Wednesday, 30 April 2014

The Soldier's Tale

The Soldier's Tale

Hard at work on a performance on June 17th for the Festival O/Modernt in Ulriksdals Slottsteater Confidencen near Stockholm, my head is full of the jumpy hard-edged multi-rhythmic music of Stravinsky's l'Histoire du Soldat (The Soldier's Tale). With a bit of Tango, Waltz and Ragtime thrown in, this music is alternately humorous, wistful, crazy and full of irony. It seems to me to reflect the visual art style Cubism, where the subject is fragmented then re-structured as geometric forms, seen from multiple viewpoints. Stravinsky must surely have seen Picasso's early Cubist works in Paris, ten years before he composed The Soldier's Tale in Switzerland in 1918. By then the first signs of Art Deco were also taking shape and this had an influence on the designs and cut-outs you will see in my performance of kinetic painting to this wonderful music.

Stravinsky was stuck in la Suisse Romande during the First World War. Without access to major funding, he was forced to devise small-scale, compact music-theatre for a small group of players that could travel easily. Having lived in the Canton of Vaud for eleven years, I can vividly imagine this scene, even hear the Swiss-French accent of those performing the première.

What a good "Tale" it is! Igor Stravinsky and Swiss writer C.F. Ramuz based their subject on the Russian fable of a fiddling soldier, who trades his beloved violin (his soul) to the Devil for a means of becoming incredibly rich. With witty insights into the human condition, they create an anti-capitalist, anti-war allegory and a personal lesson to any one of us. 

Lively unpredictable rhythms, prickly irregularities, ironic marches keep you hopping, the Devil twitching and wheedling, the Soldier plodding on and getting hopelessly side-tracked on his way home. And my brushes have fun in synch with it all, taking on the characteristic movements and colours of first the Soldier, then the Devil, then the Princess. 
We feel the Soldier's hope, disillusionment and despair, as he philosophically shares his realisations with the Narrator (and us): "No one can have it all.... you must not seek to add to what you have, to what you once had", to the accompaniment of a sad atonal Chorale and my downward flowing colours. It's all still so relevant to today's common insatiable greed.
The above images are all taken from the performance of l'Histoire de Soldat that I gave ten years ago in the Concertgebouw. I wrote about it in my very first blog (link). 
Here's the opening sentence of De Telegraaf review:

"Stravinsky would have undoubtedly have given his approval to the fantastic synthesis of paint, theatre and music this weekend in the Concertgebouw.... With a superbly chosen combination of abstract and concrete images that flow into each in an ingenious manner, Perryman follows the structure of the music, but at the same time allows the development of his interplay of forms and colours. Rhythmically he moves his brush along the route the Soldier is following. When the devil cuts across the route, the brush is transformed into a threatening black monster."

I'll show you some of the new images soon, all painted live on about twenty-five glass plates on overhead projectors. I can't wait to perform with the talented ensemble that violinist Hugo Ticciati has assembled for his delightful festival. 

Friday, 18 April 2014

Bach's Passion

Bach's Passion

Year after year, all over the Netherlands, thousands flock to hear innumerable performances of Bach's St. Matthew Passion. This year 141 were programmed in concert halls and churches nation-wide. Unlikely mixed "congregations" of devout believers side by side with staunch atheists and all sorts of people come together to share a spiritual experience in words and music. The other night my wife sang in the Matthew Passion to a packed-out Concertgebouw, one of ten performances of Passions in that hall alone. The intensity of the shared atmosphere was palpable, apparently fulfilling a common need, regardless of convictions.

Recently, this phenomenon even made it onto a popular Dutch TV channel that nightly attracts 1.8 million viewers, with a talk-show host who is more accustomed to discussing trendy news items with cool guests with the tempo of a machine-gun.  Now he was excitedly discussing Bach's highlights (as the only hour-long "news" item) with conductor Philippe Herreweghe, as the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra played extracts. On a pop talk-show? The Passions are trending!

Opinions differ about the nature of what happens in the sharing of such music. Some sense a "divine presence", others see it as a pseudo-religious ritual or an alternative church service and yet more discover a rather different "high", swearing that their religion is simply Bach's irresistible music.

In his recent blog On an Overgrown Path, Bob Shingleton writes of the "experience of collective spirituality"... that is experienced in a Sufi ritual, the hadra and that may become an open creative event where a whole range of emotional behaviour is expressed. "A very good definition of Passion, as in Bach", Bob writes.

English-language cultures tend to prefer Handel's Messiah. What's wrong with a booklet with a German-English translation of Bach' works? For me, the masterly way Bach combines text and music in this dramatic and moving fashion make the Matthew and John Passion supreme. Whether you believe or not, these are powerful accounts of human nature wrestling with life and death, weakness, hypocrisy, betrayal, guilt, mass hysteria, loss, supreme nobility in the face of torture and crucifixion. The way in which Bach gives us too a form to share all this personally in his Chorales, is brilliant.

(Above) Three kinetic images from Psalm 22 (Luc van Hove), painted live to the voices of the Flemish Radio Choir in 2005. "Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?" ("My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?") was the very human cry of 
one who, in his dying moments, felt that his line to his Father 
was severed. Perhaps instinctively, he was quoting the words of his ancestor David, the author of the Psalms. But they could be the words of any of us. 

So what is it with Bach's Passion? Jessica Duchen expresses it perfectly in her blog JDCMB: "It offers music that cleanses the soul; even if you approach it as a drama rather than religion, it doesn't seem to mind, and will still work its wonders. It offers too, an oasis of calm, reflection and redemption, along with a massive dramatic catharsis that might be felt especially keenly by anyone who has lived through the loss of a loved one." 

One of my dreams is to create a performance of one of the Passions complemented by my flowing kinetic colours, painted live and projected all over the performers to intensify the emotional impact. Just as colours from stained glass windows spread over Cathedral performances long ago. I confess that part of my creative motivation is to "make my peace" (before I die) with my neglected Christian heritage. With Bach's help, I could finally discover a deeply felt harmony with my own unique creative performance art. I'm sure it can be done! I'm working on the idea.


Coming soon!
I'm currently working hard on another very human story - a struggle between a soldier and "the devil":  a reprise of my/Stravinsky's l'Histoire du Soldat on June 17th. for the O/Modernt Festival in Stockholm. Watch this space.