert von Karajan?" It may not ever come to that for most vain, selfish, self-obsessed performers who have their time cut out to commit themselves to scores like Rolf's but I had my heaven here during my lifetime working and planning with Rolf in collaborations I will never forget and for which I thank you as well as him. Once again, it was a great privilege to have known him. It was also a great privilege to be included as family.