When the opening notes of a symphony play, we’re filled with a promise of an epic. As an audience, we’re being asked to join an adventure. Think of the drama of Beethoven’s 5th, the exclamation marks Mozart’s Jupiter Symphony, the build-up of Mahler’s 1st and the operatic flourish of Brahms’ 3rd.
These are all truly wonderful pieces of music and in an era of short attention spans, they play an incredible role in keeping classical musical alive for new generations. They’re also equally polarising. I’m always surprised when I meet music lovers who aren’t so keen on a symphonic drama – often because it’s ‘too heavy’ or ‘full on’.
Sometimes, it’s because ‘they just don’t get it’. And what I think these music lovers don’t get is the story that can be blurred by deliberate jolts.
Over the last week, I’ve tuned back into classical music. It’s never an absolute constant in my world but it seems to emerge when looking for a new story to tell. Sometimes, it’s outside the genius of a symphony that those stories are best told.
On Sunday 21 October, Freiburgers were treated to an early evening of classical music as ‘story telling’ by the 10stringDUO of Monica Ecke (cello) and Claudia Oltzscher (guitar). Held in the basement of the Archaeology Museum at the University of Freiburg, with sound bouncing of a collection of hundreds of Grecian and Roman statues, Monica and Claudia took the audience on a journey of ‘Lieder, Bilder and Reflexionen’ (songs, images and reflections).
In an enchanting hour, poetry was intermixed with classic pieces pared back to highlight the beautiful interplay between the guitar and cello. The two instruments wrapped around one another to create a single voice, using the rest of that magnetic energy to draw in the audience. If the aim of the performance was to create a space for the listener to create their own images against a wistful musical backdrop – then this was achieved brilliantly.
I really loved how the program began with a gentle wander to the familiarity of Mendelssohn’s ‘Lied ohne Worte (op.109)’ and the stirring Pavana (op.50) by Fauré, only to transition to the raw heartache of John Dowland’s and Jacob Van Eyck’s ‘Pavan Lachryame’.
With verses such as “And fear and grief and pain for my deserts, for my deserts are my hopes, since hope is gone”, from Downland’s ‘Flow my Tears’ foreshadowing a tragic melody – a rare and raw space was created.
Facing the audience as the orator of that poem, I heard something which doesn’t exist in the world of jazz: a stunning and still silence as people processed the connections from the meandering modernity of Domeniconi’s Seven Imaginations to an ode from another world.
To the credit of the 10StringDuo the relationship between poetry and music was achieved very delicately – stopping a potential fall into melancholy. Montesquiou’s cryptic ‘Fézenzac’ which presaged Pavane, and the subtle humour of Corrêa’s Cantilena’s Aria prior to Villa-Lobos’ Bachanas Brasilieiras No.5 gave the audience the chance to veer in every direction.
‘Lieber, Bilder, Reflexionen’ was a super refreshing experience. I appreciated how all pieces became part of much more open narrative. Rather than asking the audience to find a bond with each of the individual pieces of music, it was an exploration of what sits between the composer’s inspiration and the immediate world around us. With careful arrangement, nothing was lost but rather the most relevant remembered and reflected.
In any concert, we’re asked to give a bit of ourselves. With Jaime Zenamon’s ‘Reflexões No.6′, closing the concert – a thoughtful ending invited the listener to ‘reflect’ on the ‘images’ and ‘stories’ that they themselves had created within the performance. Subtly placing the audience as an equal partner.
This seems like a pretty great way to enjoy all forms of classical music. Whether it’s a solo performance or symphonic orchestra, music is only ever an invitation. We need to choose at what point we meet it.
Here is the link to a lovely version of Reflexões No.6: