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December 22, 2013 9:02 pm
Audience seated, lights dimmed, performers enter, applause. Music, applause, interval, music, applause, exit. In a world where almost everything else is changing, the format of the art-music concert has remained stubbornly fixed for the past century.
It was not always so. In the Baroque, the audience ate oranges and played at politics or love in private boxes at the opera. In Beethoven’s day, single movements were applauded and sometimes even repeated. We owe the idea of reverential darkness to Richard Wagner; today’s concert habits remain resolutely 19th-century.
Or do they? Nico and the Navigators, founded a decade and a half ago in Dessau and now resident in Berlin, is a group dedicated to rethinking the way music is presented. It is a goal shared by many, from Zurich’s club-based Ynights to Deutsche Grammophon’s hip Yellow Lounge.
But until now, one critical element has been missing. With Angels’ Share, live interactive whisky-drinking has found its way into the world of art music. At last.
The “angels’ share” is a term used by whisky distillers to explain the portion that evaporates during the time the drink is in the cask. By the time cast and musicians begin pouring and distributing whisky to the audience, it already feels as if we have been viewing the baroque era through the bottom of a tumbler.
British and Scottish baroque music are married with folk traditions, clowning, dance and song in this evening of fine musicianship and playful absurdity. The narrative, such as it is, sees Henry Purcell journey from England to Scotland, where he hears some rollicking pub music and samples the local firewater. The rest is hard to recall.
The evening lives through the superb playing of the Urban Strings, a scratch band assembled for the show from a handful of the most oddball of Europe’s baroque instrumental elite, as willing to dance a reel in tartan socks as to improvise around a ground bass. Lulla von Landsberg adds her pretty soprano to the mix, Nadine Milzner dances a grim-faced spoof of Mary, Queen of Scots, Georg Kallweit manages to fiddle and act at the same time, while Adrian Gillott keeps the pace fast with his clever patter and clowning.
Angels’ Share leaves audience members with a warm feeling in the pits of their stomachs. It may have had something to do with the hooch; it can only be hoped that more concert organisers will implement this enlightened practice.
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