A Mesmerising Opening Night for Chor@Berlin

GermanyGermany Machaut, Martin, Odeh-Tamimi:Audi Jugendchorakademie; Die Singphoniker; Ensemble Mixtura; Berlin, 12.02.2015 (HR)

Guillaume de Machaut: Messe de Nostre Dame
Frank Martin: Mass for Double Choir
Samir Odeh-Tamimi: Aus der Tiefe der Zeit

Even with the inclusion of the earliest complete mass setting by a single composer – Guillaume de Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame – the opening concert for Radial System V’s ‘Chor@Berlin’ choral festival refused to be bound by tradition. Described as a choral installation for 85 singers and two instrumentalists, Aus der Tiefe der Zeit (From the Depths of Time) assembled three performing forces that juxtaposed three different works. Interlaced between Machaut’s Mass sung by the four male voices of Die Singphoniker, and the Dutch composer Frank Martin’s Mass for Double Choir (1926) sung by the Audi Jungendchorakadmie, were works by the Palestinian-Israeli composer Samir Odeh-Tamimi played by the two instrumentalists of Ensemble Mixtura: Katharina Bäuml on the medieval wind instrument, the schalmei, and Margit Kern on the accordion. And if that was not enough to get your head around, this concert was a visual spectacle too. Performers would move during instrumental interludes, lit by various lighting effects.

Yet Aus der Tiefe der Zeit was not an incomprehensible mishmash of sounds and visions. The lighting and movement never distracted from the music, and in fact complimented it. Bäuml’s purposeful but also graceful walk across the stage that opened the concert as she performed alone on the schalmei was absorbing to watch, and made us curious as to where this evening would go. Meanwhile, Die Singphoniker positioned themselves in various locations for the movements of Machaut’s Mass. Their first entrance not only displayed their indulgently resonant sound; being positioned behind the audience in complete darkness they sounded as though they were coming from beyond. We believed we were alone with this music and that it was speaking to each of us as individuals.

The lighting used for the 82 singers of the Audi Jugendchorakademie was particularly effective. Each member of the choir held a light, and though these also had the function of illuminating their music, watching this mass of lights move steadily around the stage was poignantly beautiful. Their sound did not disappoint either. Perhaps it was their youth that meant that they always buzzed with energy even in quieter sections of Martin’s Mass. Yet it was their powerful forte moments that were most stunning. The literally glorious harmonies during the Gloria were revelled in. For the Agnus Dei, the choir positioned themselves on either side of the audience. With the audience centred in the middle of their sound, we were submerged. Every subtle dynamic change could be felt, as well as the intricate antiphony between the voices.

Whilst Die Singphoniker and the Jugendchorakademie showed how even a genre with one of the oldest traditions can be performed in a thoroughly modern way, Ensemble Mixtura did the opposite. The schalmei and accordion immediately conjured up a distant medieval world, and yet they played Odeh-Tamimi’s absolutely contemporary music. This mix of the old and new was perhaps what this concert was ultimately about, and it held its many opposing threads together. By virtue of this juxtaposition of the modern and the ancient, we were reminded that even the oldest music can be brought up to date, just as even the newest of music can be rooted in a hundred-year old tradition.

Aus der Tiefe der Zeit found the perfect balance of turning performance into a creative process whilst diverting attention away from the actual music. There was a risk that it could have been gimmicky and amateurish. Yet instead we were given an exiting performance of living music. This really was performance as art.

Hazel Rowland




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