TELL ME THE TRUTH ABOUT LOVE – Delft Chamber Music Festival at Lijm & Cultuur

The sprawling former industrial site which is now known as Lijm & Cultuur makes an ideal venue for any dramatic or musical event. Its canal-side complex of buildings and open spaces oozes atmosphere and potential and it was here that tonight’s concert, Tell Me the Truth About Love took place. The square, brick-floored room of the old boiler-house provides a great auditorium and the acoustics are excellent. Various huge pipes, valves and other remnants from the buildings previous use are still much in evidence, adding to the excitement.

Drama is what the concert was all about, or rather dramatic effect. The whole thing was very much orientated towards movement and text, both spoken and sung. The seating was arranged surrounding a six meter long catwalk. There were raised performance areas in two diagonally opposite corners of the room.

The opening moments set the tone for the Festival’s continuing theme – Love. After a short piano by introduction by Aleksander Madžar to Karol Szymanowski’s haunting Roxana’s Lied from Krol Roger Op.46 Liza Ferschtman was revealed with her violin in a lone spotlight, standing amid the audience. Barefooted she slowly walked onto the narrow stage soon to be joined by a male dancer who circled and watched her enigmatically before disappearing into the darkness.

This was followed by a couple of Benjamin Britten songs – the catchy Tell Me the Truth About Love sung by Rosanne van Sandwijk followed by the rather schmaltzy Last Rose of Summer nicely sung by tenor Peter Gijsbertsen.

There were further pieces by Franck, Wagner, Fauré, Poulenc, Schubert et all as well as several texts performed by four or five young actors who gave us extracts  from Romeo & Juliet, Tristan and Isolde, the letters of Abelard & Eloise and Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain, all demonstrating various aspects of love. All the performances were excellent and could not be faulted.

Presenting performance in the round is a tricky business. The director must be constantly aware of sight-lines and movement in order to guarantee none of the audience misses anything. The skill, and indeed the prerequisite, is ensuring the spectators can see most of the action, most of the time. The theory is that it engages the audience more with the performers rather than separating them by a proscenium arch or a high stage set up at one end of the room. When it works it can be brilliant and enthralling but there are many pitfalls, most of which the director of this concert sadly failed to avoid.

Only about a quarter of the action took place on the central stage in full view of the surrounding audience. The bulk of it took place on one or other of the distant raised corner platforms. Consequently, at any one time, nearly half the audience could not see the performers unless they strained their necks and torsos to do so. I imagine the average age of the spectators was about sixty years old and I doubt if there were many contortionists among them. Most of them didn’t even make the effort to see what was going on behind their backs, forlornly resigning themselves to staring at their feet or at the lucky people opposite who did have a decent view. But even they were thwarted at one point when most of the musicians lined up on the catwalk, en route to their corner eyrie, to watch the Schubert piece on the other and by doing so blocked the view of the people behind them.

This trying-to-be-clever approach demonstrated a thoughtless indulgence on the part of the director and total lack of awareness or respect for a paying audience. For me, what could, and should, have been a spectacular event was completely spoiled. I thought the whole production was badly conceived and pretentious. That said, the choice of music and text was, as usual, immaculate and, as I said before, all the performers were excellent and it must have been frustrating for them, at times, playing to the back of people’s heads. Pity, I was really looking forward to this.   Michael Hasted   30th July 2018

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