Blindfolded, Indulged, and Listening to Debussy

04/01/2017

Debussy’s String Quartet: A Sensorial Concert: Adam von Housen and Charlotte Munn-Wood (violins); Pedro Vizzarro Vallejos (viola); Liz Kovalchuk (cello); Whitney George (music director). Brooklyn Academy of Music, Fisher Hillman Studio, Brooklyn, NY. 09.12.16 (KG)

Before Debussy’s brilliantly luxurious string quartet began, the concert experience started with a blindfolded, sensory indulgence. In the elevator up to the BAM Fisher Hillman Studio, listeners were offered a handmade chocolate cube with the instruction to let it dissolve in the mouth. This was how we should approach the whole evening: “Just let it happen,” said the elevator operator (who also turned out to be the confectioner).

Once in the studio, we were briefed and blindfolded by chaperones—30 dancers who would guide us through the one-on-one “sensorial concert” experience. Questions were welcomed, but after the advice of the elevator operator confectioner, they were tabled in favor of remaining in the dark. As it turned out, the performance by the London-based dance company Bitter Suite (with New York musicians under the guidance of composer Whitney George) was a sensory overload in all aspects—but sight. We were gently pulled, tapped and made to sway. We were fed dabs of jelly, a Pop-Rocks and truffle concoction that caused micro-explosions in the mouth, a chewy thing made with baobob fruit which the confectioner (in a talk after the performance) confessed wasn’t “meant to be delicious.” We were draped in scented cloths and sprayed with perfumed water. We were, in a word, indulged.

In 2017, Bitter Suite will debut a new work using brooding Beethoven and Janáček, but Debussy seems a more natural fit for the company’s talents. Taking a cue from the impressionists (although he rejected the term), Debussy sought to create airiness, music perhaps less focused than that of the Austrian and German composers who had so dominated the 19th century. In 1893, he premiered his String Quartet in G minor, quizzically the only work to which he gave an opus, No. 10. Though barely 30 at the time, the composer introduced the unusual conception of harmony and chordal structure he would pursue throughout his life, and won both admirers and detractors. One critic famously called the quartet an “orgy of modulation.”

But back to Bitter Suite’s hedonistic extravagance, which didn’t quite follow the indulgence of the changing keys. The dancers’ movements were strictly choreographed and no more personal than the “laying on of hands” of a reiki session. The movements were, at times, designed to catch the audience off-guard.

To say that the musicians assembled played beautifully would be a bit of guesswork, under the immersive circumstances. The music and the gusatory/olfactory design were all completely satisfying, and my chaperone, the New York-based dancer Gina Ricker, made the evening as fun as it was mysterious. On the way to the performance, I imagined being treated to a visit to Debussy’s salon; what I got was a journey into his dreams.

Kurt Gottschalk

 

 

Print Friendly

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! Svetlana Zakharova and Bolshoi Stars Bring Amore to the London Coliseum in November __________________________________
  • NEW! Tom Green and Carol Ann Duffy’s The World’s Wife Premieres on 15 October in Cardiff __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2017 Malcolm Arnold Festival in Northampton __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Ballet’s 2017 – 2018 Autumn/Winter Season __________________________________
  • NEW! Contemporary Music from Manchester’s Psappha in 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! I Musicanti’s ‘Alexandra and the Russians’ at St Johns Smith Square, 2017-18 __________________________________
  • NEW! The 2017 Oxford Lieder Festival – The Last of the Romantics __________________________________
  • NEW! Anna Netrebko and Yusif Eyvazov’s Return to London in May 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! St John’s Smith Square announces its 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Pierre Boulez Saal’s 2017/18 Season in Berlin __________________________________
  • NEW! Birmingham and Beyond: Ex Cathedra in 2017/18 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Glyndebourne Opera Cup and Glyndebourne in 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • UPDATED! English National Opera’s 2017/18 Season __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! English Music Festival in Yorkshire Lifts the Lid Off an English Treasury __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Philadelphia’s Inaugural O17 Festival __________________________________
  • NEW! A FULLY STAGED PILGRIM’S PROGRESS IN ORLEANS, MA __________________________________
  • NEW! JIŘÍ BĔLOHLÁVEK (1946-2017) AND THE CZECH CONDUCTING LEGACY __________________________________
  • NEW! JUSTIN DOYLE DISCUSSES MONTEVERDI WITH MARK BERRY __________________________________
  • NEW! Katie Lowe Wins the 2017 Elizabeth Connell Prize __________________________________
  • NEW! Opportunity for a Rare Composition Masterclass with Gavin Bryars in April 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! ITINÉRAIRE BAROQUE 2017: TON KOOPMAN TALKS TO COLIN CLARKE __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House in Mumbai is Restored to its Former Glory __________________________________
  • NEW! iSING! – International Young Artists Festival in Suzhou, China __________________________________
  • NEW! A Riveting Kokoschka’s Doll from Sir John Tomlinson and Counterpoise __________________________________
  • Archives by Week

    Archives by Month

    Search S&H