19 July 2015

Beethoven goes Pop-up

A year or so back I sat behind a family who got stuck into their tucker at a Montreal Symphony concert. The row beside me were scandalised. The family had been to an outdoor picnic concert a few weeks before – a concert designed to encourage newbies to sign up for more. Clearly it had worked. But the ignorants hadn’t twigged that the rules in Montreal’s Maison symphonique were different – and formal.

Horror!

Concert performances of classical music has, for centuries, required players to dress formally. But, until recently, listening had quite different rules. Arriving late, chatting, being there to be seen, throwing food and applauding at the end of movements (much like jazz is appreciated today) was normal and expected. But then the maestros – the masters – started to crack down. They insisted on the respect they, if not the music, thought they deserved.

In the early 1930s Stokowski’s campaign for reverential silence right through the piece he was conducting prompted one dissenter to suggest that, at the end of a movement, Mr Stokowski ‘press a button …(for) … a noiseless illuminated sign: You may now cross the other leg.’

I should think so!

Seraphim Trio – and other groups such as Flinders Quartet and Victorian Opera – have begun de-reverence-ifying (I made it up) some of their repertoire, taking it to the people rather than compelling the people to come to a formal concert hall.



Late last year Flinders set up in a city shop. And already this year Seraphim have given recitals (have played?) in Melbourne’s Parliament Station. They've also collaborated with the street artist Peter Drew in a pop-up recital in Campbell Arcade.  Peter and Anna Goldsworthy, the pianist arm of Seraphim, had met at the Adelaide Festival of Ideas in 2013. 

Perversely, at their 2015 season launch, Seraphim even reversed even that. Instead of taking Beethoven trios to the people they brought the people into the Beethoven Trios – right into them. On each of three chairs huddled in a central triangle a volunteer sat facing out towards a player. Each audience-person had been dropped right in it – in the centre of the action. And they reported that they loved it. Certainly there was no shortage of new volunteers at the movement change-over. Each of them got a very personal aural view of a bit of one of two ‘early’ Beethoven piano trios (for piano, violin and cello) of his Opus 1 collection of three.



But there was more. Seraphim Trio is investigating “virtual reality”.

Jumpgate VR is a South Australian production company that creates virtual reality content for live events. Anton Andreacchio is the brains behind the company and, when Anna met him, she decided to investigate the  idea of virtual immersion of a Beethoven trio performance. At Jumpgate, Anton demonstrated a scuba diving clip (truly immersion!) that excited Anna enough to set up a recording that was trialled with a few concert-goers in late 2014.

A digital recording of a Beethoven trio performance is played through traditional headphones. A non-traditional viewer-headset shows the performance image consistent with the orientation of the audience-person head. That is, the image moves to follow the head as it ‘looks’ around a concert hall. Anna said that Jumpgate seemed a natural collaborator in a project that emphasised Beethoven; he was one of the most democratic of composers. ‘Choose Your Own Beethoven, she said, ‘is being developed as an opportunity for the audience to take a larger (curatorial) role in their concert experience. In the example I tested I ‘stood’ in the Salon of Melbourne Recital Centre for a Beethoven trio Seraphim had recorded a month before.




But all of this is not the stuff of gimmicks – desperate measures of an emerging group. The Trio has been together for two decades and they have big fans internationally. When I met them in late 2014 they had just returned from Europe. They’d been invited – for the second time – to study with one of the world’s great chamber musicians. They had spent 11 days working five hours a day in intensive workshops in Vienna with the violist, Hatto Beyerle, co-founder of the Alban Berg Quartet.

The Vienna connection continues – even if tenuously.

Beethoven wrote his first set of three piano trios in 1795 when he was 25 – about 15 years younger than the Seraphim players are now. He premiered them at a concert in Vienna. Papa Haydn was in the audience. Haydn advised Beethoven not to publish the third in its present form. It’s been suggested he thought it was “too creative”. That could be code for, “People won’t understand it”. It could also be code for “It’s too good; it threatens me”. Haydn is recorded as saying, ‘You give me the impression of a man with more than one head, more than one heart and more than one soul!" (A Alsvang, Beethoven, 1961).

By this time – 1795 – Bach’s Coffee Cantata was about 60 years old. Coffee with Beethoven-in-performance could have been old hat even if Parliament Station was a few centuries off. There’s no reason why caffeine shouldn’t be taken with Beethoven and every reason why it should. The only problem is getting the Steinway down the escalator.

In 2015 Seraphim are playing all the Beethoven trios in five Australian states above and below ground, in ones and twos at traditional recitals and in festivals, such ‘Weekend Feasts’ in Pontville, Tasmania and in the State Library of South Australia* in the beautiful Mortlock Wing.

Mortlock wing-State-Library-of-South-Australia

True, they sometimes still perform recital-style in black – or black and white. But Tim Cellist was seen inside a pair of lairy socks a year or so back.


*SA State Library Beethoven Festival

 

Saturday 22 August

11.00am - 1.30pm Concert 1 (includes lunch) - $45
Opus 1 No. 1 in E-flat major
Opus 70 No. 2 in E-flat major
 
2.00 - 3.00pm, Panel discussion
Simon Healy, Anna Goldsworthy and artist Peter Drew discuss Beethoven's contemporary relevance.

4.30 - 6.30pm Concert 2 (includes afternoon tea) - $45
Opus 11 Piano Trio No. 4 in B-flat major ("Gassenhauer")
Opus 1 No. 2 in G major
Opus 97 in B-flat major ("Archduke")

7.00pm 3-course dinner package - $135
3 course meal with Seraphim Trio in the Mortlock Chamber.

Sunday 23 August

10.00am - 12.30pm Concert 3 (includes morning tea) - $45
Opus 1 No. 3 in C minor
Opus 70 No. 1 in D major ("Ghost")

Other ticketing options

3-concert ticket - $120
All inclusive festival ticket - $250

Contact: Michelle Harniman; P: (08) 8207 7258 E: harniman.michelle@slsa.sa.gov.au


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