When you get told to come along to a free concert – who can say no?!

The University of London had an exhibition about Utopia-Dystopia. To close of the exhibition the concert was organised. I didn’t actually know that the exibit was on but I was so glad I got told about the concert.

Ensemble Emigre had paired up with Michael Haas for a very interesting and eye opening evening. It was a type of Liederabend with some narrations in between the music.

The ensemble is formed of Norbert Meyn (tenor), Tim Nelson (baritone), Lucy Colquhoun (piano) and Soh-Yon Kim (violin) and their performance was exquisite! The pronunciation of both Norbert and Tim were incredibly clear. I normally find that especially German texts csn be very difficult to understand, even when performed by native speakers. Here was, however, no need to look at the provided texts and translation as the words were sung with such precision.

Keeping the background and the topic of the exhibit and concert evening in mind it was a perfectly put together programme of songs of different countries and eras. The evening started of with a rendition of the German folk song Die Gedanken sind frei. Throughout the programme were a few more German songs alongside Hubert Parry’s Jerusalem. One of the most intriguing songs of the programme was the East German National Anthem, sung in English. Even though I am too young to have grown up in the GDR I was born in this country and there were a lot of ironic and sarcastic remarks about this National Anthem titled Auferstanden aus Ruinen (Risen from Ruins) going around when I was little so to sit in a concert and hear this particular piece of music performed was a very surreal experience. After the concert I did speak with Norbert Meyn, who actually grew up in the GDR, and it was a very interesting conversation. He said that he was either going to sing it in English or not at all as there are too many negative associations with the German version of this Anthem. The University of London actually has the letters between the Becher Institute and Yvonne Kapp talking about the translation which they had on show for the concert attendees to look at. Definitely something that is very unknown to many people!

The Alabama Song from Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny by Brecht/Weill was also part of the evening. This idea behind the opera is a prime example of utopian visions. What was the most profound part of the evening was that the focus was on the text. Of course the text in any song or opera are always important but to really have the emphasis on the spoken word makes one really think about the meaning.

In the current political situation and what is going on in the world the whole thought of this utopian and dystopian becomes a whole different meaning. Especially some of the Hanns Eisler texts resonate and opens up a unique perspective onto what was happening at the time they were written and – in some cases – how little has changed! It is ironic to have this focus and to think about those utopian ideas. Pairing that with today’s understanding as well as common sense it actually makes you worry that there are people out there who strongly believe that any of those theories are actually worth trying out and would work out. Definitely very good food for thought!

There was a little reception after the concert as well and it was great to chat with fellow listeners about their feelings and understandings of the matter and to bounce of more ideas and thoughts.

A great evening that left you thinking and reflecting on what utopian and dystopian vision actually mean and what impact they have on society and individuals…


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