I had been looking forward to this very special project for a long time.
Playing with MCO for my home audience and still being at home with my family was like bringing together the two things in my life I love the most.
I went by bike from Altona along the Alster to the venue Kampnagel for rehearsals. They started out quite "normal": we worked on the Beethoven violin concerto with Patricia Kopatchinskaja, although instead of the conductor, Martin at the timpani was placed in the front and the rest of us (beside the celli) was standing up. This brings a different vitality into the music making, which I find very inspiring.
Patricia explained how she came to this idea, connecting several compositions to each other with Beethoven as the core/center piece. In the classical music world you often have to be careful not to bring too many contemporary pieces into the programme because you scare away the audience or you are seen as a niche. For contemporary arts, theatre or books, it's different. It makes the audience ask questions and lets them see things in a completely new context and perspective. Patricia finds it difficult in the classical music world to have the same impact, because the music is often presented in the same way as it was 200 years ago, but in our ears nowadays the music does not surprise us in the same way as it did then.
On the second day we went on stage and started to work with Maria Ursprung, who was responsible for the scenic realisations. There were two major actions for all the musicians. The first was to come on stage one by one, walking backwards to play the last movement of Haydn's Farewell symphony no.45 recomposed the other way around, meaning to play every bar backwards, starting from the end of the piece. That way all phrasings and harmonies are turned upside down and it feels very unnatural to emphasize the last beat of the bar, which normally would be the first beat. We experimented with different sounds, dynamics etc. and ended up standing, some of us, with our back to each other playing only by ear.
The second big action was the end of the Beethoven concerto. Lani Tran-Duc designed a big iron wall placed behind the orchestra. During the last movement, it slowly started to move forward getting closer and closer to the musicians. At the same time, the piece by Jorge Sánchez-Chiong CR][SH was braided into the end the concerto so that some players went on playing the original and others played CR][SH. The wall kept getting closer, forcing musicians to leave the stage in order not to be crashed by the moving iron and the musicians spread out into the audience and behind the wall to play individual improvised motives composed by Jorge Sánchez-Chiong. In the meantime Martin, our timpanist, was drumming on the wall and the composer himself started to play cadenzas with Patricia at his turntables. The wall opened and the piece ended with 3 "questions" played by the wind players – in the same way that the concert started, with (Un)Answered Questions by Ives and Kurtág.
There were also three pieces in the beginning of the concert: John Cage’s Once upon a time, a spoken, rhythmical piece performed phenomenally by Chris, Joel, Michiel and Patricia; a Bach chorale, Es ist genug, played by the winds under the podium of the audience, with the rest of us listening and saying "it is enough" in our mother tongue afterwards; and a short electronic bell composition by Jorge Sánchez-Chiong during which the musicians helped Patricia get dressed in her dress designed by Lani Tran-Duc.
The whole program was played without breaks, with one piece leading into the next. The audience both in Hamburg and Berlin seemed very responsive and alert but making music with Patricia – who really improvises new cadenzas every time and goes into extreme dynamics – you can’t help being convinced by her interpretation and statement.
Bye bye Beethoven, hope to see you this way soon again.
Photos: Philip Artus