One famous and one nearly forgotten American Bard

It was a cold evening, but as usual, the welcome was warm. So after showing our tickets and obtaining programs, my friends and I quickly found seats. I was especially looking forward to this performance, as the recital would be of works by my favorite poetess.

Who is not familiar with at least one of the over 1700 poems Emily Dickinson wrote?

My introduction to her was “A word is dead”. It started a love affair which continues to this very day. However, this poem was not on the evening’s program. A few lesser known and very famous ones were.

The New European Ensemble (NEUE) had chosen Anton Webern’s 6 Bagatelles to start off the literary evening. That is to say: each of the six Bagatelles alternated with a recital by actress Emily van Eerten of one or several of Dickinson’s poems.

After a proper introduction to the Bard of Amherst’s works by Roberta Enschedé and to the selected music by Emlyn Stam, of course.

After the six bagatelles, Emily van Eerten – dressed in white like Emily Dickinson – continued the poetry recital. However, the four members of the NEUE started playing music composed by a now nearly forgotten American Bard: Amy Beach.

They performed her String Quartet, influenced by Inuit and traditional music, nearly perfectly. Beach’s romantic quartet seemed to fit the mood of the selected poems slightly better, than Webern’s bagatelles.

As is always the case during these hour-long performances, music continued to alternate with the recital. The poems of the “second half” of the program consisted of famous ones. Among these were “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain“, “Because I could not stop for death” and “I’m Nobody!“. Of course, Emily Dickinson’s “This is my letter to the world” and the part of Amy Beach’s String Quartet called “Grave”, concluded this wonderful evening.

Though the musicians gave a nearly perfect performance, my friends and I thought Emily van Eerten may have suffered from a cold or voice-problem. One of us said he had had problems hearing and understanding her during the first four to eight poems. I missed clear diction and distinct pronunciation, and most importantly: a balance between deep emotion and pent-up feeling.

Conveying emotions and recite with deep feeling, I find very important in a poetry recital, but especially when reciting Dickinson’s poetry. In Dickinson’s poems hyphens, comma’s and other signs are even more important than in other poetry. This should be brought out in recitals and this I often missed in this one.

Nevertheless, as pay-what-you-want performance, this was an excellent reminder of Emily Dickinson’s wonderful poetry and good introduction to Amy Beach’s music.

After the performance, a member of the public recommended watching the film “A Quiet Passion”; either at an art house theater, or as DVD.

“The Bard of Amherst” was performed in Amsterdam and The Hague. Actress Emily van Eerten read a selection of poetry by Emily Dickinson.

The New European Ensemble performed Anton Webern’s Six Bagatelles and Amy Beach’s String Quartet. Members of the NEUE for this performance:
Rada Ovcharova – violin
Eduardo Paredes – violin
Emlyn Stam – viola
Sietse-Jan Weijenberg – cello

Youtube Anton Webern 6 Bagatelles
Youtube Amy Beach String Quartet
Youtube official trailer of “A Quiet Passion”

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