Having read Anna’s report from our trip to museum of art Louisiana last week, I thought I’d just do a post of my own, following up on Anna’s observations on Cindy Sherman.
Because seeing the Sherman exhibtion reminded me of the Tori Amos-album Stange Little Girls (2001) which I bought recently and like very much. It occured to me at Louisiana that Tori Amos is obviously very inspired by Sherman in this album, which features 12 cover tracks, covering songs by artists as diverse as Eminem and Lennon/McCartney.
On the album, Amos presents an interesting new take on the concept of musical covering as she uses each track to present a different side of Woman as an expressive individual – and perhaps even different sides of herself as a woman artist. The songs are all centered around women and they are all originally written by male artists, and thus Amos uses the album as a way of exploring different male visions of women, and she does so playfully and freely, as if trying on different outfits in a fitting room. The homage to Cindy Sherman’s work (whose artistic project of portraying women may be said to be similar) is quite evident, as Amos poses on the album booklet in a series of photos that recall Sherman’s staged photography:
From Tori Amos: Strange Little Girls
If the pictures stood by themselves, I would be tempted to dismiss them as sheer Sherman plagiatism, but appearing as they do as part of the album cover art, they merely serve to emphasize Strange Little Girls as Amos’s musical exploration of the artistic project that Sherman started, and I think that’s a very sympathetic idea.
Amos’s talent as a musician is indisputable, I think, and the tracks are all very interesting musically, ranging in genre from quite piano ballads to loud rock songs, much like Sherman’s photography which ranges from the fragmentary contemplative to the grotesque and shrill. My favourite tracks on the album are probably the beautiful, understated cover version of Tom Waits’s “Time”, which gains a whole new perspective with Amos’s delicate vocal replacing Waits’s hoarse one, and the almost deliriously rambling, disharmonic and multivoiced schizophrenic version of Neil Young’s otherwise very by-the-book ballad “Heart of Gold”. And her chillingly laid-back version of “I don’t like Mondays” haunted me for weeks after the Virginia Tech massacre and comes to my mind whenever I see Cho’s angry face on the news, the Elektra-like unquenchable thirst for revenge shining from his eyes.
A minor problem with Amos’s album is, however, that she does not achieve the diversity of expression that Sherman masters. While the genre of her cover tracks ranges, Amos’s women portraying gets a little monotonous, as the majority of the portraits present in some form a deranged and dangerous woman. She no doubt wishes to underline the tendency towards vagina-dentata-ish male fear of women, and while I think this is an important issue within our patriachal society, surely it does not reflect the attitude of the entire male population? Here, I think Sherman’s take on the male optics is more subtle and leaves more room for interpretation.
But the album’s spark and energy and Tori Amos’s fitting-room mentality towards a male-dominated society’s view on femininity, definitely makes Tori Amos’s music recommendable to anyone with an interest in Sherman’s project, and I think it is great, and much too rare, to see contemporary women musicians seriously exploring gender issues within their music. A much-needed break from Gwen Stefani’s scantily clad Hollaback Girls and Shakira’s allegedly truth-speaking hips. I haven’t yet heard Amos’s latest album American Doll Posse (which was released last month), but I understand that Amos continues her theme of women portraits, this time specifically criticising traditinal American sex roles; so it would seem that Sherman is indeed still very much alive and kicking. Good for her. And for all of us.
I have been busy! Hence my long silence on this blog. But as recent additions to our flickr account show the last week has been full of good stuff.
Wednesday night Marie and I tempted the deluge and drove to the museum of modern art, Louisiana, North of Copenhagen to see works by the Queen of Staged Photos, Cindy Sherman. And what a great time we had! The exhibition was very large and included photos and videos from all of Sherman’s carrier. Most of them with a humorous edge, some of them disgusting and some of them combining those two strains. Besides from her recent clown portraits (sju jætter?) I think this exhibition showed what an extremely skilled artist Cindy Sherman is. Not only are her photographs technically amazing they also capture the spirit of an age and of the person (herself in disguise) she portrays. Marie and I stopped by every piece and talked and talked about them. Nothing was of little importance or dull. I think she is fantastic.
As a curator to be I think the exhibition was very serene and nice and with a good selection of works. Some of the wall colours were odd but when it comes to hanging I think they did a good job. Look at this wall for example where Sherman’s Old Master photos have been arranged in a traditional hanging a’la Parisian Salon. Just the right thing to do if you ask me.
I am completely taken by these. Sort of an acting out of a make-a-match memory game for art historians.
On Thursday I went with my family to Sweden to do some more painting in the vicarage my parents bought. We spent a whole four days there working hard. Here are some pictures.
This is the dining room with me and my sister painting with grey (and me trying to make a straight line). Ever since entering a grey room in some friends’ house I have wished for some room of my own in grey. I think it is enchanting and with old furniture it just makes perfect sense.
After the dining room we painted the neighbouring living room. Yellow. A very difficult colour but beautiful together with grey and with the big white porcelain stove in the corner it looks great. Here again my sister and I painting.
Of course we weren’t alone – far from it. My brother, dad, uncle and brother-in-law made a great effort too as did my aunt and mom. This is my brother with his protective glasses. The staining annoyed him a good deal and when this wonderful pair turned up he just has to use them.
When not painting we went on trips in the wonderful area, Österlen which is the Easternmost part of Scania (Skåne to the locals). They live on apples in this part of the country so at this time of year Österlen is one big blooming apple garden.
Actually scenes from the Cherry Valley (apples…cherries…) in the adaptation of Astrid Lindgren’s The Brothers Lionheart were shot here and when driving through the scenery it is breathtaking.
The apples are used for cider and apple juice…and cakes.
Besides from apple trees there are fields, woods and steep hills. And a waterfall just five minutes from where we are.
We left Sweden on Sunday and on Monday it was my birthday. And look at all the great stuff I got from my wonderful family:
I have to admit I am ridiculously fond of presents and this year was perfect. I got what I wished for and I got what I had wished for but had forgotten again. Besides I had some more cake and a wonderful dinner with same wonderful family which just made the day perfect.
What a week!
One of my favourite movie directors is Danish director Nils Malmros. Most of his DVDs are released without foreign subtitling, something that irks me to no end, as they are – rightfully – internationally acclaimed (his movie Kundskabens træ [“Tree of Knowledge”] having received the Lübecker Nachrichten Audience Award in 1982, several of his movies having been shown at the Cannes Festival), and I would love to be able to share my love for them with the world. However, I figured that writing about the movies here on the blog might be a way of raising some curiosity about the movies and thus – perhaps – a teeny tiny step towards an international edition of the DVDs.
And so I will be reviewing a number of Nils Malmros-movies, starting with one of his first movies, Lars-Ole 5C (“Lars-Ole, 5th grade”) from 1973, and ending with his most recent production At kende sandheden (which has been given the international title Facing the Truth). I regret that I am unable to review his movies En mærkelig kærlighed [“A Strange Love”] (1968 – Malmros’ first movie), Drenge [“Boys”] (1977), and Barbara (1997) as I have not been able to get hold of the films anywhere.
Lars-Ole 5.C was Nils Malmros’ first real success and a very important movie for the director. Five years earlier his movie En mærkelig kærlighed had been released and it had been a huge fiasco, the critics dismissing Nils Malmros as a bad impersonator of Francois Truffaut (by whom Nils Malmros was indeed very inspired, as he has stated openly several times). With Lars-Ole 5.C, however, Malmros started on a narrative style that has arguably become his signature as a director: The school-yard retrospective, that is, the capturing of a budding adult hurt, frustration and passion through the depiction of adolescent children manuvering their way through the micro-cosmos of the school yard, the school dance, the camp school – the limits of a child’s world. The movie was a success and took that year’s Bodil award (the Danish movie awards) in the category “Best Movie” and received some attention at the Cannes Film Festival. Shot entirely in humble black and white, Lars-Ole 5C is definitely a good movie in its own right, but seeing it, as I did, for the first time only after having seen Malmros’ later movies it is impossible not to regard it as a kind of study for these later works (Kundskabens træ in particular), and it is partly as such that I will be reviewing it here.
Don José, 5th grade
In Lars-Ole 5C, we meet 12-year-old Lars-Ole (Søren Rasmussen), an average 5th grader who is in love, likely for the first time, in fourth grader Inger. Inger is, however, in love, and “going steady”, with Hanse, a friend of Lars-Ole’s. Distraught from jealousy Lars-Ole tells on Hanse who gets blamed and physically punished for a mischief, and Inger dismisses Lars-Ole as “mean”. At a school dance the still smitten Lars-Ole steals a dance from Inger during the rheinländer polka. That is really all there is to the story, but Nils Malmros tells it with a painstaking earnestness and an attention to detail that bears witness of an almost photographic memory when it comes to this tumultuous time of a person’s life, so that it is impossible not to get sucked into the story, remembering one’s own adolescent, and seeing the depiction of this particular adolescent as a monument over human sorrow and frustration.
Lars-Ole is a somewhat plain-looking boy and not remarkable in any other way than because of the passion that shines from his eyes that follow his beloved with the strained watchfulness of jealousy. Even his name is plain and common, and the movie title Lars-Ole, 5th grade will bear connotations of an almost comical commonness to the average Dane, harking of a clumsy hand-written characters on the torn cover of a much hated math book, and this wouldn’t have worked as well with a more exotic name like Hanse. This is hardly a coincidence: the poignantly plain young man, Lars-Ole, constitutes a type that is to be repeated throughout Malmros’ cinematography: The nice, but somewhat paralyzed male character who loses his great love to a more radiant, although often dubious, personality. A Don José, one might call him, losing his Carmen to the more interesting Escamilio, and it is obvious that Malmros has much sympathy for this kind of character. His name is Lars-Ole in this movie, it is Niels-Ole in another (Kundskabens træ), while he takes the form of a struggling Danish movie director in a third movie (Århus by night), and one might see him as Malmros’ alter ego – the character almost being Malmros name-sake in Kundskabens træ and sharing his profession in Århus by night.
Inger (Judith Nysom) getting something whispered in her ear, the image of aloof and esoteric feminitiy and delicacy in the eyes of a clumsy 12-year-old boy.
Ass-jokes, secret spatiality, and falling from grace
Lars-Ole’s main problem, as well as his fellow Don Josés’, is that he is still so very insecure about himself and so uncomfortable with his own sexuality. This youthful character trait is particularly evident in Lars-Ole who is still partly caught within a kind of untimely “anal phase” (as far as Ericsson’s study of a child’s psychological development goes), and he and his friends are preoccupied with farts and ass-jokes which they tell each other amidst much giggling whenever the grown-ups aren’t around, with all the excitement and passion of young lovers throwing gravel at their beloved’s windows at night. This is as far as the boys have come when it comes to sexuality, but it’s something that they have to go through. The physical frames in which this anal preoccupation takes place is also significant: Lars-Ole and his best friend John find and explore a secret room and hallway in the deserted part of an old factory where they start meeting to exchange their boyish pranks and jokes. Secret rooms, hallways and other such cave-like spatiality is a theme that Malmros returns to later on in his cinematography, in Århus by Night, and it works as an efficient symbol of young boys’ exploration of their own subconsciousness.
The grown-ups in Lars-Ole’s life definitely constitute the super-ego to the id this secret spatiality provides, and while Lars-Ole comes from an attentive and caring home (personified by a loving mother), it is remarkable how poorly the adults tend to administrate the power they possess in their relation to the unruly boys. The boys’ school teacher, a grim-looking, elderly man, is a constant threat in their lives, his big, stern hands dealing the boys slaps by way of punishment. Corruptly so even; the teacher plays favourites and puts force into the blows he deals his pupils according to his personal preferences. Lars-Ole and his friends probably find their first impersonations of evil in this man, and the importance of the movie lies in the fact that the action takes place around the time when the children lose their ability to preserve their goodness and innocence and stand up to this evil. Lars-Ole ought to stand by his friends, but his sense of moral and ethics is weakened by his adolescent love for Inger and the jealousy he feels against Hanse because she is his girlfriend, and Lars-Ole fails to protect Hanse. This incapability embues the love-struck Lars-Ole’s story: He is similarly unable to make a difference as he finds out that his younger sister Marie is getting bullied by classmates, and he abuses his mother’s credit account at the local bakery in an attempt at buying himself friends with cakes and treats.
Cameradery betrayed – Malmros’s lense catches the easily overlooked hurtful glances between 12-year-olds.
It is this dilemma that lends Lars-Ole 5c its strength and impact dramaturgically and makes it into more than just a story of puppy love, and Nils Malmros’s directing provides for the artistic expression of the dilemma. Malmros is famous for his ability to direct children, and the boy actors’ loud and limit-seeking behaviour appears almost uncannily natural, as if they weren’t acting at all, the film simply depicting a random group of boys (this is not the case). The camera follows Lars-Ole’s dark eyes and their painfully heavy, lingering and longing gaze, contrasting it by delicious capturing of pretty little elf-like Inger’s dancing movements and the coquette, swiftly sweet smiles. Unrequited love and human failure are by no means innovative themes for a filmmaker to take up, but the photography of Malmros’s movies prevents the movie from veering off into the contrived; Malmros has the ability to position the camera so that a single cameo may tell a thousand stories, and a haunting scene shows Lars-Ole from his younger sister’s perspective. Her older brother walks away from her and leaves her on the lurk, his frame becoming smaller and smaller from her point of view, flanked by the wall-like forms of her bullying classmates who are cornering her.
The black-and-white photography gives the film a raw, somewhat primitive air, rather than an artsy one as is sometimes the case with anachronistic black-and-whites, and Lars-Ole 5C does have something stumbling and fragmentary to it that is not there in his later, more wholesome films. But there is something very appropriate about fragmentary in the formality of a movie about adolescent life, and all in all Lars-Ole 5C is a little masterpiece and definitely recommendable to anyone who has the courage to re-visit the optics of those years of constant insecurity, of pimples and awkward explorations, that most of us are more than happy to have put behind us.
If you happen to find yourself Copenhagen at the moment or during next week, you should definitely check out underground artist group Xofia’s latest staging REPLAY Veronika. I attended the performance last night and was very impressed with this thougtprovoking and inspired staging.
The play was inspired by Kurt Vonnegut’s Timequake, the idea that a lapse in time could occur, setting history for a period of time, and thus suspending man’s free will momentarily. In REPLAY Veronika such a phenomenon occurs, resulting in the repetition of eight years (1999-2007), and main character Veronika is the only one in the world who preserves her free will and thus her ability to change her fate as of November 14 2007, the date that marks the occurence of the timequake.
The play queries the idea of a free will as Veronika, even when given the opportunity to change a less than desirable destiny, chooses to a large degree to follow the road already taken, and it does so in a fresh and sympathetically unresolved manner, leaving the ending open and inviting the audience to make a guess as to what will follow. It’s a kind of like a modern Everyman play, one might say, drawing on latter-day mythology in lieu of the lorn Christianity-inspired gallery of characters of medieval mystery plays. Veronika (Birgit Ulla Uldall-Ekman) with her mirroring surarium-name is Everywoman and the object of identification, God-like character Time (Sara Damgaard Andersen) embodies the much-worshipped media holding the remote control to a flat-screen monitor and effectively rewinds and fast-forwards, Lev (Bjørn Vikkelsø) is Veronika’s road-not-taken personified as the passionate, distant man in her life, contrasted by earthbound, button-down-shirted husband Jakob (Asger Kjær Pedersen), and clingy girlfriend Lily (Stina Mølgaard Pedersen), while The Stranger (Ulf Rathjen Kring Hansen) is an anon.-angelic kind of helper, dressed very appropriately like a film-noir informant in a hat and cottoncoat. It’s hard not to identify with Veronika as the years flash by in the course of about 80 minutes, relating to her story as well as (re-)considering one’s own actions and choices of the 1999-2007 time-span.
The art direction is very effective; the stage settings show the inside of an apartment, ambiguously decorated so that it reflects both claustrophic conformity and wall-paper-tattering rebellion, and I especially love the aforementioned flat-screen monitor: The rewinding and fast-forwarding is a brilliantly tangible way of presenting the passing of time, and I have always been a total sucker for the use of multi-media in modern theatre. I think it’s such a great Michel-Foucault-“Des espaces autres” way of depicting the juxtaposition of spaces, and such a juxtaposition is naturally relevant in a performance on the subject of life choices and dimensional displacement.
REPLAY Veronika is, in other words, very recommendable! It opened on Friday the 11th and will be playing until May 20 at Basement, Vesterbro – a great site for theatre, literally underground. Make sure you get a programme when picking up your tickets; Xofia’s visual designer Søren Meisner (also in charge of the absolutely awesome web design at xofia.dk) has done a magnificent job with the layout, and his poster (the above picture) is a rare example of promotional art offering an interpretation of and thus interacting with the stage performance.
Monday Cecilia Bartoli visited Copenhagen and left a trail of happiness behind her.
She sang arias from her latest cd Opera Proibita which is a collection of beautifully silent pieces and brilliantly breathless virtuosity.
I have now witnessed three concerts with Cecilia Bartoli and I feel entitled to some conclusions about her performances. The thing about a Cecilia Bartoli concert is that it leaves you utterly exhilarated. Her joy in making music is so apparent that you are left with no choice but to follow her. Which means that being in a concert hall with her is a most wonderful experience. I recommend it to all!
This evening (as also the two other evenings I have spent with her) she delivered the pieces with energy and a complete control over her voice. It is like listening to the cd and then add her fantastic presence. That’s really all there is to say. Go here and listen to Disseratevi, o porte d’Averno. Then you will get a glimpse of what I’m talking about. We even got it twice!
The orchestra La Scintilla was brilliant too (heee – got it?) and worked very well both with and without La Bartoli.
Many thanks to Cecilia for sharing her passion so violently with the rest of us. Life-affirming!
Last Sunday I went to the beautiful Garrison Church where my favourite orchestra Concerto Copenhagen do most of their concerts when in town.
The Garrison Church, Copenhagen.
This Sunday the orchestra was conducted by the British harpist Andrew Lawrence-King in a programme of French dance-music from Louis XIV’s court. The concert was entitled Chorégraphie for the same reason and the hand-out told us that the 17th Century brought with it the first notation of choreography by the dancing-master Raoul Auger Feuillet. Feuillet based his dances on Jean Baptiste Lully’s music for which I have for some time harboured a quiet passion. In this concert Concerto Copenhagen played music by Lully and by a couple of fellows I had never even heard of before: Jean-Henry D’Angelbert and André Campra (more Rameau’s contemporary than Lully’s actually).
Andrew Lawrence-King had brought the guitar player and dancer Steven Player with him to perform some of the choreographies. So when it was required Steven Player would leave his guitar and step out from his place in the orchestra to use the nave as his dancing floor. I was absolutely taken with his appearance. This sternly looking middle aged man performed these pompous and thoroughly choreographed dances with the utmost seriousness and elegance. He opened by acting baroque conductor beating the time of a slow Pavane by banging a long staff against the floor with his back at the audience. Very simple but also effectively creating an atmosphere of ancient times and awe. Lully by the way died after banging such a staff against his foot which then infected and sent him to his Creator. Luckily Mr Player had no such accident this afternoon.
Steven Player then added a variety of hand-movements that seemed very much like the ornaments French baroque music is so famous for. Well actually I couldn’t say if this elegant icing is also noted down – as I am only familiar with the notation of music. But it probably is or at least there must have been some general rules for the dancer to refer to.
Steven Player did what seemed genuine and authentic and for one of the pieces he even managed to dance with his guitar either on his back or playing it!
In between the sets Andrew Lawrence-King told us little bits about the court, the music, the dance and the dancers. And besides from being an absolute virtuoso on his instrument (the harp) he also turned out to be an excellent story-teller.
As I already mentioned Steven Player looked very stern but for one of his last pieces he transformed into a perfect Jester tumbling around, begging with his hat in his hand. A performance worthy of a Commedia dell’Arte expert (as I understand he is). The music said that he was Harlequin but perhaps he was more of the Old Man Lully played with great success in his own ballet Air d’Apollon.
I must say I loved this concert! How wonderful to experience dance and music come together again. This music is so extremely well-suited for dancing (as it was written for it…) that it makes so much sense when performed with a dancer. This kind of multiple arts performances are rare in Copenhagen when it comes to ancient arts. How wonderful to have such wonderful performers as Andrew Lawrence-King and Steven Player to enrich us! I would have loved to witness the concert all over again and I hope they will come back soon!
Andreas Scholl visited Copenhagen Thursday to Saturday this week. I attended his two concerts with the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul McCreesh.
The programme turned out to be both magnificent and problematic.
McCreesh and the orchestra framed Scholl’s performance with two symphonies by Haydn. First the so-called Philosopher (Symphony no. 22, 1764). The symphony opens with a very slow adagio movement with a repetitive pattern. After that follows the three movements of an (for the period) ordinary symphony. I loved the first movement to bits – it had a meditative quality which led me into a deep contemplation of the individual parts and voices of the composition.
Paul McCreesh, a delightful and humouristic musician.
Andreas Scholl opened his part of the concert with Bach’s cantata Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust (BWV 170, 1726). The first aria is a soft treat for the ears while the last aria is a furious tour de force of anger and virtuosity. What lies in between is the in my view rather fragmented and not easily deliverable Wie jammern mich doch die verkehrten which in this case confirmed what had already been looming in the first aria: that Scholl was not in his right spirits or perhaps even in his right element. When he intoned Vergnügte Ruh (the first aria) I felt my palms moisten slightly with a nervousness on his behalf. From where I sat I simply could not hear him! Ok, I was not on the first row, actually I was in the rear of the hall, but that rear is known for its good acoustics.
Of course Paul McCreesh should have reacted. It wasn’t that the orchestra was playing too loud, but given the circumstance they were. It didn’t help spotting Andreas Scholl’s extremely shaking hands. Poor fellow. I must add that I re-listened to the concert today on the radio – and he was there – and singing quite nicely! Just too bad that a technician has to control the balance between soloist and orchestra to let his voice reach us…
I left for intermission with a feeling of disappointment.
The second part of the concert opened with a reinvigorated Scholl. He gave us three perfectly delivered Händel arias that assured me of his on-going capacity in his field.
First O Lord, whose mercies numberless from the oratorio Saul (1738) which left me very moved. The aria is extremely beautiful and sweet and after the nerve wracking Bach it felt so good to hear Scholl’s voice flow freely and melodiously to my ready ears. *sniff*
The contemplative piece was followed by the vigourous Such haughty beauties rather move aversions also from Saul and the pantheist prayer What though I trace each herb and flow’r from Solomon (1748). This was the Andreas Scholl I know and love.
Even though the Radio Symphony Orchestra has been practising their baroque technique I still find them to be rather too sluggish in their dynamics. It’s not that they can’t play this repertoire, it’s just that I so missed the vivacity and springiness of a period orchestra. Paul McCreesh did his and so did the musicians, but it’s also a question of habits and dropping the vibrato and two thirds of the colleagues is not enough for a romantic orchestra to transform into a period orchestra.
Scholl spoiled us with an encore – the aria Ich will nicht Dich hören from Bach’s Hercules (better known as Bereite dich, Zion from the Christmas Oratorio). Again Scholl turned a bit, just a bit, uneven which leads me to a strange conclusion for a singer who must have been fed with Bach from his childhood – that he doesn’t feel completely relaxed with this composer’s oeuvre. Of course it’s rather daft to make such an extreme conclusion based on two identical concerts, but the difference between Händel and Bach was remarkable. I see from his schedule that he will be performing Vergnügte Ruh and other Bach pieces a lot in the near future. I do hope he will have more success – keep your chin up, Andreas!
The concert closed with another Haydn symphony, no. 101, also know as The Clock. In all this was a more interesting piece than the first Haydn symphony. Either because it just is or because the musicians were more into it. It made me consider how this type of music seems to be systematising silence. Of course the clock movement (the second) is very strict in ordering silence and music, and McCreesh underlined this by at one point letting the music, or the clock, stop, but I think actually that the whole piece and also other symphonies of Haydn are focusing on this foundation of music – the play and order of silence and sound. McCreesh did a wonderful job with this piece.
This was a strange concert, taking me from disappointment and sadness to joy and contentment. Next time Scholl is in Copenhagen I hope he will be singing with a more adequate orchestra and with less fear and trembling. He is after all one of my favourite musicians.
This Friday night I have spent watching the fine movements of the back of an exquisite pianist: Leif Ove Andsnes. And it was a wonderful concert!
Very mozarty – the programme consisted of Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Piano Concerts nos 17 and 20.
Leaving Eine kleine Nachtmusik aside I will jump straight to the piano concerts conducted by Andsnes from the piano. At first I was a little bit sceptical always having perceived Andsnes as a somewhat introvert artist. An artist who communicates with his co-musicians via the music more than via eye-contact or movements intended for them to react on.
When they intoned the Piano Concert no. 17 I watched Andsnes carefully and frowned a bit upon his stiff and very exact direction. It seemed dry and sharp and perhaps a little bit unimaginative. But as they reached the last movement I was completely taken by the sweetness and delicacy. It was as if the exacting style liberated the orchestra and Andsnes himself.
Having moved away from a conducting fellow listener I was free to enjoy the Piano Concert no. 20 without any kind of disturbance. And this was when my eyes fell on Andsnes’s back. Since he was conducting from the piano he was sitting with his back at the audience flanked and faced by the orchestra.
His back was the most expressive back I have ever perceived (if I ever looked at any back that intently…). Despite, or perhaps because of, the black cloth of the jacket you had a very clear idea of where Andsnes wanted to go and how the music should proceed. His movements were so condensed and precise that I think the musicians would perhaps have understood more by looking on his back than on his face and hands. It was as if his back and the shifting folds of his jacket betrayed all his thoughts and feelings most delicately. Plain beautiful and adding to my enjoyment and understanding of the music.
It reminded me very much of the back of the Belvedere Torso or the flickering light in i.e. this drawing by Michelangelo. The same strength and beauty:
Michelangelo Buonarroti, Studies for the Libyan Sibyl, 1508-12. Red chalk. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Strangely enough Leif Ove Andsnes’s back and I have met before. Two years ago I attended a magnificent concert in Wigmore Hall, London with Andsnes and Christian Tetzlaff. My seat was on the side of the stage, almost beneath the grand piano looking up at Andsnes’s back and I was only able to see more than Tetzlaff’s feet via his reflection in the underside of the piano cover. But not even then did I realise the expressiveness of that back (perhaps from being too close). Well, I did tonight and it made me laugh with joy all the way home on my bike through the soft spring evening.
I daresay there’s a lot going on within Danish television drama these days! I was just working on a post on a new Danish crime series (Forbrydelsen – “The Crime”) that premiered just a few weeks ago, but I’ll be darned if a new drama series doesn’t air on that same channel (DR1) before I’ve even gotten around to proof-read! So now my review of the former will have to move over a little for Danish televison drama’s most recent creation: Concept-series Forestillinger by director Per Fly.
“6 uger” – “six weeks”: DR1 has aired the first two episodes of new six-parter Forestillinger
I’m always a little hesitant towards reviewing specifically Danish cultural phenomena here on this internationally oriented blog, written in English, but in this case I think it makes sense. Forestillinger is a truly interesting television creation, much more so than Danish Emmy award winners of recent years such as tedious, superficial frappucino-drama Nikolaj & Julie (winner in the category “Best Drama Series” at the Emmy Awards 2002), and as such it deserves all the attention it can get, even outside of Denmark. The concept of Forestillinger (a Danish word which may mean both “performances” and “conceptions”) is this: Throughout six episodes we are told the same story six times, from six different perspectives, the story of a director of theatre, whose actress girlfriend leaves him to have a short-lived affair with a young co-actor in the performance they’re all working on: A staging of Shakespeare’s poem Venus and Adonis. Depending on the perspective, we get a commentary by the character in question, and so far we’ve seen the story from young actor Jakob’s (episode 1) and the director’s girlfriend Tanja’s (episode 2) points of view. As one might imagine, given the fact that the series revolves around a group of theatrical artists who are romantically involved, the main-themes of the series are the performances in which we tend to participate, even when we’re only trying to live our lives and despite our intentions to pursue authenticity, and the conceptions and misconceptions that we form about each other in the process.
Forestillinger and intertextuality
Is this an innovate concept? Certainly not. All the world was a stage and all the men and women merely players even in the archaically hierarchic Elizabethan times, and Per Fly is not the first movie director to explore this idea either; Al Pacino’s Looking for Richard (1996) and Swedish Suzanne Oster’s highly neglected The Mozart Brothers from 1986 (about the schemes playing out during a controversial staging of Don Giovanni at the Stockholm Opera) revolve around the same kind of performative-reality logic. What I find to be particularly refreshing and, yes, innovative about Per Fly’s Forestillinger, however, is its clever use of intertextuality. Now, I’m a sucker for intertextuality, I’ll admit that openly. Hard-core humanities graduate, student of Comparative Literature, and amateur Jungian as I am, of course nothing could be more delicious to me than the idea that we are, in a sense, re-writing ourselves and our own plots over and over again. It’s a kind of guilty pleasure – the humanities graduate’s game of Tetris, one might call it, where there are only a limited number of forms and shapes and they all kind of fit together, and it looks really neat. But I do think that there’s something particularly ingenious about using intertextuality as the frame for a story about the performativity of our lives, and I believe that that is what Per Fly is doing with Forestillinger. And the intertextuality that he’s drawing on is that of the Tristan-Isolde-King Marke myth.
This particular reference is not something that I’ve thought of myself – I’m following a course on medieval literature at the university this semester and during class last week, the professor who’s giving the course, Jørgen Bruhn, mentioned the television series and proposed that the storyline might be inspired by the Tristan/Isolde legend, which we were discussing that particular day. “Hurry up and write an article about this before anyone else thinks of it!,” he urged us good-naturedly – and with that in mind I watched the first two episodes of the series yesterday, and I thought the Tristan/Isolde/Marke homage in the story was striking and most interesting.
Dejan Cukic as patron Marko
Marko, no less, is the name of the theatre director (played by Dejan Cukic) whose wife Tanja (Sonja Richter) leaves him and has an affair with a younger man, Jakob (Mads Wille), and it wouldn’t be too contrived, I think, to see this director-character, this theatre-patron, offering gentle guidance and stern reprimands to his subjects, the actors, as a monarchic figure. “If one were to mention a director who’d created innovation within Danish theatre for the last 10-15 years, that would be him…. The actors who appear in his performances always go one step further from what one has seen from them beforehand… He is the king” says an enthusiastic Jakob about Marko, awestruck at the thought of getting to work with this idolized man, shortly after having lingered adoringly on the subject of what he perceives to be the “major talent” of Marko’s beautiful girlfriend Tanja: “Was she in your class at Drama School?” Jakob is asked, and Jakob humbly sets the enquirer straight: “No, she was in the class ahead of me.”, before adding, beaming with pride: “We were together at school, too! We were. A couple of times. We did have a- a kind of affair. But then she got together with Marko at a point.”
The object of Jakob’s – and Marko’s? – affection: beautiful Tanja
Aaand this is where I happily reach Level 1 of my aforementioned little humanities graduate game of Tetris: this is intertextuality at its most appetizing; the stage is set beautifully for a Tristan-story. The essence of a Tristan-story is the story of a young man who idolizes a generous patron, only to become conflicted when he falls in love with his beautiful, aloof queen and initiates an affair with her. It’s the unruly force of Love contra the noble and sensible frame that is Society that is at play in such stories, and the King Arthur/Queen Guinevere/Lancelot legend as well as more recent works such as Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther and Schiller’s Don Carlos are examples of stories that are without doubt influenced by this ancient myth. Youthful, wide-eyed Jakob fills his Tristan-part perfectly: Very significantly we are treated to cameos of Jakob carefully running his electric shaver over his boyishly smooth chin, and taking directions from the older, full-bearded Marko, and beautiful Tanja, dressed in almost every scene in sensual shades of red, wavers fickle-heartedly between her bestowing husband and her adoring lover. Per Fly’s story about performativity is backed up by an ancient textual form with a full set of well-defined parts, ready for the participants to inhabit and perform.
And yet, this is not what they do, exactly, and this is where things get truly interesting, I think. Because more than just using the Tristan-myth, Per Fly challenges the myth within his drama series. Anna and I have sometimes discussed Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde and agreed that King Marke and hand-maid Brangäne, with their frets and doubts and worries, are definitely the more sympathetic characters in the story: Tristan and Isolde are incarnated ideas more than actual persons, uncompromising and inhuman as they are in their ardent love and love-death for each other, and they’re difficult to relate to. However, in Per Fly’s Forestillinger thus far (one should keep in mind that I’ve only seen two of the series’ six episodes and thus only one third of the points of view that will be explored throughout its run), King Marke plays a much more conceptually defined and a lot less human character than your average Philip II or Albert, fretting pitifully about their ominous white hair or their wives’ kind gaze upon their lovers. What Per Fly’s Forestillinger proposes is the idea that if King Marke is Society, if he is Wisdom and Sovereign, then maybe he is, after all, the strongest character? Because in Forestillinger what we seem to be witnessing is a game initiated and controlled by Marke, rather than lost by him. “I was wondering if maybe you and Tanja could go over the scenes that the two of you share. I mean, outside of the rehearsal-schedule here at the theatre. Maybe you could meet up alone and then work on it a little… Here’s a key. Then you can just come and go as you please.” Says Marko to Jakob, thus obviously turning the parts upside down. This Marke doesn’t get sneaked around on, he stages the sneaking himself and pushes the two lovers into each others arms. Purposely? Well, Eva, an older, more experienced actress at the theatre as well as Marko’s ex-wife seems to think so, and she advises Tanja as she wants to return to Marko: “You need to figure out what part you want to play in Marko’s life,” she says “Actress or wife. You can’t be both. …You can’t believe him when he says he wants to quit the theatre. Theatre is his life.” and Jakob agrees wholeheartedly, after his boyish admiration has given way for his need for rebellion against Marke: “I’ve slept with Tanja. I love her like crazy… But you know that, don’t you? You’ve known all along. Isn’t that right? Don’t you feel anything? Don’t you feel threatened? …Or is this part of the plan? As long as you can do your fucking performance… You’re using us in your shitty performance!”
Troubled youth Jakob
At the end of the episode, in a desperate, shocking turn of events, Jakob ends up forcing Tanja into sleeping with him as the ultimate rebellion against the Tristan-part he’s been made to play by a calculating King Marke; the young knight defiling the Queen that he was supposed to adore and love. Except one can’t help feeling, claustrophobically, that maybe this was part of the plan, too, that maybe there is really no way of escaping King Marke’s sovereign.
“You’re a f*cking whore!”
What does all this mean, then? Well, the obvious interpretation would be that in Per Fly’s Tristan-story, Love is not the power that may threaten the confinements of Form, of Society, no, Society, our performative interaction with each other, threatens Love. Has King Marke, in Per Fly’s optics, become a powerful figure in modern society, or has he always been the strong one? Or is Jakob and Eva wrong, and King Marke actually a decent person, and another grey-haired victim of adultery? I guess I’ll have to wait and watch all the episodes these next four weeks before I can answer those questions. But I will definitely be watching. The series isn’t flawless, and as television reviewer Per Munch touches upon in newspaper Politiken today, Forestillinger continues a regrettable tendency within Danish television writing, where ad-lib-like idomaticality is pursued in favour of eloquence and verbal substance – although I do think that this idomaticality is actually used well in the series from time to time. For instance, when Jakob flung his seemingly common curse upon Tanja “You’re a fucking whore, Tanja!”, it actually did hold a kind of ambiguous substance: from Jakob’s elightened point-of-view Tanja might indeed be said to be acting as Marko’s whore. But all in all Forestillinger has definitely captured my interest as a rare piece of intertextual television and an exploration of the war between Passion and Comformity, and what the outcome of such a war might be in the year 2007. Hereby recommended.
I just saw three pieces of interesting news on the internet. At least they were new to me: Andreas Scholl has left Decca and signed with Harmonia Mundi; he has recorded a new album with Händel pieces; the Giulio Cesare of The Royal Danish Opera is to be released this spring.
The Händel album includes one of my favourite pieces: Il Duello Amoroso in which Andreas Scholl and the soprano Hélène Guilmette sing the lovesick shepherd Daliso and the proud and rejecting shepherdess Amarilli. I heard it a couple of years ago with Scholl and his ex Camilla Tilling. Wonderful even with Scholl having a slight cold. Even though conducted by the baroque specialist and harpsichord player Lars Ulrik Mortensen the (modern) ensemble pieced together by musicians from the Danish Radio Orchestra had a hard time sounding like an improvising bunch of baroque enthusiasts. So I’m glad that this recording is with exactly such an ensemble: Accademia Bizantina and Ottavio Dantone.
You can read more and listen to a couple of samples here. I especially recommend the second sample which is from the Duello Amoroso.
I can hardly wait to get my hands on it!
It has long been rumoured that Harmonia Mundi would release a dvd of Francisco Negrin’s production of Händel’s Giulio Cesare. And now it seems it is about to happen. I can’t find an exact date but spring…spring is here! This is one of the best stagings I have seen of any opera so it’s definitely worth releasing. Marie wrote a review of the performance which you can read here.
And here’s a little snatch of the opera. Cleopatra’s aria Piangerò la sorte mia performed by Inger Dam-Jensen who just happens to be one of my favourite singers and the Concerto Copenhagen conducted by Lars Ulrik Mortensen. Cleopatra thinks all is lost – Giulio dead and kingdom taken by bad, bad brother who in this production seems to be ready to rape her on their next encounter – and he took her wig! The aria changes between complete sorrow and a furious vendetta feeling, between “I will weep for my fate” and “I will haunt him as a ghost”. It is one of those arias that pretty surely brings tears to my eyes.
I hope the dvd will be out soon – hereby recommended.
In the meantime I have been watching another production of Giulio Cesare: David McVicar’s staging from Glyndebourne 2005. I don’t think it is as marvellous as Negrin’s but it is still very good. I’m completely taken by Sarah Connolly who portrays Giulio with a manliness many men could learn from. I’m close on having a girl crush on her or…should that just be crush? I listened to a radio interview with her where she says you just have to keep your bum in in order to look like a man! You can listen to that here. Besides from the bum part she seems very nice and interesting.
Danielle De Niese as Cleopatra is wondrous both as singer and actor/performer. She doesn’t touch me so very much though and I think it’s because she misses one thing I love about the Cleopatra character: that she changes from thoughtless child to full grown woman during the opera. But hey – she is very good and very funny.
William Christie and the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment work miracles in the pit.
Below is a clip from the end of the opera. Nice “in-love-interaction” between Cleo and Jules. And his costume is very Louis XIV…
The guys who enter towards the end are the dead Tolomeo and Achilla! Seems like they will be haunting poor Sesto.