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2016 Grateful 12

Serendipity, the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way, is alive and well and a resident feature of my life. I can’t begin to count the number of casual comments that have led to wondrous things, the number of chance encounters that have morphed into lifelong friendships, the number of random acts of kindness that have made my world a better place.

About a year ago, a mate of mine tried, rather unsuccessfully, to explain a project he was working on: a frequency opera called The Birth of Color. I was never the quickest study in the class but I’m quick enough. But try as I might, I couldn’t get a handle on it at all. He suggested I meet the woman behind it, and the man behind that woman. He invited me for coffee and I met Honora and Dahlan Foah.

Over the course of the next twelve months or so, they kept me posted on developments. At varying stages, both did their level best to explain to me what it was all about. And while I was slowly beginning to get my head around it, it still defied belief. I simply couldn’t see it happening. Now, I’m not short of imagination. In fact, I’m prone to flights of fancy. And I can exaggerate with the best of them. But no matter how much detail they gave, I just didn’t get it.

Last Friday night, 8pm, in the Kiscelli Museum in Budapest, I had the privilege (and I don’t use that word lightly) to see the world premier of Honora Foah’s creation. I had no idea what to expect – I’d heard tell of crystal bowls coming in from Austria. Of a 3-meter pool of water. Of a 60-strong chorus. Of narrators. Of swathes of translucent material. Of lights. Of sound. Of all sorts of stuff that go into such productions. But no matter how I figured it, I still couldn’t do the math.

I invited some friends along, friends who have a greater appreciation for music that I could ever pretend to have. But I fessed up that I had no clue what it was about and couldn’t guarantee anything other than it would be an experience.  I’d met Honora Foah. I knew I was safe in saying that it would definitely be an experience.

The Kiscelli Museum dates back to the mid-1700s. The Baroque building was once a Trinitarian Monastery and vestiges of holiness still reside it its walls. Not necessarily a religious holiness but that sanctity that attaches itself to dedication. Back in 1935, then owner, antique dealer Miska Schmidt willed it to the city of Budapest. And today it is a museum. I was there at a ball some years ago and was mesmerized. It hadn’t lost its magic.

When the doors opened, we were each give a single symbolic rose petal and led downstairs into the crypt along a candlelit path offset by myriad frescoes. It was a tad other worldly, the perfect entrée to what would be even more surreal still.

As we sat in a circle, four narrators took their stations around a silver pool in a darkened stone-walled chamber. Dressed completely in black with their hoods drawn, their faces and voices seemed to separate from their bodies and float free. Two spoke in Hungarian, two in English as they told the story of the birth of colour. The uplight from their tablets cast a spectre-like glow that I would only later appreciate. Nothing in this production was a matter of chance. Everything, from the white in the sheets of music to the stone grey of the walls, everything had its role, its purpose, its place.

Initially I tried hard to hear all the words, to understand what was being said. I like words. I like how they can be strung together to fashion new forms. And I can listen. But I stopped trying to follow the story and instead let myself float on the tide of words and phrases that had a music of their own. I heard of secrets whispered between night and morning, of breathing in a perfume of magenta, of dark being wisdom and light being illumination. And I listened on a whole new level. The story wasn’t unfolding in front of me, it was unfolding within me.

©Andrew Daneman

©Andrew Daneman

When the Budapest Cantate Choir filed on stage with the much-lauded Dr Sapszon Ferenc wielding the baton, the silence in the room was deafening. They put music to all we had just heard. At times they weren’t singing words, but sounds. Composer Lucio Ivaldi’s music is exquisite.

Someone started to play the crystal bowls. And you could feel the room pulsating with energy. The swathes of material suspended from the ceiling were for all the world how I could now imagine frequencies to look. The lights, the sounds, the voices, the story – everything married, including darkness and light.

©Andrew Daneman

©Andrew Daneman

The entire performance lasted  just 1 hour and 10 minutes (and I suspect the 10 minutes had to do with the bilingual narration) but in that 70 minutes, time was transcended. When it was over, no one moved. When the choir filed out, no one moved. Even the air was in deep thought.

Gradually, people came to. And reality intruded.

I was interviewed afterwards and ask for a reaction. And I cried. On camera. I have no clue where the emotion came from. It was as if something, deep, deep down in my soul had been awakened and didn’t quite know what to do with itself. A birth, a rebirth. I still don’t know.  Thirty-six hours later, I’ve stopped trying to name it. To classify it. To label it. If I learned anything on Friday night it’s that there is no need to be all-knowing, there is no need to understand everything. Sometimes, we simply need to attune our emotions and remember to feel.

So, serendipity, once again you have my thanks. The wait was worth it.  I am truly grateful to have borne witness to the Birth of Color: The Marriage of Darkness and Light.

The wait is nearly over

Art confuses me. I know what I like and what I don’t like, but when it comes to what period came when and which artist belonged to what movement, my ignorance is embarrassing. I couldn’t tell a Manet from a Monet were my life to depend on it.

In everyday speech, I use contemporary as a synonym for modern and only recently discovered that when it comes to Art (with a capital A), the two terms are a lifetime apart. Modern Art spans the period from the 1860s to the 1970s and would appear to be an umbrella term for more than forty different movements ranging from Impressionism to Art Nouveau to Cubism to Bauhaus to Surrealism – the mind boggles.

Post-modernism, as it implies, comes after Modernism. Being a sixties child living among contemporaries, I then naturally thought that post-modernism was synonymous with contemporary. But strictly speaking, it isn’t.  ‘It refers to a fixed period (say 50 years in length) beginning about 1970’. But wouldn’t that make it contemporary, I wondered? Yes and no. ‘Contemporary art refers to the moving 50-year period immediately before the present.’ So today, in 2016, they’re one and the same. But in a few years’ time, say in 2050 ‘post-modern art (1970–2020) will have been superceded by another era, while contemporary art will now cover the period 2000–2050. So the two will have diverged.’ It’s amazing where Google can take you.

But why am I obsessing?

The 25th Café Budapest Contemporary Arts Festival (formerly the Autumn Arts Festival) opens its curtains next month and I was curious what they meant by Contemporary Art. Now I know. The programme is chock full of theatre, concerts (classical and popular), dance performances, visual art exhibitions, and even a circus. Hungarian stars feature, of course, but alongside them are world class international performers, with a particular focus this year on Polish art and artists. Events are lined up for venues all over town from A38 and Akvárium to Müpa and Millenáris.

Maestro Ferenc Sapszon with the Cantate Chorus. Photo by Dahlan Foah

Maestro Ferenc Sapszon with the Cantate Chorus. Photo by Dahlan Foah

For me, the pick of the programme is the World Premiere of The Birth of Color, A Marriage of Darkness and Light™, a Frequency Opera™ based on ancient and new scientific ideas and images about the Creation of the universe. The Budapest Cantate Choir will be singing with Dr Sapszon Ferenc conducting. The hour-long performance features a male and female chorus, singing bowls and percussion, with light and projection.

The Creation is told as a love story, where the original oneness engenders longing and appreciation as it begins to split into all of the parts of the manifest world. The work is a reminder of the sheer beauty and wonder of creation and how the more we understand, the more mysterious and beautiful it becomes.

I first wrote about The Birth of Color nearly a year ago, after a chance meeting with Honora Foah, the creative mind behind the project (Budapest Times, 16 October 2015). She explained the concept of a frequency opera to me and I wrote: As far back as 10 000 years ago, the Vedas spoke of the world being made of vibration, so this isn’t new. But add the scientific discoveries of quantum physics to this ancient wisdom, and you have the makings of a frequency opera. Foah spoke then of her hopes to premiere the opera in Budapest at the Kiscelli and she’s made it happen.

The wires are buzzing. The curious are waiting. The planets are aligning for the world’s first Frequency Opera. So much so that art and music critics are coming to Budapest solely for the premiere. The composer Lucio Ivaldi will also be here as will Pulitzer-nominated poet David Brendan Hopes, lyricist for The Birth of Color.

Be it post-modernist or contemporary, this artistic performance promises something different. Come and bear witness.

First published in the Budapest Times 23 September 2016

 

After many delays, tickets for the Premiere of this amazing multi-media Frequency Opera are now available. Performances at the Kiscelli Museum, Budapest on 79 October: Unmissable! http://www.cafebudapestfest.hu/event?id=82509 and http://www.cafebudapestfest.hu/program?id=82509

The birth of colour

My brain functions at a very simple level. Easily bamboozled by technical details, I have no great need to know how something works as long as it works. I like big picture stuff, simply explained. I rate neither science nor performance art: it’s all too confusing and takes too much time and energy to understand.

When I first heard of something called a ‘frequency opera’, I switched off.  It was beyond the limits of my willingness to understand. The idea of immersing the audience in an hour-long a cappella portrayal of the creation of the universe based on ancient and new scientific ideas and images ‒ well, I just couldn’t see myself queuing up to get tickets for that. And then I met Honora Foah.

A pioneer of multi-disciplinary art, Foah is in Budapest to record The Birth of Color, a Marriage of Darkness and Light, the first work in a performance cycle of seven, entitled Recombinant DNA. It involves a 60-strong male and female chorus (each one individually recorded) and crystal singing bowls, accompanied by light and projection. It is, she says, both about ‒ and told through ‒ frequency and vibration, in sound and light. I was struggling to understand, but still I wanted to know more.

Honora and Ferenc (c) Harlan Cockburn

Honora and Ferenc (c) Harlan Cockburn

The series ‒ created, written, and directed by Foah ‒ is based on love stories between two polarities, starting with the marriage of darkness and light and ending with the relationship between the two trees in the Garden of Eden: the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. In between, there’s Mr and Mrs Hades, a mythical marriage that Foah exploits to tell the story of chlorophyll. Other lovers include Shiva and Sati and Elizabeth and Viktor Frankenstein. But let’s take this first piece, the story of ‘the sudden emergence of the homogenous universe splitting into time and space, light and dark’. Each misses the other and when they get back together, ‘the intensity of their crashing together creates the harmonics, the colors, the strata of creation’.  I was impressed. But still confused.

What might I, as an audience member, expect, I asked?  Think of expanding circles with the crystal bowls taking centre stage, she said. These are surrounded by the audience, who in turn are surrounded by the chorus. Lights project everywhere as the audience is immersed in a vibratory field. As far back as 10 000 years ago, the Vedas spoke of the world being made of vibration, so this isn’t new. But add the scientific discoveries of quantum physics to this ancient wisdom, and you have the makings of a frequency opera.

(c) Harlan Cockburn

(c) Harlan Cockburn

It all sounds a little fantastical. But the more Foah spoke about it, the more convinced I became that this could well be a twenty-first-century must-see. Pulitzer-prize-nominated poet and author David Brendan Hopes wrote the lyrics. Italian choral conductor Lucio Ivaldi and Atlanta-based Tristan Foison wrote the music. Added to this creative mix is the legendary Hungarian conductor Ferenc Sapszon Jr, founder of the Zoltán Kodály Hungarian Choir School, a genius of whom the world needs to hear even more.

Talks are underway with a prominent US scientific institute about an interactive website. And, subject to funding, Foah hopes to premier in Budapest’s Kiscelli museum next year.

“You never know what will become visible as you stare into the dark. The bogeyman shapes, the illusions, give way to the truth of your life that is waiting down there in the dark for you. Then it asks a question. Then you have to answer. Who knows what lurks in the hearts of men and women? The shadow knows. The shadow of darkness is the light. And they love each other.”

Yes, Honora Foah, you’ve sold me. I’ll be first in line for a ticket.

First published in the Budapest Times 16 October 2015