Making it’s world premiere, the Birth of Color at the Kiscelli Museum, is a must see event at this years Budapest Contemporary Arts Festival. A long time fan of choral music, this promised something new, a Frequency Opera; music developed specifically in the frequency ranges associated with different colors. More than this, the choir and music surrounding a centrally seated audience, would deliver a frequency field that we would, as promised by creator Honora Foah, experience in our bodies.
Unfortunately, a misdirect from Google Maps, an unanticipated 15 minute scamper, including a slog up the hill, left me late and breathless. I ducked shame faced through the choir waiting outside hall, and hit a jog through the now deserted underground chambers of the museum, following a trail of candles and rose petals to the performance space. A nice touch if I’d only had time to admire it.
I relate this embarrassing tale of tardiness, because my mood on finally taking my seat was best described as ‘hard to please’. And there was a twinge of disappointment seeing the choir in a traditional position against the wall. Would I still experience frequencies in my body? I remained hopeful, enjoying the beauty of the performance space, the height and majesty of the room, the rough brick draped with sheer white fabric.
The performance commenced with four narrators, black hooded in the darkened room, faces lit by their tablets, reading alternately in English and Hungarian, male and female. The words of David Brendan Hopes told the creation story; the love story and marriage of Darkness and Light, and their coming together that created the colors of the universe.
In the dream before all dreams
In the syllable before all tongues
In the rest before labor
In the breath before the bellows of the breath
The One lay sleeping…
The commitment to dual language was admirable, in fact I preferred the melody of the Hungarian voices, but by splitting the narrative and doubling the time, my appreciation for the text soon faded. As we approached fifteen minutes, I was gnawing at my arm and the parents of three behind me were whispered tense reprimands as one by one their kiddies slid out of their seats onto the floor. I wanted to join them; some people love this sort of thing, but intoned with maximum seriousness… perhaps I wasn’t in the right frame of mind.
But all was forgiven as the choir began to sing. The music by Lucio Ivaldi, was magical. The Cantate Adult Choir from the Zoltán Kodály Hungarian Choir School, under conductor Ferenc Sapszon, demonstrated delicacy, subtlety of phrasing and total control of the music in a demonstration of the beauty of the voice. There was impressive technical vocal work from the soloists, that served as counterpoint to the more melodic pieces. The penultimate number rose to a spectacular crescendo and the performance ended with a low hum. Wonderful. The choir was accompanied by a spectacular display of laser, light and projection, precise percussive beats and the tones of the singing bowls, to deliver a fully immersive experience.
There were a few moments that failed to resonate for me, some panting that I presume was Dark and Light consummating, and it was worryingly late in the performance before I realised each of the songs related to the narrated verses; the clue, the changing colors washing across the walls. Interweaving text and music may have increased my appreciation of both.
Sadly, my body failed to notice the frequencies, assuming I would recognize the sensation. But some people seemed genuinely affected by the experience and bottom line, this was a wonderful production, both the music and performance, and an accomplishment for all concerned.
(Photo credit – Andrew Daneman)