Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sunday Feature: Inside Kafka/Janáček/Kurtág

The Against the Grain team: L-R Joel Ivany, Nancy Hitzig, Cecily Carver, Christopher Mokrzewski and Caitlin Coull

Voices from Kafka and The Disappeared

[PUBLISHER: We gave Against the Grain a tall order as they prepared for their upcoming production Kafka/Janáček/Kurtág. Instead of pestering them for the usual first-person piece going inside their process, we said: How about several people taking us inside - artists from different aspects of the production, administrators, you name it? Once again the company, and their fearless leader Joel Ivany, proved why they deserved the 2012 CharPR Prize for best indie company PR. What you have today is truly a most fascinating piece. GLC]

Colin Ainsworth, tenor in Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared
Twitter: @ColinAinsworth web:

Approaching Janáček is no easy feat. There’s the obvious language barrier, since Czech isn’t my first language or even one of my peripheral languages, but also there’s the sheer volume of songs. For me, it’s like singing Schubert’s cycle Die Schöne Müllerin except in completely unknown territory. Once that is done, then it’s time to figure out what each word means, what each song is about, and how it fits into the bigger picture of the entire cycle. Then, there is Janáček’s unique musical language, which takes time to learn.

Thankfully, I have had the opportunity to do this piece once before and have been thinking about it for a while. That being said, one shot at this mammoth cycle is just skimming the surface. It’s like a mini-opera; a journey for the protagonist. So once you’ve begun to grasp the language and what you are saying, it’s all about telling the story of this young man. It’s as close to real life as it gets as Janáček had his own encounter with forbidden love. He wrote all his raw emotion and meaning into his music - sometimes so simply but quite effectively.

The great thing about Janáček is he is equally brilliant at storytelling with both words and notes. He gives you everything that you need to know in the story through the music: narrative, character, emotion—it is all seamlessly folded in. As a performer, all you need to do is be attuned to Janáček’s guidance and the story sings itself.

Kerry DuWors, violinist in Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments
Twitter: @kdwoww web:

Preparing Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments has been an adventure in an undiscovered country. There is nothing like it in the violin repertoire to prepare you for the techniques, demands and understanding of the violin the work requires in one continuous story in one sitting. One must have a steely determination, no fear, and focused stamina to tackle this hour-long monumental work! I have spent the past couple of months delving into this unique world with both trepidation and excitement. The score is 80 pages long, the shortest movement lasting three bars (or ten seconds) and the longest spanning ten pages without a break. Each page is labyrinth-like, stretches of black ink covering the page with near unplayable figures and passages.

My plan for learning the work was to break it down into manageable sections, most times practicing bar-by-bar, even note-by-note in an attempt to execute exactly what Kurtág laid out. There is a process and necessity of immediate memorization of not only the notes and rhythms, but sounds, effects and choreography (strum like a guitar here, play like a mandolin, put down bow, mute put on, play close to the bridge, make a scratch noise). I have employed the usual pencil and eraser, but also need highlighters to make notes and multiple music stands for the lengthy page layouts in order to make it through in a single stretch. Having perfect pitch has made my process that much faster (I can pick out the notes without any reference), but many chords and sounds are too dense and occur too fast to even pick out a single tone. I often just stare at the score, imagining or visualizing what I will do for minutes before I even start playing. A few movements also require a second violin tuned scordatura (untraditional tunings) and I have to listen with new ears: where my finger plays a different pitch will come out. As the saying goes “practice makes perfect” or in this case, practice makes playable.

The work is daunting and finally putting it together with soprano Jacqueline Woodley for the first time relieved some of the stress by realizing the musical score in full. Listening to both parts together in real time takes the solitary focus off my million (or so) notes and shifts it towards the motivation, quality and character of each number. This is the process of letting go: being able to move out of the score and trust the things I have practiced and prepared through muscle/kinesthetic, visual and aural memory. Many questions were answered through collaboration and investigation on day one: how should this sound? Is this a good feel? What kind of time do we need to execute this together? Where do you need to breathe? What about this sound/tone? I have no doubt that many more questions (and hopefully more creative answers) will come on our subsequent rehearsal days. Certainly Kurtág’s work and our preparation to date will serve many more performances than the two on March 1 and 2 – this is just the start and what a thrill! 

Lauren Segal, mezzo-soprano in Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared

My first exposure to Janáček’s The Diary of One Who Disappeared occurred when I was a young artist at the Salzburg Festival. I fell in love with this piece and was thrilled when I was invited to perform it with Against the Grain Theatre. 

In my initial research into this piece, I found it very interesting that the gypsy character I will portray was modeled on a young married woman Janáček had met while on holiday in 1917. Her name was Kamila Stösslová and while Janáček became wildly infatuated with her, she was married and his love went unrequited. They did, however, begin an intense friendship, and in the over 700 letters of correspondence, he often intimated that she provided the inspiration for many of his works - including this one. 

I have found this relationship seeping out of the pores of this piece. The sensuality and pure beauty are all signs of his intense love for her. This driving force, intertwined with his exquisite poetry, makes the piece incredibly poignant. This is constantly in my mind as I prepare it and it's a real joy to work on something that is grounded in such a raw, pure and ardent love. 

Nancy Hitzig, General Manager of Against the Grain Theatre
Twitter: @nothingbuthitz

Against the Grain Theatre is a unique artistic collective; three of five members have extensive administrative backgrounds. Our approach to marketing for our upcoming Kafka/Janáček/Kurtág involves three major strategies: grassroots/word of mouth, a comprehensive social media strategy and cross promotions with other arts partners. As a tiny organization we have great reach and strength in our partnerships and professional relationships across Toronto. For example, with such unusual repertoire we promote the show not only to traditional opera-goers, but to new music aficionados and indie music lovers. It helps us connect with those who may never have attended an opera before and builds our company brand as provocative and thoughtful. 

As a marketer, I know Joel and Toph will produce a masterful product and it is up to me, Caitlin and Cecily to communicate the excitement, quality and mastery to our growing audience. We need each other to build every show. Great art deserves to be seen, heard and experienced. AtG’s outreach strategies are very simple: we try to connect, engage and inspire friends, fellow artists and strangers in something intimate, magical and compelling. Then, they tell their friends. We keep it personal — and a bit cheeky — in the tone of our communications and strive to be the best email or Facebook message you read all week. So you should probably follow us, if you don't already, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We'd like to follow you too!

On a personal note, AtG is a labour of love. These artists and administrators are my best friends and the greatest colleagues. It rarely feels like work, and each and every show teaches me something new about how to engage our generation and how to use new media tools effectively. One of my favourite memories is last year’s sold-out AtG production of The Seven Deadly Sins (And Holier Fare): watching Toph and Daniel Pesca hammering out Adam's Hallelujah Junction, then finishing with a moment of silence and then a roar of applause and an electric standing ovation. That is the power of live theatre, and I'm a part of that. I helped put those people in that room. I helped make that magic happen - there is nothing more gratifying. It inspires me to grow as an administrator, and collaboratively it helps AtG reach new heights engaging our peers and contemporaries for the long term.

Kafka/Janáček/Kurtág runs March 1-2


No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.