When old man winter blasts blistering arctic cold for weeks on end without end in sight Canadians either travel south or they turn to indoor activities that warm the soul. For one reason or another I hardly ever seem to make it to warm climes in the winter, but I actually do not mind. Coming back is otherwise so unpleasant and jarring.
I prefer to take advantage of the rich cultural offerings
our city is famous for. Thus I look around for concerts and other
One unexpected surprise came in way of a review request for a film I shunned last year at the Film Fest: a documentary about one of Adolf Hitler’s personal secretaries. OH NO, I had thought last fall when the film was brought to my attention. NOT AGAIN!
Like many Germans in Canada I am pretty tired of having the past rehashed again and again, especially since the viewpoints are usually so biased. Yet the "Vergangenheitsbewältigung" appears to be still an issue, not just with the ‘older’ crowd that was somehow immediately and personally affected, but with younger generations too. Thus, this time around I responded differently when I was asked to look at the film "Im toten Winkel/ Blind Spot: Hitler’s Secretary".
Produced by André Heller, the famous Austrian multi media artist, and Othmar Schmiderer, also of Austrian and Jewish descent, this film already won many honours since it was introduced last year at the Berlin Film Festival. International acclaim follows and labels it a best documentary and I have to concur. It is the best piece on the history of WWII I have seen.
Traudl Jung, Hitler’s secretary is telling it as it was for her. In the interviews conducted by André Heller she explains how she came to this unusual position, how she was captivated by the man and at the end, how she was bitterly disappointed. Her accounts of those times ring chillingly true, but also offer surprises. That she suffered for the rest of her life from unprocessed guilt for not having seen the obvious wrongness in this individual is amply explained, sometimes even justified, but never righted within her. All her life she struggled to understand herself, much as did others whose lives were documented in literature.
"I have finally let go of my story. Now I feel the world is letting go of me." That is what she told André Geller after the interviews. She must have died much more in peace than if she had not told this story to anyone, if she had avoided it, like she did all her life.
There were no obvious pleas for forgiveness in this film, but perhaps a hope for understanding how a young and rather naïve girl came to be in the eye of the storm of one of histories most infamous chapters.
The film also relates that Hitler the man was different from the political leader the public new, how he appears to have lived in an unreal world of fantasy with pathos and ideals that were unrelated to the real world in their proportion, how the people surrounding him catered to this unreality, or one might call it even insanity. And one must ask to what end did they do it? Whose agenda was this terrifying historical happening? His vision of the future, a future without him in the picture, did not become true, or at least not as dramatically as he had prophesized. Driven by fears of the destruction of the Germanic culture he saw himself as a "Bollwerk", the only one, to withstand Bolshevik powers and ambitions. He did not care that Germany lay in ruins because "we will rebuild it better than before".
It must be pointed out that his taste in aesthetics is and was not everyone’s cup of tea, and perhaps for that reason alone one should be grateful that he did not succeed with his plans. A regulated world without freedom of speech and religion as we now almost enjoy in the western world is unfathomable for us.
And yet, the old problems are somehow still here and staring us in the face. Dictatorship and terror’s reign are no strangers to our time.
To understand the past and gain a better understanding of
the present I highly recommend to see this extraordinary documentary,
currently running in Canadian cinemas. Check your local listings.
Music Toronto has another season of great music and musicians lined up. We went to listen to Germany’s pride and joy, a new age pianist, if you wish. Markus Groh is a young multi award-winning player who was suddenly catapulted onto the world scene after winning the Princess Elisabeth of Belgium Competition as the only German ever to do so. In Europe, North America and Japan he has a good following and we were eager to hear him play.
He opened with Haydn’s Piano Sonata No. 59 in E flat, HOB.XV1.49 .
One of Haydn’s finest sonatas, dedicated to Marianne von Genzinger. We have no notes available to explain the sonata to us. It appears entirely up to the interpreter to get a feel for it. The music appears to be light-hearted and free flowing and quite romantic. Groh played it with an unusual seriousness. But perhaps he needed that to warm up for Aleto Ginastera’s Sonata No. 1, Op. 22, a brilliant piece of music in a modern day style, expressing concerns of Argentina. Hot Rhythms and strong emotions are apparent, anger storms like dark clouds across the keyboard, and so does the lonely mood of gauchos. It is a sonata of opposing extremes, vivid unabashed, unapologetic for its force. Markus Groh did really well with it. This was an outlet for his communication, we thought, an opportunity to let go and abandon oneself to the elements of nature.
After the intermission he performed Fryderyk Chopin’s Barcarolle in F sharp, Op.60, and Piano Sonata No 3, in B minor, Op. 58. Both pieces were mastered technically extremely well, and since we live in a world that seeks and worships technical perfection that should be enough. The audience certainly echoed this sentiment and gave him a standing ovation, especially for the purpose to extract an encore, which was rewarded by the pianist with two additional pieces. The accolades were well deserved, yet I personally look for more than technical perfection. I prefer a mistake, an imperfection here and there if the playing communicates and evokes more than just the brilliant machinations of very mobile fingers. I look for the communications of the emotions as in understanding of the original intentions of the composer.
Perhaps I am asking a bit much of a young man who’s life is spend drilling his art so he can play without a score lengthy and difficult pieces. That too is an incredible feat! I was enchanted and definitely not unhappy, but something was missing for me. It did not get all the way under the skin; it was a bit too aloof, detached or perhaps not duplicated in a sense I expect.
Perhaps Markus Groh is just a serious young man, taking his art very seriously, a sign of the times I suspect. Perhaps he will grow into a lightness of being that transmits his intentions better. We not once saw him smile while he was playing even the lightest of passages. His face is totally earnest at all times. He hardly smiles when he takes his bows. And yet we know that he is the one to watch for further development. He has the right stuff, so much is certain!
When Beethoven beckons I follow and the Toronto Symphony’s offering of an entire Beethoven evening was just irresistible. The program started with opening remarks about Beethoven’s relevancy today as definitely not someone who is to be considered a composer of abstracts, as interpretations so often are referred to these days. The motivations and storyline of his only opera, Leonore, prove that. Thus the Overture No. 3 was made abundantly clear to an adoring audience by Jeffrey Kahane, the conductor. And as the familiar score rose into the fine concert hall we all were transported into the loyal and courageous passion of a wife seeking to save her jailed husband.
This was followed by a special treat: Piano Concerto No. 4 in G minor, Op. 58. On the piano was a young and very enthusiastic Chinese soloist.
Lang Lang studied piano from the age of 3 and it showed. The maturity of his playing and the emotional impact he created among listeners was awesome. He too did not need a score but listened intently to the orchestra, often with closed eyes, moving gently with the natural flow as though he was one with all instruments. His bliss translated into a poetic masterpiece, filled with a cornucopia of fantasy and texture, imagination and unusual harmonies. The applause was long and strong as the admiration for this young pianist who was so grateful and complementary to the conductor and orchestra. A standing ovation gave cause for an encore gladly performed.
For a last piece the orchestra offered Symphony No. 7 in A major, Op. 92 after intermission. This almost controversial symphony only had a follow up in grandeur and dynamic 12 years later with the Ninth Symphony.
Beethoven had a conviction: "Music is the mediator between the spiritual and the sensual life. " This metaphor is covered very well in the 7th Symphony with its varied and rich themes and its rhythmically charged passages. Tension building has never been more forceful and the use of the bass is particularly rich. The tremendous harmony in motion between the various string instruments that has to occur becomes a thing of beauty all by itself when watched from above.
There was no doubt that at the end the audience was spiritually and sensually revitalised. I almost expected some handicapped people to throw away their crutches. We certainly drove home "befluegelt".
To keep up to date with the exiting offerings of the Toronto Symphony go to their website at www.tso.ca . There is something for every one of any age and description.
Songbird of different feathers
Ute Lemper released a new CD! Fans are treated to an array of familiar and totally new tunes, some of which she composed herself. But one day, the title song, is such a tune.
Here we have another German artist who is seeking perfection. Every nuance is totally spot on. Especially on a CD recorded in the sterile environment of a sound studio does it become apparent how perfect she wants to be. There is not one tone, not one breath that is not in the right context, performed with the entirely correct amount of vehemence or lack thereof. Each purr and sigh is calculated for maximum effect. Thus we listen to her CD until such time when the diva returns for a live performance, hoping that the acoustics are not as perfect as she is, so we might feel just a little less inferior to this goddess of chanson.
A personal favourite of mine is her rendition of Jacques Brel’s Ne me quitte pas. Here she does not only demonstrate perfection, she acutely oozes passion. I sometimes think that she is at her emotional best when she sings in French. But go ahead; pick your own favourite ad pick up the newly released CD at your favourite music store. It will afford you an escape from the coldness of winter and warm your heart and soul.
Until next time
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