Monday, January 09, 2006


The dancer was over the other night, trying to look on the bright side of the weather. "At least today we had one whole hour of sun," she said. Indeed, I know when that happens: the sun shines straight into the window of one of the buildings across the way, which then reflects it straight into my eyes as I sit here at the desk trying to work. "But at least when it's really cracking cold like this, it doesn't snow and we get sun."

I like that. No idea if it's a German idiom she translated or not, but that exactly describes the current weather, down in the teens at night, but fortunately not with a serious wind. It can still be painful to walk in, though, and no matter how good your gloves are, your hands ache for a while after you get back into the warmth.

Still, we cracked out into the night last night for a concert: a viol consort named Labyrinto at the Kammermusiksaal of the Philharmonie, playing 17th century German repertoire. Several of the players seemed to be moonlighting from regular Berliner Philharmoniker gigs (including one guy who'd been with the orchestra since 1970), and several numbers were sung by the disconcerting male alto of Michael Chance.

I'm not sure about my reaction to this performance. My consort experience has been limited to listening to the English repertoire (and one wonderful concert by Jordi Savall and Hesperion XX), and it could be that what I perceived as an over-Romanticizing of the music -- dramatic dynamic effects, lots of legato -- is authentic to the German repertoire. Two of the composers on deck, Johann Rosenmüller and Franz Tunder, I'd never even heard of, and I'm an old music buff, but there was a full compliment of Sch's: Scheidt, Schütz, and Schein.

I also wish I could have seen them play. The Kammermusiksaal is part of what I've always thought of as one of the ugliest buildings in Berlin, and it turned out to be as confusing inside as it is unappealing outside. The good news is that, for chamber music, the performers are in the round. The bad news is, it's not exactly round, it's polygonal, and there's definitely a direction in which the performers face. "Tickets on that side were fully twice what they are for these," the dancer told me, and while the sound was good (I assume it was mostly the natural sound: boy, is that room rigged with "clouds" and other acoustic jiggery-pokery), when the ensemble took its bows, we mostly got to watch their asses.

That said, this was my first live music since Bob Dylan came to town in October, and live music of a sort I rarely get to see. I'm hoping that more off-the-wall stuff like this plays Montpellier because it's more of a backwater and doesn't have the self-importance that Berlin's cultural establishment seems to feel it has to display. For that matter, Jordi and the boys and girls are just a few hours away, so maybe some spinoffs of all that Hesperion energy will make themselves manifest.

On our way out, a woman was handing out cards advertising forthcoming concerts. "More old music," she said, "next weekend." I didn't look at the card til I got home, but it was advertising Bach cantatas. Sorry, to me Bach's not "old."

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