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Backstage in November
The Camino de Santiago de Compostela, Blaibach, Bavaria, and a Japanese writer
I am listening to …
Joby Talbot’s Path of Miracles. It was written originally for the choral ensemble Tenebrae, and is an hour-long a cappella dramatisation of the ancient Catholic pilgrimage route across northern Spain to the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia. Poet Robert Dickinson created the libretto of reflections with excerpts from historical and sacred documents in several different languages.
Talbot: “We visited many of the important points of the Camino, including four of its greatest churches: the abbey at Roncesvalles in the foothills of the Pyrenees, and the great cathedrals of Burgos, Leon and Santiago itself. The impressions these places left on me became the basis for the musical structure of the work.”
The piece has a gorgeous flow, and the way the sound moves amongst the voices captures the reflective mood of the Camino, evokes the impressive architecture of the buildings, its history and power and and has me enthralled every time.
I am reading …
Haruki Murakami’s conversations with the Japanese conductor Seiji Ozawa: Absolutely on Music.I love Murakami' writing, and was curious to read more about his take on music.
This book moves from detailed dissections of specific movements interpreted by various conductors on to chats about recordings, and working with different ensembles or colleagues. Murakami talks to Ozawa about his teaching which he observes at an Academy in Switzerland and they then move on to looking into the relationship between writing and music.
This is a book for people who like to look behind the scene and into the working processes of a musician. This is also a book about the author Murakami and his deep connection with music. So even if you are not so much into classical music, these conversations will shed some light onto how and why the author uses music references in his writing.
Overall, it is the creative process as such that is at the centre of this collection of chats, and the “… ability to work with utter concentration and to devote ourselves to it so completely” puts these two on a par with each other.
Murakami calls himself a music dilettante, though he is anything but. Ozawa enjoys Murakami’s knowledge and certainly his approach and perspective, agreeing a lot with his descriptions and realises that he had never spoken about his work, his world quite like this: “I’ve never really talked about music like this before, in such a focused, organised way.” And Murakami comes to the conclusion that
there is a fundamental difference that separates the way we understand music. … how very high the wall is that separates the pro from the amateur, the music maker from the listener. especially .. when that music maker is a world class professional..But that fact does not hamper our ability to have an honest, direct conversation. At least that’s how I feel about it, because music itself is a thing of such breadth and generosity. Our most important task is to search for an effective passageway through the wall - and two people who share a natural affinity for an art, any art, will be sure to find that passageway.
Apart from many musical insights and a glimpse into the private world of the conductor Ozawa these conversations also reflect the writer’s immense understanding and love of music. And it is with this intimate knowledge that Murakami uses certain pieces of music throughout his own work, quasi as a tool to describe for example a character’s internal life and conflicts, as in Kafka on the Shore, when Oshima listens to Schubert’s Piano Sonata in D Major, D 850
“If I listen to some utterly perfect performance of an utterly perfect piece while I’m driving, I might want to close my eyes and die right then and there. But listening to the D major, I can feel the limits of what humans are capable of—that a certain type of perfection can only be realized through a limitless accumulation of the imperfect. And personally, I find that encouraging.”
In that same novel, Hoshino, a trucker, gets introduced to Beethoven’s Archduke Trio (Piano Trio, Op. 97) in a small coffee place. This piece then basically becomes the tune for Hoshino’s growth from living passively and unattached to reflecting on his place in the world.
The soundtrack to Killing Commendatore is build around Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier, Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Springsteen’s The River, amongst others. The Rosenkavalier box set of LPs becomes something like a recurring character. In 1Q84 Leoš Janáček's symphonic poem Sinfonietta features prominently throughout.
Maybe it is as the Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki says:
“Some things in life are too complicated to explain in any language”
and for Murakami music steps in. And I find that extremely fitting since music creating and making is for ever a work in progress - like us, really.
I am looking at …
Kulturgranit, the Konzerthaus Blaibach in Germany. Ever since I first heard about this alien wonder I am so, so keen to visit.
The concert hall was designed by Peter Haimerl and you can find more design info, drawings and photos here. Not wanting to overwhelm the village square but also not compromising on his design, the architect sunk half of the hall into the ground.
Funded partly by the state of Bavaria to help avoid an economic and demographic collapse of the region, the architect, together with the locals, planned a new town hall to which the concert hall was later added. The project was founded on the concept of ‘Ort schafft Mitte’ (a place will create focus) and opened in 2014.
Blaibach is a small town in Bavaria, near the border with the Czech Republic. The village has 2000 inhabitants, the hall sits 200. And I have so many questions apart from wanting to try out the acoustic. Did the locals need a lot of convincing? Is the hall now an integral part of village life? And does that also include the (mainly) western classical music being programmed by initiator and artistic director, the bariton Thomas E. Bauer? Or do most visitors travel from afar? The hall does not use social media to promote and connect, and programmes will be scratched from this year, so that nothing will distract from the performance. However, just before the pandemic and according to Bauer, concerts had mostly sold out.
Play around with this concept should you know or live in a similar place … would it work?
and I like …
this campaign poster for the Mayor’s election in Tübingen, Germany, this October.
‘I want a Concert Hall’
Now this is a slogan I can subscribe to.
And no, I won’t go into any politics, neither German nor British, and just leave it at that (for the time being) …
Thanks for reading,
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.
published in Japan in 2011, the English translation in 2016
You can find a bit more data in this article from just before the pandemic https://www.sueddeutsche.de/kultur/erfolgsgeschichte-besuchermagnet-1.4701768