29. September 2019. For this year’s art festival Ortstermin 19, ITINERANT INTERLUDE #33 presented 3 unique programs by 3 internationally renowned vocalists at 3 different church towers with repertoires directly inspired both by the festival theme – FATA MORGANA – as well as by the unique settings of the venues. From high atop the respective church towers – via megaphone – each performance cycle began with From the Inscrutable Incantations of Morgan le Fay (2019), a work specially composed for the occasion by Laurie Schwartz. As an illusion of a “call to prayer”, the piece in this case functions as a “call to performance”, the “inscrutable incantations” playing with allusions to ancient languages and chants, mutating between Norwegian herding calls, Gregorian chant and cowboy yodels: Morgan le Fay of the title is the shape-shifting fairy of Celtic and Arthurian legend, the source of the term fata morgana.
The itinerary began with soprano Sunniva Unsgård performing 2 works from the tower of the Kaiser Friedrich Gedächtniskirche: Rebecca Saunders’ O (2017) and Julius Eastman’s Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc (1981). The text of British composer Rebecca Saunders’ O is based on Molly Bloom’s monologue from the final chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses. The words flow between moments of absence and presence, with the voice switching back and forward between fragments of an inner and exterior monologue. As the composer notes: “for a moment, words surface and become visible, audible, comprehensible, like the emergence of an image or tale… and then submerge again into the flow of time.” The simple text of Julius Eastman’s Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc (1981) refers to the trial of Joan of Arc in 1431 and specifically, to the voices of the three saints who – as Joan relates – encouraged her to reply boldly to the questions of her interrogators:
Saint Michael said / Saint Margaret said / Saint Catherine said/ They said / She said / He said: Joan_____ Speak boldly.
The program presented by soprano Esther Kretzinger at the Heilandskirche was comprised of 3 works: Vivienne Olive’s Whispers of Heavenly Death (1992), Alleluia from Giacinto Scelsi’s Three Latin Prayers (1972), and Younghi Pagh-Paan’s Ma-am (“My Heart”) for voice and claves (1990). Vivienne Olive’s Whispers of Heavenly Death is based on text from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass”, while Giacinto Scelsi’s Alleluia is a clear reference to the unadorned simplicity of plainsong, one of the few in this enigmatic composer’s ouevre to use text as raw material. Younghi Pagh-Paan’s Ma-am, based on a verse by the Korean poet Jeong Cheol, was composed in memory of Luigi Nono and dedicated to his widow, Nuria. The composition is clearly inspired by traditional Korean music and reveals moments of passionate, spiritual introspection.
Countertenor Georg Bochow made use of widely different spaces in the tower of the Reformationskirche: His rendition of the Greek Orthodox chant composed by St. Nectarios of Aegina in the late 19th c. Agni parthene despina (O Pure Virgin), in “ancient Russian” and in a falsetto voice, lent a more abstract quality to the hymn, all the more since only his voice could be heard reverberating from the stairway as he traced his steps from high atop the bell tower into the first balcony. This was followed by a performance of No. 3 from Aribert Reimann’s 5 Lieder nach Gedichten von Paul Celan: Ein Ring, zum Bogen spannen, nachgeschickt einem Wortschwarm, der wegstürzt hinter die Welt, mit den Staren. Finally, in a nod to the festival’s theme, Bochow reinterpreted the role of Claudio Monteverdi’s Speranza from Orfeo as illusion itself, appearing and reappearing among seats in the choir loft.
To conclude Ortstermin 2019, the 3 vocalists came together for a performance (G3) summit at Galerie Nord | Kunstverein Tiergarten to envelope the expanse of Galerie Nord with a contemporaneous mash-up of From the Inscrutable Incantations of Morgan le Fay and a sampling of works from their individual programs.
The 3-day Art Festival Ortstermin 19: FATA MORGANA was curated by Claudia Beelitz and Karen Scheper.