Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Luiza Borac recalls meeting Alice Herz-Sommer - the Lady in Number 6

Musicians, as we know, are extraordinary people. Some are more extra-ordinary than others perhaps, having lived lives that have put them at great personal risk, yet still the desire to play music burns strong. It's almost a mark of defiance, of the human spirit's willingness and need to survive in the face of great opposition.

Few people embody this quite like pianist and Holocaust survivor Alice Herz-Sommer, who at the age of 109 is the subject of a new documentary, "The Lady in Number 6". A promo for it is here:

Having never had the pleasure of meeting Alice myself, I invited the pianist Luiza Borac to offer her recollections of when she met Alice around three years ago. The happy meeting is captured below - Alice was then at the age of 106 and obviously in fine form. Luiza's words bring both the personality and the occasion to movingly and vividly life. Thank you for your willingness to share, Luiza!

" 'You must meet Alice' said the newly met friends to me during an award ceremony, and the stories about her which followed were like nothing I have ever heard before. It was not just the facts they were reporting about and which were both gruesome because of the war atrocities and also enlightening because of her music; but the way those incredible stories were told, the expression and the emotion in their voices. It made me book a flight to London as soon as I could and as I finally reached London Hampstead I knew I was about to meet somebody very special. But whatever I thought it might be expecting me after ringing the doorbell was surpassed in a second by what followed after that. As I stepped very nervously into the corridor looking for Alice's door I suddenly heard a loud manly voice speaking german in a strange tone. At the end of the corridor the door was opened and it looked like the Number 6, the right one. The voice was clearer now, it sounded somehow narratory and it became obvious that it came from Alice's flat. 'Another guest' I thought. Then Alice came at the door, smiled at me like we knew each other already for a long time than she said: 'Stefan Zweig'!

She showed me in her flat and there we sat down, with her cassette-player turned quite loud in front of us, listening to a recording of the book 'The World of Yesterday' by Stefan Zweig, read onto tape by my friend who mentioned Alice to me for the first time. It was like I suddenly stepped into a dream or into another world. There I was seated next to the most famous pianist in the world listening to the deeply moving words of Stefan Zweig, only 1 minute after meeting her … 

It must have been for quite a long time, my nervousness was long gone, and so was my feeling of time and space. We listened to the entire tape, after which Alice said to me : 'Isn't he great? He is the greatest!' Then we talked for a while, Alice was pointing very often to the big painting on the wall of her son, Raphael, whom she loved and missed so much. The whole meeting was floating among words, glances, smiles and laughters light and wonderful like a dance of essences. I was a pianist who came to meet a pianist, still none of the words we exchanged referred directly to piano playing. Alice told me about her busy schedule. With her 106 years old she was attending the University classes every day. On Monday we have Literature, Tuesday History Wednesday Art and so on. Her eyes were sparkling with joy and enthusiasm, she was loving to learn, 'there is still so much to learn' she said. Alice is a fragile appearance but what a strength and wonder in her. So small in her height, she seemed to me like a huge fairy who was flying high above and I was one of her reign creatures trying to comprehend her greatness, beauty and love. As I left her warm presence I knew that I just had the greatest lesson on piano-playing, on music, on life."

Photo: courtesy of Luiza Borac

Friday, 4 October 2013

Interview: Pianist Sanja Stefanovic talks about her Mobile Balkan project

Evan: What is MOBA project?
Sanja: MOBA Project is MObile BAlkan Project. The Mobile Balkan Project is an initiative to bring together artists, individuals, academia, organisations, institutions and media from the Balkan countries to contribute towards a joint objective to present and promote the unique traditional ethnic heritage and cultural legacy of the Balkan people. The rich and original art and creativeness formed specific sounds and colours recognisable as traditional Balkan’s, though individually identifiable. Together they would make a blend of cultural extravaganza, spectacular performances, different and original in their character.


Evan: Why MOBA, and why now?
Sanja: To understand this, we need to take a look at the definition of MOBILE. Mobile by definition characterises and permits movement and progress from one social group to another. It responds quickly to impulses, emotions, mind and it makes easy to change expressions, mood and purpose. So, Mobile Balkan means that shared cultural events between the nations would be moving from one country to another across Europe, our common inherited territory, and to the wider world. In days like these on the Balkan, this fact is more then important. Through the mobility we will make an active cultural exchange that will bring the people together, not to divide them.

Evan: What are its aims?
Sanja: The background concept is that people generally, across Europe and from other countries and regions, do not know much about the specific and ancient historic scenery in which the Balkan people developed, experienced and shared their destinies.
This project aims to bring cultural heritage of the Balkans closer to other people of Europe but also to the Balkan’s cultural identity keepers, in their countries and elsewhere, so that understanding and vision of the Balkan would be promoted, positively changed and full of joint events presenting its distinctive European inheritance. It aims to be a platform for promotion of young people’s talents, established and well known artists, intellectuals and other personalities, whose contribution would be a valuable addition to better understanding of the cultural milieu of the Balkan nations.

Evan: For those that haven't encountered Balkan cultures before, how would you describe or define them?
Sanja: Balkan is a cradle of many different cultures, but they all have the same roots in ancient cultures such as Ancient Greek and Ancient Roman, the two biggest influences in this part of the world. The Roman Empire was the biggest Empire at the time, including different cultures from Orient and Occident, the both are playing the important role in Balkan cultures, especially in the music.

Evan: What are the distinctive features?
Sanja: The music is very rhythmic, improvisational and this is kept in the classical music too, which brings an enormous virtuosity to the music pieces. The poetry is very epic, written decasyllabic, and all about the victories in passed wars. The dance is like the music, very rhythmic which brings the virtuosity in performance.

Evan: Music features heavily -which composers/pieces are you featuring?
Sanja: There are many composers, most of whom need to be better known than they are, including

 Kornelije Stankovic (1831-1865)
 Robert Trollinger (1859 - 1911)
 Isidor Bajic (1878-1915)
 Stanislav Binicki (1872-1942)
 Petar Konjovic (1883-1970)
 Stevan Hristic (1885-1958)
 Miloje Milojevic (1884-1946)
 Grigorash Dinicu (1889-1945/6)
 Konstantin Babic (1927)   

All the composers are Serbian composers, only Dinicu is Romanian. But his composition "Sky Larc" on the  ethno theme is very popular in Serbia: the famous Serbian piper Bora Dugic became very famous by interpreting this
music piece. And Robert Trollinger was born in Prague, but he left for South Austrian - Hungarian ,after the Empire moved from Prague to Vienna, to find his place under the sky. He became "our Czech" as Serbian used to call him, and he became Serbian composer. The music is vocal, it is a Serbian "Lied", on the poems of great Serbian poets and some great poets from West Europe like Verlaine or Guérin or Végas. It is all about love, because most of these Arias are romantic arias.

Evan: What other arts does the project feature?
Sanja: Beside the music, we will feature photography this time, with the exhibition at Royal Geographical Society in London.

Evan: Who are you working with?
Sanja: With artists such as the tenor Darko Djordjevic, violinist Orpheus Papafilippou, pianist Rimantas Vingras and myself, of course! The photographer is Dragoljub Zamurovic.

Evan: When and where are the events taking place?
Sanja: The  first MOBA concert -BISER- is on October 25th, 2013, at 7.00pm at the University Women´s Club, 2 Audley Squere, W1K 1DB London

The exhibition starts on October 28th, 2013 ends on November 2nd, 2013, open every day, also weekends, from 10.00am to 5.00pm

The second MOBA concert - BISER- is on December 6th, 2013, the event place will be soon announced. But here, we will have an improvisational moment in the music, because improvisation is the heart of the Balkan music.

Evan: How can people support project?
Sanja: You can come to the concerts and exhibition. It's important to say that MOBA Project is on Kickstarter. Kickstarter is a crowdfunding, where you don´t actually help or support, you back up the project, you get the reward and you are forever the part of the project.

Evan: Thank you, Sanja!