Tuesday, August 16, 2011: In the Zone

Conductor Peter Vrabel leads The Berg Orchestra -- and the audience -- on a spirited journey

In the Zone

Once in a while a musician or dancer finds the piece that just suits him or her perfectly. It puts them “in the zone,” that mysterious part of the brain which takes over the body. It’s also called the Muse.

Such is the case with The Berg Orchestra and their performance of Lithuanian composer Bronius Kutavičius’ music to the 1928 silent film La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc. But just to be sure we aren’t alone in our assessment, Opus Osm asked a few members of the audience if they had a similar reaction to last Friday’s performance.

“I told The Berg Orchestra a year-and-a-half ago that they should perform this piece around the world,” says Dáša, a young Prague student of Lithuanian language and culture. “I wish they’d play it more … it’s worth world-wide promotion.”

She was seeing the production for the second time, now at St George’s Basilica at Prague Castle. Typical of Berg productions, the setting was carefully chosen to match the black-and-white film. It focuses tightly on the handful of powerful church officials and judges using any means necessary to force a confession from the young girl.

“The acoustics here are magnificent,” says Martín, also a young Praguer. He gestures to the plain stone arches and simple altar of the basilica. “It also goes with the spiritual theme of the film to see it in the church – even though it’s not functioning today as a church.”

Bold Movie, Bold Music, Bold Move

“I came for the music,” explains Ester, also of Prague. “I don’t understand classical music very much, and I was thinking beforehand that it might be strange,” she says. Choosing Kutavičius’ very contemporary score could be a dangerous move for the 1928 film about events in the 15th century.

“But I had to stop several times while watching the film, just to listen to the music. It’s so intertwined with the film,” she says. “I enjoyed it.”

Jiří has the same reaction. “For me, the best music is when you forget that you’re listening to it; instead, you just feel it. This music is a perfect part of the film.”

“I like a lot of silent films,” says Markéta, also of Prague. “Sometimes modern music and film don’t match, but this is the best choice for this film.”

Dáša, the student of Lithuanian, explains some of the reasons. “You can hear old Lithuanian music in this contemporary piece,” she says. “For example, I heard music from old Lithuanian pagan sun rites. They’re combined with Georgian chants and other traditional old music.”

The Berg Orchestra typically presents performances for only one night, and this production of Joan of Arc is no exception. So if you missed it this time, you may have to wait another year-and-a-half to see exactly how well the Orchestra fits modern music to this classic silent film. – oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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