Performance in Erlach

by Joke Debaere

Francois and I were asked to give a performance during the classical music festival in Erlach, Switzerland. The musical director of the festival was Dimitri Ashkenazy (son of Vladimir Ashkenazy). We were asked to do something around the theme “the space between life and death” and chose for a build-up in three parts. In part 1 we shared intense feelings and thoughts about the presence of death in and around us. In part 2 we did the same with ‘life’. Part 3 was the relation between life and death.

We have talked about what life and death means to us, but didn’t plan (as usual) any note nor word. Moreover, Francois and I performed acoustically together for the first time. Never before have I felt so naked, without microphone, without handgrip. Just me, my voice and Francois at the grand piano.

I suffer from a crazy ‘abnormality’: the bigger the risk, the more safe I feel. Maybe it works just like being confronted with death: going unprepared on stage is so bold, so all-or-nothing, that I can’t do anything else but … surrender to the moment and to the energy and sounds Francois is giving me.

The picture was taken by someone in the audience. I remember I wanted to express the devotion, or even holy aspect of accepting death. Hence this position, which looks in this setting so churchlike. It came after feelings of rage, powerlessness, struggle.

Unfortunately enough, something went wrong with our live video recording. This picture is about the only representation we have of the performance.

When I looked at Francois after the first part, I saw how his upper body was lying down on the piano, his arms wide open, his eyes closed. I had to smile, and recognized myself in his physical intensity. It was a raw journey. Not raw in the sense of hard, but raw the way you can also eat raw things that taste totally different from a cooked soup. Bright and fresh. That is at leas how we experienced it.

Not all performances are so “spot on” as this one. More and more I can peacefully accept the many downfalls it takes to fly so high again. In Echternach they used to have a procession where they took two steps forward, then one step backwards – “The pass of Echternach.” I often have to think of this observing the rhythmical curves of a growing process like ours.

I wrote in advance “I am looking forward to this. To me it is like making a walk without protection on a steep mountainside. We won’t fall. And if we do so, then there is always the silence. That says something too.”

It was exactly that way.

At the moment there was a very strong feeling in both Francois and me that we would want to change the approach of the coming tours totally to do things more the way we did during this performance. But those kind of strong, immediate impulses are not always the wisest ones on the long term. It is a fact though, that we are looking for special places where an acoustic performance like this would fit well (anyone who has something in mind reading this post can contact us anytime!)

I have to think of a performance in Berlin, very late at night, for a group of drunk to half drunk people. They were cheering enthusiastically. Something which in itself happens often during rock or musical performances, but for me (coming from a more classical theatre background, with a silent audience where even coughing is experienced by some as very disturbing) this atmosphere was totally new to me. I lost the pedals. I did my thing, but wanted to run away, far far far away, for ever and ever and … ever – just as a way to tell you that not all is always perfect. Of course. In nobody’s case. That’s exactly why fruits like this one taste so well.

I perceive my creations on stage also slightly different since this performance. I used to experience the stress every now and then of “I have to invent a good poem on stage” or “I have to do beautiful things with my voice”. More and more (and at this very moment even fully) I realize that my responsibility as an artist lies in a slightly different field: expressing the flow in me. To find that connection between the outer and the inner world, and share it. That I mainly use words doing this, and that my voice is bending in different ways doing this, is than experienced as the medium, and not as the goal.

A small but significant different in focus. I think all of this might be best described with the often used (and sometimes abused) words ‘being in the moment’. With silence underneath, in and around us, we can indeed never really, really fall. She is always catching us.

To end, I have to say many thanks to Dimitri and to all the (classical) musicians and organizers who received us so welcomingly and kindly. I have been able to immerse myself in six hours of live classical music. I have heard songs of Strauss that carried me to a different world and was sincerely inspired by the devotion by which the musicians played their music. Switzerland is not really next door for a lot of us, but if you ever get the chance to experience a festival organized by Dimitri A. or to see the Faust Quartet live, please do not hesitate!
I also owe many heartfelt thanks to Alida Grundman, whose spirit freed me in significant ways, and also many to all the hosts receiving us on this Europe tour, too many special people to start listing here !

And last but not least of course, each of you, our audience. Some we know personally, others not and … to … Francois, who by now has had four years of full trust in me. Also at moments when I am losing that. Thank you, Francois. For all.


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