The Sounds and Music of Open Space
Wednesday, December 1, 2010
Blog post written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist, Berlin, Germany
For the past two years, I lived in Nuremberg and commuted to teach in Berlin. On the train during my four hour commute on a train traveling at 190 miles per hour, I wrote many blogs. Many were reflections on a concert or topic that concerned Berlin.
Two friends, a French conductor and a Spanish violinist, have queried why their respective countries are so fixated on their capitals. Barcelona offers some competition to Madrid’s hegemony, but Paris reigns supreme in France.
In contrast, Germany is strangely decentralized. Frankfurt is the economic center, Dusseldorf the fashion center, Munchen the Beer and Lifestyle center, and Berlin the government center. In terms of the arts, many cities like Cologne, Hamburg, Stuttgart, Munich, Berlin…and even Nuremberg offer varied cultural events.
Nuremberg enjoys a golden medieval past as an engineering, crafts and cultural center. It is the only city that has a Wagner opera written about its singing inhabitants.
Every summer in Nuremberg, there is a Festival called Blaue Nacht or Blue Night.This is a ‘happening’ type of event, where blue shades cover all the lights in the old city. Every art gallery, cinema, museum, church , school, university, and the castle presents t something related to the color blue throughout the night. Exploring a color, these events naturally favor the visual arts.
The Blue Night Festival spurred me to thinking, what about about a D Minor Festival?
Last year, the four-story high inner courtyard of a school was draped in blue fabric and white balloons, all backlit. The visitors were taken to a small platform in the center of this heavenly place and could talk through hanging minimalistic microphones to (supposedly) God. The space was very silent. I think that I should have asked God which type of music She listens in Heaven.
This year, there was a percussion concert with mostly marimbas that seemed like the perfect musicalization of the color blue. It occurred in a 14th century church (http://www.st-klara-nuernberg.de/), all lit in blue. The subtle sounds, so rarefied and hypnotizing, were truly dreamy. Bluey, not Bluesy.
2010 marks the 175th anniversary of the first Passenger Train in Germany, the Adler, connecting Furth and Nuremberg .
The Deutsche Bahn Museum in Nuremberg celebrated this event during the Blaue Nacht by commissioning a special work by a French ‘vertical’ Dance Theater Group called ‘Compagnie Les Passagers’ . They built a structure with a square canvas panel 40 feet tall. Artwork painted on this panel celebrated the Adler on which the performers would ‘walk’. The performers were hung from the top of this structure by cable attached to their waists. Through incredibly strong upper body muscles, they walked and danced on this hanging piece of Blue Art. When they jumped out of the canvas panel, the lack of horizontal gravity made them levitate effortlessly. It was like watching a ballet from above, without gravity.
I was astonished and amused by this technical ‘tour de force.’ But I was also impressed by the musical choices: French impressionist music. Afterwards, I could not have imagined anything else. The obvious is not always people’s first choice. Debussy, Ravel, and Satie were the perfect musical match for this simple, and yet extremely complex, performance. Impressionism was the first artistic movement of the 20th century to occur simultaneously in music and the visual arts--the marriage of hearing and vision. Blue and …
Since the 19th century, scholars have studied synesthesia, a ‘neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway’.
So before I start thinking seriously about the visual aspects of my D Minor Festival, I must ask you a question I hope you will answer in the comments section of this blog: which color would you paint your favorite piece of music?
Sunday, April 25, 2010
Blog written by Jairo Geronymo, pianist based in Berlin, Germany
I will move to Berlin this summer.
So I began the hunt for the large, well situated, extremely comfortable, well designed, charming, impressive, and of course, reasonably priced apartment.
The real estate market in Berlin is very different than what one would expect in such a large city. I have heard horror stories from colleagues and friends living in Manhattan. They have shared that to get the perfect apartment at a reasonable (…) price one must be smart and aggressive beyond any measure.
Germany has strong laws to protect renters and only a few empty apartments come up for sale. One would expect that they would sell quickly. Quite on the contrary, they linger forever on the German version of realtor.com (www.immobilienscout24.de).
I believe that in large cities, many people able to buy an apartment often remain renters because there is no risk and sacrifice in their comfortable but unprofitable renter experience. My blog is not about housing politics so I will move on to the housing needs of our friend musicians.
Listening to a concert or a recital in a theater is a very different experience compared to listening to your neighbor practicing, no matter how accomplished the musician is. Serious musicians practice for hours, with systematic and repetitive techniques that can bring the worst out of pleasant neighbors. The acoustic guitar, the harp and early keyboard instruments luckily can play on, undetected by irate disturbed neighbors.
For their sound to blossom, all instruments need a certain amount of air volume. If you play the Tuba or have a large grand piano, it would be better to move straight into a theater! Colleagues that own houses sometimes have carved, through many creative artifices, the perfect place to practice undisturbed from neighbors and family.
I was only once accosted in the elevator by a furious neighbor regarding my long hours practicing a Prokofiev Piano Concerto. I was young and had the stamina to go on for hours banging away on the keys. The concerto that I played so well, to the delight of so many, made my neighbor hate the day in which Prokofiev (or I) was born! Today, luckily, I can learn music faster than my neighbors can get annoyed. However, that takes a lot of planning!
In large cities, where most musicians live in apartments, the situation is worse. Musicians need to consider carefully the architectural and psychological elements of their prospective nests. Is there a way of having nobody living underneath me? Are the walls thick enough? Is there a baby living one floor above me? Can I practice at school? Musicians that do not pay attention to these aspects can pay a high price. A colleague of mine in Berlin is being sued by her neighbor and this summer will go through an extensive renovation in order to isolate her piano room acoustically.
Piano Shaped Object (PSO) and Patience
Like many colleagues I have at home a keyboard with weighted keys. Sometimes I use it late night or in the early stages of learning a piece. However, this robs me of the sensual experience of discovering a new piece as it was supposed to be, free and unashamed of its powers. New melodies, surprising harmonies and powerful climaxes do not sound the same on a plastic PSO (piano shaped object) and headphones cannot duplicate the acoustical experience of an instrument speaking freely where its sound can bloom.
Most painters do not work with the rarefied white light that fed old masters in Holland. Most musicians cannot afford the perfect space for the sound of their instruments to bloom.
So I plead with everybody that once enjoyed any type of music: be patient with your neighbor musician while she or he practices. Their future audiences will thank you!
Thursday, September 17, 2009
Blog entry by Jairo Geronymo, pianist, Nurnberg and Berlin, Germany
Two weeks ago, I saw a show in Berlin by a group called ‘Chamäleon’ The show itself was called ‘Soap’. One of my concert companions was a ten year-old boy. This show seemed the perfect choice for a mind immersed in Nintendo and Disney.
The show mixed acrobatics, special effects, comedy, skin, and hardcore arias by Mozart, Schubert, Schumann and Wolf. Unusual.
The scenery consisted of bathtubs used as a base for acrobatics. The highest bathtub functioned as the throne of a very good soprano wearing a bathing suit. The pairings were a delightful surprise: Wolf with contortions, Schubert with fabric swaths holding muscular bodies, Mozart with soap bubbles.
At the moment, the streets of Berlin are plastered with advertisements for the "Blue Man Group". In Las Vegas, it is difficult to score tickets for ‘Cirque du Soleil’ or ‘Le Reve’. All these spectacles mix dance, acrobatics, elaborate set design, and music.
Yet these elements also evoke the main ingredients of French Grand Opera. Classical ballets have merged with circus acrobatics. Operas in the 18th century used flowing blue fabric to make ocean waves; now , we have laser shows. Everything is different. Everything is the same.
So how has the music changed?
Is this change just a question of Gregorian Chant with digital sounds, African drums with extra reverberation and musical pyrotechnics? No.
Experiences appealing to many senses remain a successful recipe for audience engagement. Disney knows this. Bollywood knows this. Can we then anticipate a resurgence of French grand opera for the masses? Questionable--but opera will always attract an audience.
I prefer to think that in our multi-cultural global society, there is space for the New York Phillarmonic playing music from Star Wars and Mozart paired with soap bubbles.