1:1 Concerts (Adelaide Festival), *****Limelight Magazine)

1:1 Concerts (Adelaide Festival)

An absorbing and essential lesson in the art of listening.

Adelaide Oval Reviewed on March 5, 2021

by Chris Reid on March 8, 2021

On occasions when visiting musician friends, they have played some music for me. On one memorable occasion long ago, a cellist friend, an outstanding performer, played a Bach cello sonata for me as a gift. I was deeply touched. Such precious moments create a bond and a mutual understanding through music. They are especially precious for me as I am not a musician, though they can also be disconcerting when I am asked to provide feedback. Such intimate musical engagement is impossible in the concert hall, where audience members are not only anonymous but passive observers — until the end when they (politely or enthusiastically) applaud.

1:1 Concerts hero image. Photograph © Greg Kerr

This year’s Adelaide Festival has programmed a total of 120 concerts where a solo performer plays a 10-minute work for a single audience member. In this scenario it is perhaps assumed that the performer and listener are unknown to each other and the performance becomes a way for them to get to know each other through non-verbal communication — the musical performance together with eye contact and body language.

The choice of music is intended to be spontaneous, to arise from the moment. The settings are outside the concert hall, so that both performer and listener additionally gain an understanding of the location’s acoustic properties and cultural weight. It is an adventure for the performer as much as it is for the listener, and performers will presumably have had a variety of thoughts in advance of each event. For the listener, there is nowhere to hide — you can’t daydream but must be fully mindful, as you should with any companion. Evidently the inspiration for this series of brief, intimate concerts was legendary performance artist Marina Abramović’s A Different Way of Hearing. Abramović is noted for conducting performances in art galleries where she and another person sit opposite each other and look at each other silently, and she has adapted this principle to musical events. Now, German flautist Stephanie Winker, scenographer Franziska Ritter and cultural mediator Christian Siegmund have applied Abramović’s concept in developing their 1:1 CONCERTS, and this Adelaide Festival realisation of 1:1 CONCERTShas been curated by flautist Sally Walker. The concerts take place in a variety of surprise locations — an art school, art galleries, an artists’ studio complex, a hotel. Mine was Adelaide Oval, the main football and cricket stadium in South Australia, set in Adelaide’s unique parklands, and an iconic venue for reasons other than music. Before my event, I was instructed to attend the Oval, but no further detail was given. On arrival, a guide showed me to the old manually operated scoreboard, built in 1911, a four-storey structure of timber and corrugated iron which was retained during the recent redesign of the Oval’s buildings, its retention maintaining a link to Adelaide’s sporting history. The performer’s instructions, which are crucial to understanding the work, were much more detailed and are worth quoting: “The communication with your listener is exclusively non-verbal. Your listener comes into the room and sits down on the opposite chair and enters your active gaze. Please only look into the listener’s eyes, not their clothes, shoes etc. Try to focus entirely on the listener’s mind…The piece(s) of music you choose are an unconditional gift for the listener. Try to encounter the other person’s gaze and personality with the utmost kindness. Thus it will be easier for them to let go and embrace the act of making eye contact.”

The mere act of making eye contact can be challenging for many people, particularly in cultures where it can be confronting, and I prepare myself for it. And I must concentrate as fully as the performer. I must actively absorb each note and each motif so that there emerges a shared awareness. More than ever, music is understood to be a language in the truest sense of the word, a vehicle for communion. Once you learn to listen to music in this way, you learn to listen more clearly to everything. Your powers of observation and empathic awareness are heightened.

How delighted I was to discover that my performer would also be a cellist, well-known Adelaide performer David Moran, whom I have previously met only momentarily. My performer and I sat in the second level, he with his back to a louvred window, the bright light through which created a halo effect. On the floor was an assortment of the numerals used to display the score, laid out in an oval ring around us.

As instructed, we made eye contact for a minute before he commenced his playing, an improvisation based on the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No 2 in D Minor (BWV 1008). Moran’s performance was delightful, exploring the sonic character of the instrument in the space, and shifting in and out of tonality, with quiet, feathery passages evoking the breeze through the building. I watched as he concentrated on his playing, as he became one with the instrument and the sound it produced, an extension of his mind’s response to the moment and an expression of his musical persona. I thought again about what it might be like to play a cello. Behind the enchanting sound could be heard the South Australian cricket team practising below.

Every such event is entirely unique and ephemeral, as novel for the performer as it is for the listener. It is essential that one approaches such an event with no preconceptions or expectations. After leaving the venue, I was invited to write a brief comment on the performance, to be handed to Moran. I wonder what he thought of his audience. I hope the experience was as magical for him as it was for me.

The 1:1 concerts will be played at various locations until 12 March