Wundergrund

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Photo Courtesy of Wundergrund.

Last night was the opening show of Wundergrund, Copenhagen’s annual contemporary music festival. I was invited by a friend from Hotel Pro Forma, who used to work for the festival and was able to find a last-minute ticket for me. While I came late to the opening reception, at least I didn’t miss the mirror people, who greeted guests in the staircase and  gave a mini dance-performance.

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Photo also not taken by me.

Everything was performed at the Hofteatret (Court Theater) in Charlottenborg Palace. The old royal theater has been preserved to retain it’s 1800’s feel, with candles, creaky pew seats, a gigantic balcony chamber for the queen and red velvet everywhere.

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See if you can find me! And again, I need to find the camera person who took these to give him/her credit.

The performance itself was the opposite of glitter, or mirrors, or classical aesthetics. Jennifer Walshe was the featured composer of the night, performing three of her pieces with the contemporary ensemble Scenatet.  The first two pieces were like watching a track team warm up with silently played cellos and rustling pom-poms. The last piece was 41 minutes of vocal epilepsy, brazen disharmony and disjointed visual/spoken soliloquies on church and science. The first two pieces were somewhat relaxing and even a bit funny, while the last piece was neither.  As my friend Johanna put it, “they always have to make you suffer a little”.

Thinking the show was over, I went home pretty exhausted after that last piece but happy to be thinking about and experiencing “music”. I didn’t realize until this morning that I’d actually missed the last part of the performance. Oops. That darned language barrier.

To bring in a few more things about the past week:

– What’s up at work: along with planning the next exhibition (more to come), I was able to make a webshop for Hotel Pro Forma’s books, music and DVDs: http://hotelproformastore.tictail.com/

– Copenhagen has fantastic schwarma.

– I have not yet mentioned the best invention of Denmark: pålægschokolade. Sold in very flat sheets, it’s the best way to get maximum tasting surface area of your chocolate without liquefying it or breaking it up. Today, after a failed run, I bought pålægschokolade and ate it while walking home through Assistens Kirkegaard. It’s probably the closest I’ll come to celebrating Halloween here, eating chocolate on a cool fall day surrounded by gravestones.

– Halloween is a new thing in Copenhagen. There’s a night in February called festelavn which is very similar to Halloween and involves dressing up and bothering old ladies for candy (it also involves putting a cat in a barrel and beating the barrel for good luck, one of the more creative Danish traditions).  Festelavn seemed to have been enough for the Danes until ten or twenty years ago, when someone realized the incredible commercial value of the American version of the holiday.

– At the Dome of Visions last week, I saw the first session of a series called SYNC Sessions that puts two musicians from different genres together for five hours to create a collaborative music product. A pretty cool idea!!

And some pictures to top off this week’s post.

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A fall day in the Assistens Kirkegaard
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Det Kongelige Bibliotek (The Royal Library). Also known as Det Sorte Diamant (The Black Diamond), because of its exterior.
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At Rosenborg Castle
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Copenhagen Botanical Gardens
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A room in the atelier, where we hold some of our many, many meetings, and occasionally shoot a film.

Heart of Darkness

Last night, I attended a theater production in Østerbro called “Heart of Darkness” based loosely off of the Joseph Conrad novel of the same name. I’ve read the book (under the duress of English class), so I had a vague sense that this would not bring out the best side of human nature. My friends from Vienna, Germany and Serbia had no idea what was going on, and hadn’t heard of the book. Most of the performance was in Danish, but it didn’t really matter.

We were among 30 audience members to be guided into the heart of Africa by a methodically slow-speaking and ominous woman speaking in Danish.  At least this was my guess as she drew the continent on a large piece of thin black wall, punched a hole in it, and motioned us to follow her through the hole and down black corridors. We entered a completely dark room and were introduced to seven characters who positioned themselves under misty spotlights. I suppose we were asked to choose one of the characters, but it was in Danish, so I wandered around until someone nudged me into a spotlight with another group of people I’d never seen before. When the characters asked “why did you choose me” in haunting voices, I was pretty perplexed.

Probably out of sympathy, everything switched to English as we were individually “registered” by Danes with typewriters who were seated at least four feet off the ground. Feeling small under the thumb of bureaucracy, we were moved to the other side of the typewiters where before us lay piles and piles of dirt, gloomily lit and surrounded by the smell of burning things and the throbs of a distant heartbeat. A silent actor led our group through the dark dirt field. He stopped at points to command us to literally wash him of his sins, then choose people at random to demonstrate how to kill a human (I was chosen for this one… it was very symbolic in case you’re wondering, but I was still holding a person’s neck as she struggled). We were assorted into yet another group where we slowly eliminated each other by answering the questions “Who would you save, him or her? Yourself or him?” With no time to process that I may have just told a stranger that I didn’t value his/her life, we were handed buckets of dirt and moved into an assembly line to bury an actor who was trapped in a large glass cage. At this point, people began refusing to participate. Once everyone had stepped away, the ominous Danish guide said something that was probably very profound in Danish, guided us back to our shoes, and it was over. No applause or anything, just an invitation to leave at your own will.

This description doesn’t do justice to 75 minutes of  being guided slowly through the darkness, feeling a bleak sort of wonder and growing hopelessness. Understanding Joseph Conrad’s story wasn’t important since the audience was living Marlow’s journey in the first person. Everyone entered by surprise into a world that accepted the worst parts of human nature and cooly made us face choices most of us never have to make.  In my opinion, this was theater at its best, immersive and arresting. But all I wanted to do afterwards was curl up in bed and contemplate the meaning of life.

I am curious as to whether theatrical journeys like this one, with purposefully small audiences who are forced to interact, occur as often in the USA as they do in Denmark. I also wonder if there is a way to do something similar using music as a point of departure rather than literature. Music has a narrative too, but even if the audience doesn’t understand it, is there a way to cut the crap and immerse an audience into the raw themes and emotions? There is an entirely new vocabulary to explore when the arts do what they are supposed to do- move us in ways we never expected, or perhaps have always been waiting for.

Museum Sunday

This weekend’s trip to the Louisiana Museum and Helsingør Maritime Museum. I had been before with my mom, two years ago, but on this beautiful fall day with two of my intern friends (one from the Czech Republic, one from Serbia) I saw entirely new things.

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The Louisiana Museum is located on the Øresund Sea. You can see Sweden from here too.
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Reflections
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The reason we went to Louisiana was to see the Olafur Eliasson Riverbed exhibit.

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I loved the whole thing, especially the sound of crunching footsteps inside a museum.
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Because the floor was built up and covered with rocks, the door frame heights were actually raised.

After the Louisiana museum, we took a trip to Helsingør, aka Elsinor in English. The award-winning Maritime Museum‘s birthday was that day, and we checked it out.

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Check out my gnarly tatoo. Got it at the maritime museum.
The castle at Helsingør, where Shakespeare's Hamlet took place.
The castle at Helsingør, where Shakespeare’s Hamlet took place.
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A statue of Hydra, just outside the museum.

Lounge: Scratching Surfaces

Here are a few pictures from SCRATCHING SURFACES, the one-night performance, art and sound exhibition for Atelier Hotel Pro Forma’s monthly Lounge event.  It was a fantastic evening. Almost 100 people came between 17:00 and 20:00. The night was themed around the Copenhagen Cable Park, the surfing area that had been the subject of our first assignment. As the production manager, my job was to create a cohesive concept (more on that here), then market and promote it via Facebook, Instagram, flyers, a promotional video, and emails. I then created a production and installation schedule, managed the bar, made a site map with a description of each piece, did some curating, organized furniture moves, permanently installed the Ikea window shades (your welcome, Hotel Pro Forma), and made sure that everyone was happy with the end product. We even had time to order and eat Thai food together before the night began. Two weeks of preparation was just enough time to invent, create, and showcase these five pieces and a performance.

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Consider the source
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Exhibition week intern dinners!
Form of: a water droplet.
Form of: a water droplet.
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A healthy crowd
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Johanna and Magnus examining some projection art
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perhaps the best promotional material I’ve made in 10 minutes, posted on Facebook two hours before we opened.
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Breathe Easy

A lesson on Danish healthcare.

Whenever someone applies for a visa to stay in Denmark for more than three months, he/she is automatically eligible to apply for a CPR number (Det Centrale Personel register), which provides access to:

  • Opening a bank account
  • Taking out insurance
  • Joining a library and borrowing books
  • Access to publicly funded healthcare though a CPR number is not needed for emergency treatment
  • Salary payment
  • Buying a house

Awesome, right? Unfortunately, I am not eligible for a CPR number, so there goes free healthcare. Yet despite the many flaws of the American health care system, I found out yesterday that my parents health insurance will still cover me while I’m abroad. This is GREAT, because my roommate has shingles, and I have a cold.

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Bad stuff.

Now I don’t need to worry about getting shingles. I only need to worry about turning 26.

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When I’ll be over the hill. This is weird, right? An iron bull cutout on a hill? It’s about 10 feet tall. Maybe it’s normal, but its a few streets behind my apartment and I don’t get it.

This does outline yet another reason for why Danes are happy to pay taxes that range from 30% to 60% of their income – to create an insular world where everyone has access to free healthcare and a salary, a wonderland where university students are given free education and government stipends to cover living costs. It places a lot of trust is in the system, but from what I can tell, all 5.5 million Danes seem to be pretty ok with it unless they’re against education or healthcare or believe in the merits of anarchy.  I’m not sure how deeply in debt the government is though… probably not as deep as the US.

After work today I met my shingle-y roommate at Amager Strand for some sea air that did good for all of our sinuses. Amager Strand is the beach that covers the entire west coast of Copenhagen. The shore of Sweden is just to the right of this picture, on the horizon. You can also see the windmills that power over 30% of Denmark’s electrical power. Nobody here was worried about too much of anything. Breathing comes easy.

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The Cable Park

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“Things are good, yeah, great actually, on a personal level, yeah really pretty satisfied with whats happening, oh yeah, remembering to eat right, not enough exercise, yeah but pretty amazing”.  Chris Johanson, Continuity Escapes Me- My Selfishness in Los Angeles, at the Galleri Nicolai Wallner in Copenhagen.

After the introductions at Hotel Pro Forma, each intern was given the broad assignment of creating an auditive, textual or visual work relating to either the small-scale attributes or the totality of a nearby cable park…. and then presenting the opposite. As the arts management intern, this may have been my pinnacle week of artsy free-form fun, so I embraced the artsyfreeformity.

The cable park is a small and privately-owned beach and dock area that extends into the Øresund sea, just a 10 minute bike ride from Hotel Pro Forma. Surfers line up on the dock, waiting to practice their rad surf skills while being pulled by a man-made mechanized cable system (NOTE: This was not my presentation, I just made this for you, right now, to show you the cable park)

For my project, I had written and narrated a poem set to pictures I’d taken from the park. This was my “opposite” presentation: I cut up the poem, put the words in motion, and overlaid a tune I sang in a nearby abandoned building that had ethereal, underwater-like acoustics.

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Motion/stillness

After our presentations on Friday morning (we interns are a pretty diverse bunch… the seven of us presented pieces from electronic music sequences to dramatic narratives), we piled in the HPF van to see six different “artist driven” contemporary art exhibitions. These elephants guard the entrance to the Carlsberg complex where some of the exhibitions were located, including the Chris Johanson piece above.

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Jumbos playing futbol.

One of my mornings this week was spent biking all over the city and getting stressed out about immigration. Due to some red tape and a poorly filled out visa form, I can’t apply for a CPR number (which gives me national health insurance, as well as access to the public library and cool gyms) and I will need to apply for a visa extension as well. I took one ok pic in a moment of frustration via accidental detour.

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Morning light

Velkommen til København!

I’ve arrived safe and sound at my flat in Copenhagen, thanks to having a fantastisk multi-lingual roommate who met me at the airport. The plane ride was easy, the air is clean, the sun was out- it was just a beautiful lørdag (saturday).

Whereas I used to live in Frederiksberg when I was studying at DIS, now I live in Nørrebro, slightly north and more central to the younger part of the city. Alexandra and I are renting a two-room apartment on the fourth floor of a large complex with a hyggelig kitchen, large windows well-suited for spying on neighbors and a comfy jet-lag-accommodating bed. Right now, the sweet sounds of crying Danish children (børn) are echoing from the courtyard.

It was rainy yesterday, so Alex and I set out to the Frederiksberg shopping center for rainboots and groceries at Føtex, meandering through bikers, hipsters and cute blonde kids. I didn’t realize how much I missed Danish food: my fridge is filled with leverpostej, rugbrød, yogurt for muesli, and good Danish butter (smør).

Today was the first day at Hotel Pro Forma. It is quite a special place, very welcoming and meget Danske (very Danish). Thankfully everyone speaks English, and even though I am the only intern who is a native speaker, the language barrier does not seem to be a problem. Today was introductory and I’m sure that there will be many posts to come.

After today’s 1.5 hour round-trip commute via walking and the expensive though clean and harmonious metro system, it was time to buy a bike.

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Here´s the sheila.

And here’s why I wanted to get a bike:

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…cuz this be biking culture.

After work today, I walked around Assistens Kierkegård (Assistens Cemetary), which is just across the street from the flat.

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Bikes, walkers and dogs allowed.
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Grave stone of Hans Christian Andersen
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Yes, the graffiti does say Happy B-Day Poopman.

The Danish phrases aren’t exactly flooding back to me, but I can still mime my way through grocery stores and if necessary, pull out “taler du engelsk?” which solves 99% of my problems here. Did you notice how many times I used ø in this post? 7 times.

Next on the list is to get my residence permit before I become illegal. Also, Danish lessons.

Vi ses 🙂

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Feet up after a long day.
Listenin´to Janelle Monáe.

A day in the life

It’s been a week for stories. Very short stories, in which the plot is essentially the same. I woke up, paid people, ate my homemade lunch,  met one or two classical musicians, made artist welcome baskets, ate dinner in my grandmotherly abode, went back and listened to masters of music.

This week’s variations of the above include:

– getting to know Yo-Yo Ma’s management team and deciding where all of his 50 best friends were going to sit at his concerts.

– Meeting John Williams. Yes, I shook the hand of my film-scoring hero. Of course, I had to say something stupid, like when I introduced myself at the invitation of a coworker, then didn’t wait for him to respond by immediately saying “I know who you are!” Duh. Everyone knows who he is.

– Last night I got the low-down on how to use the lighting system in the Shed. It’s awesome!! Programming at work!  As I was chillin’ and learnin’ backstage, Manny Ax asked to ring the bell signalling that the show would start. I observed, Yo-Yo gave me a wave.  I was promised that I could be the next to ring it at intermission, but a red wine spill on someone’s fancy dress (that occurred in the process of said beverage being offered to me, so I felt wholly responsible) took priority and I missed my chance.

–  Tea at Three:  Manhattans followed by a brutally satisfying jog around the Berkshires.

– The weekly coworker wall-sit challenge: setting personal records each week, this time at 4:57.

– Pouring, shooting rain on Tanglewood on Parade day, which drove out the crowds, indirectly broke some old lady’s arm, and just generally made the remaining crowd malcontent until the annual signature 1812 Overture and fireworks commenced.

– Performances that gave me chills, not in the rain-soaked way: Leonidas Kavakos’ expressivity in Szymanowski’s Violin Concerto No. 2, Yo-Yo Ma’s fluidity playing the Brahms recital (trio performance with Manny Ax, Yo-Yo, and Leonidas), the Boston Symphony Orchestra making the best of an already spectacular Tchaikovsky’s 4th symphony. Going back to last week, I was pleasantly surprised by Jean-Yves Thibaudet playing Shostakovich’s fist piano concerto, a contrast to the style I was exposed to (and have tried to emulate) after watching Pride and Prejudice. I highly suggest that you cook a meal for yourself and listen to all of these vids.

More keeps coming back that I haven’t had time to write about… Mahler 2, Gil Shaham’s Britten violin concerto with the National Youth Orchestra, the NYO fiasco that involved 150 teenagers stranded in the outdoor cafe in a thunderstorm, and the stores of thank you chocolates that keep appearing in the office snack area.

As a sign off to a good week, here’s some fan mail for ol’ Johny Williams that was delivered to the office.

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Tanglewood summer samples

The Tanglewood management staff is truly a force to be reckoned with. My seven full-time coworkers are hardworking and intelligent people, responsible for the day-to-day maneuvers of artists and instruments between music halls, practice rooms, hotels, parking lots, airports, dinners, and performances. As the assistant, my biggest goal is to keep these people from stressing out… which means I’ll be heading to work today on my “day off”, but it’s fine by me. I’ve been learning quite a bit about the business of classical music, and it’s fascinating.

Since the last blog post, there have probably been at least 30 musical performances at Tanglewood. A favorite performance of mine was a scene from Strauss’ Rosenkavelier , conducted by Andris Nelsons with soloists Angela Denoke, Isabel Leonard and Sophie Bevan. An absolutely beautiful, swelling melodic counterpoint between two lovers and a third who must let go of one.  I was able to briefly get acquainted with each of the lovely soloists over payment forms and belated 4th of July fireworks.

(This has none of the singers I heard last weekend, and it is long… but beautiful).

Thomas Hampson also gave a sentimental Wednesday evening recital of all Strauss and Mahler pieces. A solid baritone built for German lieder. I sat next to his wife, who is from Austria. She was quite nice, and I fulfilled my artistic team role talking about German lieder and how difficult it is to sing. Thomas also sang Copland American folk songs on Friday, this time in the Koussevitzky Music Shed instead of Ozawa Hall, but I was much more a fan of the lieder.

Joshua Bell came this weekend to perform Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol. He’s a whiz. On my day off, I drank cider and read sci-fi on the lawn, enjoying blending in with the crowd and listening to a master.

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super incognito

This weeks soloists include Håkan Hardenberger (famous Swedish trumpeter), The Knights jazz trio, Dawn Upshaw (I think she came to Tufts once?), the National Youth Orchestra (all 150 of them, and I’m their main contact person, ah), Paul Lewis (the nicest piano player ever according to my coworkers), Sarah Connolly (opera/jazz singer, an idol of mine),  and Camilla Tilling.

Lake Street Dive

Sometimes a voice channels everything I’ve ever wanted to be. It happens when I listen to Joni Mitchell, Ella Fitzgerald, Nora Jones, Aretha Franklin, and Beyonce. Sometimes it’s in  my own voice, but maybe I’m only paying attention when I’m singing to myself alone in the car or the shower. Rachael Price in Lake Street Dive definitely delivers it. I am just going to leave some videos for viewing and listening pleasure.

… and then you can watch the rest of the YouTube playlist.

I can’t quite pinpoint the feeling yet, I need to pull out the thesaurus and find a word that combines inspired, connected, happy and focused. Maybe, flow? Anyway, they’ve got the quirky jazz and funky soul that resonates beautifully.  Bonus: they met at the New England Conservatory studying jazz. Double bonus: the bassist went to Tufts. Bonus of all Bonuses: they also recently performed on Colbert. I know a lot of other random facts but have reached today’s bonus maximum.

Also, happy week before Valentines Day. Do not expect to hear from me, as I will be in a chocolate shop drowning in milk foam and impaling myself on heart-shaped linzer tortes, with every single couple in Cambridge as my witness.