I’ve heard one critic comment that Helmut Lachenmann sounds like he’s trying to compose improvised music, but that’s less a complaint than a compliment. It’s true that over the last 30 years the German composer has explored territory that has been investigated as intensively only by free-improvising musicians. With his extensions of convention–scraping on cello strings, bowing on the wooden bridge of a violin, plucking beyond the nut at the head of a guitar, using slap-tongue or unvoiced breath sounds on wind instruments–he treats traditional instruments as the sort of tabula rasa cherished by improvisers. But the other factor that links Lachenmann to free music is the sheer exuberance of his pieces–his vibrant mixtures of texture and joyous combinations of noise and tone. He never denies the materiality of the instruments, but never lapses into sound for sound’s sake, either. Lachenmann has amassed one of the most significant oeuvres in contemporary classical music, and with it a host of acolytes and detractors. For this listener, he has created some of the most surprising, wonderful music to be heard in recent times–particularly his string quartet Gran Torso (1971) and duet for guitars Salut fŸr Caudwell (available together on CD from the Col Legno label), his supremely fragile, whispery, second string quartet, Reigen Seliger Geister (1989), the exquisite Tanzsuite mit Deutschlandlied (1980), and his breathtaking Allegro Sostenuto (1988), for piano, cello and clarinet. Largely the doing of local composer and bass clarinetist Gene Coleman, a two-week Lachenmann Festival will allow Chicagoans the rare opportunity to encounter his compositions en masse and hear him speak about them. The first concert, Sunday at 3 PM at the Arts Club of Chicago (201 E. Ontario; 312-787-3997), will feature Gran Torso, a version of his solo cello piece Pression for bass, and some of his solo piano works played by Lachenmann himself. A concert on Thursday, November 20, at 7:30 PM at Northwestern’s Regenstein Hall (1965 South Campus Drive, Evanston; 847-491-5441) will feature the chamber orchestra piece Zwei GefŸhle with narration by Lachenmann drawn from texts by Leonardo da Vinci. Two concerts at the MCA (next Friday and Saturday, November 21 and 22, 8 PM, 220 E. Chicago; 312-280-2660) include an evening with Lachenmann’s Allegro Sostenuto (coupled with a piece by Chicago composer-improviser Jim O’Rourke) and a second night featuring his extreme solo clarinet work Dal Niente, his pivotal 1968 trio temA, and another performance of Zwei GefŸhle. Lachenmann will lead a roundtable discussion and an open rehearsal Saturday, November 22, at 10 AM and 2 PM, respectively, also at the MCA. His scores will be on exhibit all the while at RX Gallery, 1464 N. Milwaukee; 773-227-2215. JOHN CORBETT

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Betty Freeman.