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Backstage in July
All about making connections
I am listening to …
Rising, by tenor Lawrence Brownlee and pianist and collaborator Kevin J. Miller. The singer writes about this recording:
“These past years have been a trial, both for humanity as a whole, and the African-American population here in the United States. But through all these many challenges we have faced, I have also seen moments of strength, inspiration, hope, and great beauty. It is those themes of uplift, elevation, and rebirth that we have tried to focus on with this new project Rising, taking poems from the giants of the Harlem Renaissance, and working with some of today’s most talented African-American composers, to create something that speaks not just to our struggles, but to our triumphs.”
Lawrence Brownlee - ‘an international star in the bel canto operatic repertory’ - and advocate of contemporary pieces and rediscovered works, particularly by Black composers.
You can catch him next in London at the Wigmore Hall together with Lawrence Etienne Dupuis, baritone, and Carlo Rizzi, piano, launching the multi-year Donizetti Song Project on the 9th September.
I am reading …
The Pole, from a collection of six stories by Nobel Prize-winner J. M. Coetzee
"The Pole" explores moral and emotional predicaments in a slightly detached, observational style.Underneath though lie some really complex ideas and emotions.
This story follows Witold Walccyzkiecz, an elderly concert pianist, as he strives to pursue a romantic fantasy with Beatriz, an outwardly sensible music patron he meets in Barcelona after a concert.
Right from the start a power struggle between Beatriz and the pianist seems to be unfolding, which we mostly see happening through the eyes of Beatriz. Who will keep the upper hand? The woman, who tries to control his approaches as much as her reactions and feelings? Or the pianist, who attempts again and again to make his dream of love come true?
I found myself simultaneously judging the main characters and not quite warming to them but at the same time realising that these two people are so very human in their faults and failures, their desires and intentions. In the end it is the unpredictability of human connections that captivates.
I am thinking about …
concert ushers who have such an important role to play in welcoming the guests and making that important first impression. A bit like a server in a good restaurant, they should know the programme and a few things about the artists and the evening in general, to be able to connect well with the audience.
A lot of festivals, smaller venues and churches rely on volunteers, which should not stop organisers to ask them to be prepared, or actually discuss with them what’s needed and what they need to know. A lot of them are regulars and can also offer some good insights gained over the years. These lovely people basically set the scene, and can help make the evening as relaxed, informative and welcoming as you wish. Don’t underestimate their role.
As the project manager of an ensemble or as the artist I would even go so far as to ask the organisers to meet with them to personally thank them in advance and convey a few background infos about the programme. I realise that this is quite ambitious as time is always an issue, but keeping this approach in mind and grabbing the chance when there is an opportunity could be a great way to include this step; a few words to be passed on to the ushers when communicating with the organisers is another (time saving) option.
A nice (and well thought through) welcome will remind people why they came in the first place, that they are the guests of the evening, and connect them with the musicians on stage and possible their neighbours they share this evening with. Laying the groundwork for creating a community, whether it is for one evening, the length of a festival, a season and preferably much longer is the goal, and ushers play an important part in this.
and I like …
how violinist Marie Schreer connects with audience, friends and colleagues on Instagram. I especially like her invitation to say hi. A freelance career can sometimes look (and feel) fractured, accidental, and even lonely. This sounds anything but … (also, check out her podcast with Turquoise Coconut)
Thanks for reading, see you soon!!
PS There is a lot of reading, listening, research and travel involved in my line of work; I stumble across many interesting things and ideas I can't just leave behind so I decided to write about them and share with you.
The Harlem Renaissance encompassed poetry and prose, painting and sculpture, jazz and swing, opera and dance. What united these diverse art forms was their realistic presentation of what it meant to be black in America, what writer Langston Hughes called an “expression of our individual dark-skinned selves,” as well as a new militancy in asserting their civil and political rights. (Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History & Culture)
Coetzee's writing is known for its precision and clarity. The author himself states that "after many years of practice, I write good English sentences" (… a sentence even the best musicians can probably sympacise with).