Art Transcends All Borders
What truly is important becomes clear when we read the papers or listen to international news reports. None of them make us feel any better. Instead they alarm us and tend to make us think that the world consists of more troublemakers than not. This is of course not the case, but the news media makes us believe that this is so. If it were otherwise we would not have been informed of it, at least not in that context.
Art and culture reports are strictly reported separately, as is the fashion in journalism, and certainly never make "A-Section" front-page news, or very rarely, probably only when a great artist dies or is embroiled in a major altercation.
Yet when a civilisation has disappeared from the face of the earth, what is it that we still admire even thousands of years later? Is it what the military or the politicians left behind? Is it what Mother Nature did not destroy with storms and floods and earthquakes? What is left that is worth admiring? What is it that we recreate again and again and do not get tired of?
When we speak with artists the answers often become abundantly clear very fast. Artists see themselves as interpreters or creators, but all of them are communicators of a special order. What they have created in the past will still be admired in the future. We are still admiring what they have created thousands of years ago today.
It is not the rubble and the ruins that rulers, politicians and the military bestowed on us that we admire. If Mother Nature left us anything to admire it is what the artists of any epoch have created, that is what we still admire today. And that is what makes us feel elated, brings us out of the confined space of our daily lives. Check out what Elizabeth Kuehn is discovering as a young artist/conductor, travelling in Europe. Listen to her questions and her attempts of finding answers as a young person. If you are of the younger ilk, get involved and write to her at email@example.com .
Ask yourselves: where and when do you feel freer, better than at other times? Surely it is not when you read the news on terrorism but when you are sitting in a concert hall or are in a theatre or visit an artisan’s market place, or walk through a gallery space with paintings, sculptures and/or photographs, or read something well written in way of poetry or prose.
The artists that create this opportunity for us should be richly rewarded for their superior ability to communicate, to translate the world around us into images, sounds and symbols that are nothing short of miraculous.
Russell Braun, the wonderful Canadian baritone put it beautifully in our interview with him, when he said that as a musical interpreter he always tries to find the original moment of beauty. In this attempt of understanding the composer’s intention, the search is particularly rewarding when a sudden realisation occurs.
We call this great art. This is when the singer and the composer connect with us, are able too make us understand too, or feel the same thing. This goes way beyond the technique an artist has to have and be able to draw on to make it through demanding parts, even if he is somewhat under the weather.
Much has been said about Russell Braun, who lived until he was 17 in Germany. His father, Victor Braun, also a Canadian baritone with Mennonite background, performed much in Europe, married a German lady and insisted that the family lived in Europe. When the family went into different directions Russell came to Canada with his mother. She did not want to deprive the offspring of its Canadian heritage.
Thus equipped with the best of both worlds Russell Brown set out to become the fine artist he is now. Unlike his very good friend Michael Schade, theGerman Canadian tenor (he and his wife Noreen are expecting twins as we speak), who is much the " it’s ok to look at me Heldentenor", Russell Brown appears to be happy in the slightly less dominant roles a baritone has available to himself. Traditions hold it with the very dark and the very light voices, he explained. And the baritone was more of an afterthought, developed much later, like other instruments. Popular love interests are equated with high voices, with the tenors and sopranos being identified with youth, especially in North America. Passion is rarely attributed to the mellow baritone, unless there is some detriment attached to it. Well, that then explains the North American pastime of worshipping tenors.
We also asked him about the difference in audiences between Europe and North America. He feels that European audiences have a different relationship to the artists. They go to see something on stage or in the concert hall because a certain artist is performing.
He is right, here we do not have repertoire companies; we do not have so many regular artists and very short seasons. It is harder to develop a relationship with an artist. I think the art form itself is evaluated differently here because of it.
Russell Braun performs a lot in Europe. Vienna Staatsoper, Salzburg and other big houses just won’t do without him. The critics are running out of superlatives about this Canadian baritone with a German connection. And he does speak German fluently, without an accent! We just do not see and hear enough of him in Canada. Living in a comfortable house north of Toronto where his family, 2 kids, is growing up, gives him necessary stability, a place called home. He wants to be a good father, and is, so we are told, and he is oh so honest when asked about anything.
In a published interview about him I read that he said that he was fed up about hearing that Canada has no culture, because the buildings are not even more than a hundred years old. I asked him a bout that. Laughingly he explained that he felt a bit like that when he first came from Europe to live here as a youth. Living in an old German city and then coming to Toronto was a bit of a culture shock. He was greeted by a lot of new buildings and modern contraptions. But it did not take long for him to formulate the idea that a culture is as old as the person exercising the culture. After all, it is all about participation, about doing it, not consuming it just as a spectator. Art and culture are a happening thing, a now thing, not a past tense thing. Art is something universal, knows no borders, but is expressed, as we know, in different countries slightly differently. Like the beer of Germany brewed here is not the same as over there, the expression of art finds a way to adjust itself to a society.
Now, according to Russell Braun there is a lot to be said about tradition the European way; yet the North American way leaves much more room for artistic exploration.
We agree, art has to have a way of being a little irreverent to conservatism occasionally, or else it becomes stale. There will always be room for old standards, but there also has to be room to propel something forward, even if we are a little uncomfortable with it at first.
And certainly there will be different flavours to everything, determined by the location and its particular ethnicity. There are things that speak in favour of the old and the newer system. And then there is a new system that is being forged in our very own times, with new artists, like Russell Braun and Michael Schade, who bring to the stages of the world their own brand of passion for their art and for life, an international life with roots in more than one country. This automatically expands the scope of any art form, lowers the boom of borders even more, and creates more understanding between the people of the world.
Before we parted we showed him one of the entries about his father in the Toronto Symphony’s latest book "Begins with an Oboe". He signed the margin for us:
"Welch ein Glück nicht nur musizieren zu dürfen, aber auch gelegentlich über Musik sprechen zu dürfen."
You see, dear reader, Russell Braun really is the nice guy everyone suspects him to be!
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