A few weeks ago, friends and I attended a literary evening. As usual, the evening not only included recital of poetry, but also appropriate chamber music. This evening was a German one and its theme Dada.
The small theatre was totally sold out: all places taken. Then a group showed up. No reservation is no ticket is no seat – but they’d either barged or been allowed in. The group sat down anyway, managing to block access to the stage and hampering the performance later on.
The last literary salon of 2015 did not attract the usual crowd. Three people were moaning about it and commenting on the differences between the cultural scenes of several major cities. I listened to their moans and criticism, while idly sitting in the theatre’s corridor waiting for the doors to open.
About ten friends decided to join me and attend another literary salon at the small Branoul theatre. Though not all these recitals are in English, Leonard Cohen’s poetry was of course not read in translation.
At first, I hadn’t been that enthusiastic. I’m no great fan of modern or contemporary poetry. I only knew a few of Leonard Cohan’s world-famous songs, like “Suzanne”.
On the other hand, I’ve grown fond of these literary events and especially of the NEUE. So our bunch met under the porch with me still kind of moping and not sure, this event would go down well with the group. A few arrived early, a few late – so we managed to spread out over three different rows in this intimate theatre.
Of course, I’d worried for naught. In fact, a few of us were so bowled over, they couldn’t thank Branoul staff enough. I have to admit that this evening was quite an impressive mix of excellent poems and music.
The selected music kind of mirrored phases in Leonard Cohen’s life. What worked extremely well, or at least according to us, was the excellent guitar performance by mr Kellerman in combination with the violin players ms Ovcharova and mr Stam of the NEUE. I especially loved the Danza Ritual del Fuego. Others preferred the Mozart Adagio from KV423. A few voted Toru Takemitsu’s “The International” the most unusual and impressive musical piece of this evening.
As for the selected Leonard Cohen poems, recited by Graham Flett … At times, the complete audience was sniggering, or laughing. Then there were moving and very touching moments. It was difficult to decide which poem was the best piece and best rendered.
A friend I met at the theatre, who got to know these recitals through an earlier visit I had organised, had taken along colleagues. After the event, our groups mixed and mingled. She mentioned she’d noticed a book of poems by Leonard Cohen lying somewhere on a table.
But as the corridor is small and people were having a drink, while discussing the evening’s performance, I decided any book could wait. This recital had completely won me over and I was interested in reading more poems by Leonard Cohen, but I could check the web later for anthologies.
Of the recited poems, a few can be found on the UK Telegraph website. The complete list of this evening:
The Party was over then too
If you knew
Who do you really remember
First of all
Disturbed this morning
How could I have doubted
On the path
A life of errands
Report to R.S.B.
His Master’s Voice
You’d sing too
Duskos Taverna 1967
Looking through my dreams
The NEUE had selected Maurice Ravel’s Sonatine and Kaddish, Toru Takemitsu’s The International and Equinox, Manuel da Falla’s Danza Ritual del Fuego and Cancion, Joseph Achron’s Improvisation opus 65, Mozart’s Adagio from KV 423 to accompany this recital.
This time, it was not a hurricane which caused my bike to swerve (see: WWII poems.) In one of the small alleyways, two young men needed all the space it offered. The two musicians, instrument cases on their backs, staggered from left to right and back – not synchronously nor together. They were very the worse for drink. They were undoubtedly heading for their next party or pub. The evening had just started.
“I LLLLOOOOVE you!” cried one. Doubt he meant me and my bike. Though we managed to squeeze between him and his mate without hitting either. Suspect he addressed his mate and was counting the ways. His slurred declarations grew less distinct, as I peddled further down the medieval street.
At the end of it, I found a place to secure my bike and walked back to Branoul, a small Parisian-like theatre. The hallway after the ticket counter was already full of waiting people. It was impossible to move back or forth. Fortunately, five minutes later, the door opened.
Actress Lindertje Mans read poetry by Russian poetess Anna Akhmatova. Recitals of the selected poems were interspersed with music by contemporary Russian composers. Two members of the New European Ensemble started the evening with the introduction from Prokofiev‘s “Romeo and Julia”. More excerpts from “Romeo and Julia” followed.
The previous evening of music and poetry from the WWI-period had already been extremely moving. This performance was even more so. Anna Akhmatova’s poetry was at times quite upsetting, even in translation. The selected pieces from “Romeo and Julia” matched her poetry perfectly.
As the recital continued, Dimitri Sjostakovitch’ Sonata for violin and piano, Opus 147, echoed the intense desperation, suffering, and other emotions of Anna Akhmatova’s “Requiem” cycle. After this cycle’s last few poems, Sjostakovitch’s Adagio concluded the performance.
A Salon Branoul is “Pay what you want”. As the theatre is small, tickets for seats need to be booked in advance through the Branoul or NEUE website. Tickets are free. At the end of each Salon performance, a member of staff or one of the performers stands ready with a top-hat. The public can donate money in it. Like last time, the audience was generous.
At the impromptu table with drinks, I added my donation towards last time’s drink in the box. Then I slipped through the mix of actress, musicians, volunteers, staff, members of the public, towards the exit. After such haunting poems and impressive music, the quiet autumn night seemed the best companion to slowly adapt to ordinary life again.
In 2015, Salon Branoul continues with Dutch and English events. These are planned to take place each third Tuesday evening of the month. For up-to-date information about performances at the Branoul Theatre, check the Branoul website.
For information about the New European Ensemble’s performances: NEUE.
For poetry by and biographies of Anna Akhmatova try the Amazon website.
The remnants of a hurricane were lashing the country. Rain and hail poured down the streets which had turned into small waterways, above the actual canals cutting through the old part of town. The sky regularly lighted up, followed by thunder. All was dark and deserted.
On my way to meet a group of friends at the Branoul theatre, I wished I had cancelled our evening out. Though the tempest seemed the perfect background for and evening of WWI poetry and music, walking through it, I wondered if anybody would show up.
Once dry under the small porch, things brightened up. Inside the quirky Branoul theatre, the atmosphere was welcoming, warm, cosy. A few friends actually braved the storm, as did others: all of the seventy something seats of the little theatre were taken!
The interesting gentleman I’d been talking to at the entrance, turned out to be actor and tenor Alexander Oliver. He and members of the New European Ensemble delivered a truly brilliant, very impressive, sometimes hilarious, but often moving performance – assisted by the theatre’s volunteers, of course.
This performance was supposed to take an hour. It started just after nine with mr Oliver reciting Rupert Brooke’s “The Soldier”. Nearly each poem was followed by contemporary WWI music. Rada Ovcharova played the violin, Willem Stam cello, and Daan Treur piano. About one and a half hours later, the three musicians and mr Oliver received a standing ovation – with the audience calling them back three times.
Though I was familiar with the WWI poetry, many of the selected poems and songs had not been dealt with during courses in modern poetry. Like many, I was familiar with music by f.i. Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel – but it had never struck me as also having been influenced by the carnage of WWI. Like the poems, the music seemed to start on a fairly optimistic note, only to echo the hell of warfare’s reality.
While we stood admiring the night sky, mr Oliver had already told me Ravel’s Piano Trio would be beautiful. But the preceding pieces by Ivor Gurney, George Butterworth, Anton Webern (Drei Stücke Opus 11), Stravinsky (selections from l’Histoire du Soldat), Gitz Rice, Novello, Elgar and Debussy’s Cello Sonata nr 1 were certainly not less impressive.
There were well-known poems by Sassoon, Sorley, Manning, Herbert (The German Graves) and Owen, but also less familiar ones by Mackintosh, Halliday (The grave), Blackall (From the Front), Rosenberg (Returning We Hear), May Wedderburn Cannan (Lamplight), and Sitwell.
The whole event was “Pay As You Like”. Tickets were free and one of the staff stood ready with a large hat for donations after the performance. You pay what you think the event was worth. This time, the hat contained 50 Euro banknotes – and even these seemed too small a reward for so brilliant a performance.
One of Branoul’s many traditions is also to serve the audience a drink on the house once the performance has finished. So with drink in hand, you can mingle with the actors, musicians, volunteers, and fellow audience members in the small corridor between exit and theatre. It all makes for a very special evening.
Though most performances at Branoul are in Dutch, there are regular events in English. The next recital will focus on poetry by Anna Akhmatova and contemporary chamber music by f.i. Shostakovitch and Prokofiev.
The New European Ensemble will perform at the Amsterdam “Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ” on Wednesday the 5th of November 2014. The “Strange News” event is a combination of music, film, theatre around the theme of African child-soldiers and was first performed in the Spui theatre The Hague.
For Branoul’s website: Branoul
Alexander Oliver has a Facebook page. A Youtube Britten excerpt: Alexander Oliver
For the New European Ensemble website: the NEE
For a look at the Penguin Book of WWI poetry: Amazon
This post was reblogged on Reverb