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.

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Salon Branoul: I am waiting

Before I went, I presumed both the music and poetry might be totally not my thing. I worried if this would also be true for the friends I’d invited along. Of course, as usual, this Salon Branoul literary event was another pleasant revelation.

And let’s face it: if you’re not open to challenges and adventures, you might forever be waiting for revelations and other wonderful things to happen in your life. It is unlikely though, you might turn into the “I” of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I am Waiting”. It was one of the Beat Generation poems, recited during this event.

Members of the New European Ensemble had selected music which belonged to the same era. Emlyn Stam and Wim Vos played compositions by Tigran Mansurian and Michael Colgrass (Variations for Viola and Drums). Tigran Mansurian’s Tagh 3 slightly reminded me of Indonesian Gamelan music. So though Michael Colgrass’ variations surprised me, Tigran Mansurian excerpt pleased better.

After the performance, my friends and I wondered what kind of musical score had been used. For one doesn’t have to be musical or a musician, to understand that playing this kind of music is taxing and demanding. It certainly illustrated the professionalism, high standards, talents, skills and experience that NEUE members always bring to their musical performances.

As for the Beat poems: studying the poets and their poetry is totally different from attending a recital. They had not left any impression upon me, while studying English and American literature. But then: there had been nobody like Kyle Timon Dukes, reading out this poetry during lectures.

Or rather: perform and live this poetry. It was impressive to watch him not just recite but interpret the emotions captured in each poem: wrath, disgust, anger, pain, love and many more. It must have taken him a while, to get rid of all the energy generated during his acting and reciting. A  day later, friends still talked about his fabulous, mesmerizing performance.

Of course, Allen Ginsberg was represented by an excerpt of “Howl”, as well as by “In Back of the Real”, “Sunflower Sutra” and “Song”. Jack Kerouac’s “American Haikus” made the audience snigger, laugh, or remain silently moved. As mentioned above, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “I am Waiting” was recited, as well as Kenneth Rexroth’s “Gic to Har”.

Of these poems, it was especially the reciting and performing of “I am Waiting” which impressed and touched me most. Though “Howl” and “Song” and all the other poems made a far deeper impact than they ever did, being read from the printed page.

It’s really a shame, that these poets and the contemporary music seem not to attract more admirers. This evening definitely did not attract the crowds which previous ones had. Yet the poetry is not that difficult. Its images, ideas and emotions, can be seen as a link between and criticism of an earlier romantic poetry and our present-day reality and awareness of pollution and materialism.

As usual, at the end of the performance, there was a very warm applause – followed by much laughter. For the audience was kindly reminded that they had entered for free, but were not expected to leave without donating money for the performance. Which caused one of my friends to remark, she didn’t mind being taken hostage, as long as the recital of poetry continued. Like me and others, she’s hooked on these “Pay what you Want” events and one of many, brave enough to get out of their comfort zone.

The people behind Theatre Branoul and the New European Ensemble are already planning the Salon Branoul Season 2015-2016, though this season’s last evening has yet to take place. Free tickets are still available for this last 2014-2015 last performance, which takes place Tuesday 16th of June. However: this will be a recital in German.

Salon Branoul starts its 2015-2016 season in September 2015. You won’t have to wait that long for good music: as usual, the NEUE will give free garden concerts during the summer months.

Kyle Timon Dukes is a member of rock band NiCad: YouTube NiCad
Poety Foundation: text “I am Waiting”
YouTube: Allen Ginsberg reading Howl part 1  
YouTube: Jack Kerouac reads American Haikus

Fled is the Music – on the viewless wings of Poesy

Only a few days past Valentine, but still in a romantic mood, a few of my friends and I met at a small theatre, mainly run by volunteers. The New European Ensemble would play pieces by Franz Schubert. Actor Alexander Oliver would recite poems by John Keats.

It has become a kind of regular experience. Though with theatre Branoul in its “make or break” year, it’s not clear if these monthly literary salons will continue next year. Branoul is one of many tiny theatres, theatre companies, events, orchestras, museums and other cultural initiatives and organisations in Europe which try to survive in an environment, highly hostile to culture.

At a quarter to eight, I worried. Usually, by that time there is hardly space left to hang one’s coat. People wait in the corridor for doors to open. Now, the corridor was nearly empty. Fortunately, once inside, it turned out my friends even had had problems reserving a seat for me.

After a few words of welcome by one of the members of the European Ensemble, the evening started. “This Living Hand” and “Ode on Melancholy” were perfectly recited by Alexander Oliver. My guests were extremely impressed with Stefan Petroviç’ interpretation of Franz Schubert’s Impromptu D. 935/1.

“Ode to Psyche” and the first part of Schubert’s piano Trio nr 1 followed. One or two times, in the higher region, the violin sounded a bit harsh, but “Ode to a Nightingale” made the audience forget all. “Ode on a Grecian Urn”, “On the Sea”, my preferred “To Autumn”, and “Bright Star” in combination with the other parts of Schubert’s Piano Trio all ensured it was an evening to remember – and remember for a very long time.

I had either forgotten it, or it just had not struck me until mr Oliver recited this selection of Keat’s poetry. There are so many links and images related to death in his poetry. Not only in “Ode to a Nightingale”, but many others as well. Of course, there is a great difference in reading poetry and hearing it read out loud by an expert. So perhaps, it was mr Oliver’s feeling recital which brought this out.

Schubert’s piano trio is also full of emotions. At times, there seems to be a frenzy of life which alternates with a kind of acceptance, harmony, melancholy. Of course, both Keats and Schubert died very young. So combining this poetry and music from a romantic age, was a perfect choice.

After the rondo of the piano trio, which finished this performance, stamping feet and standing ovations for the actor and musicians made clear how well the audience had enjoyed this performance. As usual, it was followed by drinks and chats in the tiny corridor of this theatre.

On Tuesday 24th of March, there will be a recital of poems by Leonard Cohen interlaced with music by Ravel and other composers. Click here for the website of Theatre Branoul (in Dutch). To reserve free ticket(s) for the literary Salon Branoul evenings, you can click here for the website of the New European Ensemble.

There are several websites where you can read “Ode to a Nightingale” and other poems by John Keats. This link to Wikipedia gives the historical background, analysis, poem, and more.

Salon Branoul: Anna Akhmatova, Prokofiev, Shostakovich

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.

 

 

Salon Branoul: The Great War; WWI poetry and music

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