Sunday, 25 September 2011

Too Few Funerals


Wednesday 28th September
In reading about Bach, I discover that he nearly left Leipzig n 1731 because of rows with the management. He wrote to his schoolfriend Georg Erdmann who was the German ambassador in Danzig and asked if there might not be a position available at the court. He complained about the money he was getting and which the mayor had threatened to dock. He added that because of a period of good health among the people of Leipzig, there was less money than usual to be earned from funerals. Needless to say, Erdmann never replied to Bach's letter
 




Tuesday 27th September  Sacked in the Morning
Sent as a supply teacher of Spanish to a school in Lewisham, I cover my inadequacies in the language by taking a guitar and making all the classes sing Guantanamera. At the end everyone can say from memory the words of the verse, 'Yo soy un hombre sincero de donde crece la palma' - I am a serious man from the land where the palm tree grows. The song has memories for me of walking through the town of Braunschweig late one evening in 2005, dressed as Bach, with a large crowd of Bayern Leverkusen supporters behind me singing 'Johann Sebastian' to its tune. It is a melody much used in football circles. The drama student at home says it is often fitted to the words 'Sacked in the morning' which is sung to failing managers. This is significant as after a week the school tells me that songs are inappropriate and I am not called in again.
   
Sunday 25th September 
In the Swiss capital Berne, I attend an impressive performance of Leo Dick’s Der Wunsch, Indianer zu werden (The Desire to be an Indian), a piece of music theatre staged in and under the Stadt Theater. The title comes from a little-known short story by Kafka comprising a single, breathless sentence on the merits of horse-riding without reins or spurs in the manner of a native American.

The audience encounters the show in reverse. They begin at the artists’ entrance, continue underground, rise in a huge lift to the stage and end looking out at the performers occupying the velvet audience seats. It equates the pioneer’s longing for truth in a new landscape with the refugee’s desire for community. The subterranean section is a ship’s hold bound for America, the expanse of the stalls is the wide open prairie. Dick’s music is gritty and theatrical, a cross between Kurt Weill and Tom Waits. Conductor Titus Engel is a wild, eccentric figure who is as much a performer as a puppeteer and even makes theatre with his own shadow. He shapes Dick’s music with a driving pulse, that makes the evening urgent and compelling. The Jugend Sinfonieorchester of the Konservatorium Bern follow him with the enthusiasm and belief of converts. The choir comments, sometimes derisively, in the manner of a Greek Chorus.

The narrative line is not always straightforward and the soloists impart much by inference. Fabienne Jost and Barbara Berger are both defiant and apprehensive as fleeing refugees – from what we are never sure. Annekatrin Klein is quite magnetic as the typing immigration officer dismissively enunciating the familiar US questionnaire - Are you a Communist? – as the audience passes through to the stage. One is filled with a hollow sense of reversal and loss looking at the half-dozen performers caged on different levels of the auditorium. They sing their agonies to us who are occupying their stage and we know we are observing ourselves.