A Vocal Ensemble’s Literary Theater Thing

I saw an amazing production this past weekend, at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, of a vocal/theatrical piece by the world-renowned Hilliard Ensemble, a quartet of Brits trained in the music of the Middle Ages. In recent years they’ve become interested in working with contemporary theater directors in Europe, and their new partnership with German director Heiner Goebbels, “I Went to the House But I Did Not Enter,” is truly an inspired work of avant garde theater and song. The Hilliard interpreted four literary texts that are powerful in their own rights: T.S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” French nihilist Maurice Blanchot’s “The Madness of the Day,” Franz Kafka’s “Excursion into the Mountains” (with “a pack of nobodies,” as Kafka says) and Samuel Beckett’s inscrutable yet moving “Worstward Ho,” a meditation on death written at the end of Beckett’s life. The production is preoccupied with aging and death and the meaning of life, so if you’re looking for a light experience (or you’re in your 20s) you probably won’t love this performance. But I found it riveting and darkly funny. You can read the Guardian review online and also read the Hilliard quartet’s discussion of the piece. It was supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Production by Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne; co-produced by Edinburgh International Festival, Schauspielfrankfurt, Teatro Communale di Bolzano, Stadttheater Bozen, Grand Théâtre de La Ville de Luxembourg and Musica, Festival international des musiques d’aujourd’hui de Strasbourg. Co-commissioned by Hopkins Center for the Arts at Dartmouth College and Carolina Performing Arts/The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. UPDATE: Hilliard performed the piece at Dartmouth and is now touring Europe with it, where I predict audiences will be more comfortable with, and more receptive to, the wondrous strangeness of it. The schedule: Luxembourg: April 23-24. Caen, France: May 14-15. Vienna: May 20-22. Amsterdam: June 17-18.
ALSO, while I have your attention, please go look at the April issue of Fine Books and tell us what you think. We have a gorgeous photo essay of New York City by New York native John Rosenthal, as well as a story on the writing life in New York by a young editor with the great e-newspaper The Morning News. (Check out their 2009 Tournament of Books.) Akiko Busch, longtime Metropolis editor and author of many books on design and a recent book on swimming across rivers, has a story about the international design firm Pentagram; the company puts out an annual booklet of its favorite things, which might range from rural mailboxes in Australia, to cigar papers. There’s lots of other good stuff, she said modestly. But seriously, I do think it’s our strongest issue so far.
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