Berlin: Maerzmusik Festival for Time
Personally, this was one of the most exciting performances this year with contemporary ensemble Apartment House, opening the MaerzMusik Festival in Berlin, with German premieres of Julius Eastman's Femenine (1974) and Buddha (1984).
Photo: Camille Blake
The opening concert for Maermusik included five monumental works by Julius Eastman: Prelude to the Holy Presence of Joan of Arc for solo voice (1981) which draws you in as listener, moving between the highest and lowest vocal ranges in an edgy solo battle, like a terrifying, hypnotic, desperate prayer (a mesmerising performance from Sofia Jernberg for Maermusik); followed by the gripping barrage of energy that is Eastman's Holy Presence of Joan of Arc (1981) for 10 cellos - striding their way through a busy rhythmic score (led by Apartment House's director and cellist, Anton Lukoszevieze); then Gay Guerrilla (1979/2017) for 16 guitars, led by Seth Josel; the last two works were Femenine and the more intimate work Buddha, both performed by Apartment House.
I feel a strong sense of responsibility performing Eastman's Femenine as there is over an hour of mainly improvised music, all based around a three bar refrain. As a relative newcomer to the world of improvisation I am fascinated by the process: how responding to others can change the direction of music and how noticing others you can significantly contribute. Sometimes less is more!
I find Julius Eastman's music has a hypnotic quality and draws you in. Time does seem to stand still when playing or listening to Eastman's music. Berno Odo Polzer Artistic Director for MaerzMusik writes 'The goal of these ten days is to detect, experience, reflect upon – and occasionally escape – the time-related forces operating on us'.
Mission accomplished, if the opening concert was anything to go by...