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Concerts and the City – Urban Storytelling with Daniel Libeskind

This article was published at Listen Magazine ( Life with music and culture) Spring 2016 issue

Photo – World Trade Center by night

There is a deeply affecting quality about star architect Daniel Libeskind’s simple, elegant elucidations, which possess an air of truth that never fails to inspire. Perhaps most essentially, they offer a glimpse into the deeply enthusiastic and positive worldview so inherent in all of his endeavors. “You have to bring hope,” Libeskind says. “Without a positive sense of the future, you can’t build architecture, because you’re laying foundations.”

photo: Sketch for WTC masterplan

Following an invitation by Frankfurt’s Alte Oper, American star architect Daniel Libeskind turns impresario with One Day In Life, a 24 hour-long concert extravaganza that challenges audiences to actively explore music’s emotional context.

Frankfurt, Germany’s commerce–meets–culture hub opens into an investigative path which audiences can pursue through 75 consecutive concerts, held at 18 unordinary locations. Interwoven with 18 basic themes of human experience, each of these encounters promises to create a unique perspective, personal and communal at once.

Photo: One Day In Life project sketch, Daniel Libeskind

In my interview with him, Libeskind explains some of the essential factors at play in his vision: “Music is constantly in our lives; it reveals the rhythm of our lives, we are just not always…aware of it. One Day in Life brings a special unity to the dialogue between the audience, the place and the music, and reveals new connections. Music becomes recognizable as the force of life it is – think of its already biblical power, bringing down walls in Jericho – and of course as a source of bringing pleasure into one’s life. People will suddenly realize that they can enjoy being in a hospital or at the bunker while listening to a performance of a work by Schoenberg, or by Nono. The music changes how we experience the place and the place changes how we listen to music.”

With concerts scheduled at two-hour intervals, audience members will be given ample time to wander from place to place.

Each venue will be paired with a theme such as “secret,” ”will,” ”text,” or “encounter,” representing a particular facet of life. These symbolic titles give additional significance to spaces otherwise easily overlooked within one’s daily routine.

Among the locations used for the concerts are spaces most people would not even have known existed, while others have never seen performances of the kind One Day in Life presents. The venue line-up includes a hospital’s operating room, a boxing gym, an underground bunker, but also a large library, a rail yard depot and a stadium. Accordingly, musical offerings will change with the scenery, ranging from soloists and small ensembles to a full symphony orchestra. In a recent press conference in Frankfurt, Libeskind said: “My project is to put music where it’s never been played in that way. The idea is to open up the city, and how people listen to music.”

Libeskind has handpicked the musical program for this event to include classical works by composers such as Claudio Monteverdi, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Schubert, as well as pieces by contemporary composers, electronic music and Indian ragas, each work exploring a different context through the juxtaposition of sound and urban space. The list of performers will include prestigious artists such as pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, violinist Carolin Widmann, the Ensemble Modern, as well as the Frankfurt Radio Symphony. The program will also feature performances by students of the Frankfurt University of Music and Performing Arts.

The massive 51,500-seat Commerzbank-Arena will host Carolin Widmann and DJ Spooky’s performance of works for solo violin and live electronics as their contribution to the “will” theme.

“What is so remarkable about this project is that this is no ordinary parcours through the city,” says Dr. Pauly, director of Frankfurt’s Alte Oper.

Concerts taking place in rustic and unusual venues to vary the typical concert atmosphere have been seen before, but in most iterations of this idea, the audience remains more or less within the boundaries of etiquette concert behavior. Many concert organizers go to great lengths to creatively break down or connect varying formats in an effort to develop the artistic form of the concert and draw contemporary audiences. One Day in Life has most in common with the recent opera production Hopscotch, during which audiences also traveled between performance locations across Los Angeles.

“With his highly diversified general knowledge, (Libeskind knows about the most obscure nooks and crannies of music history) he covers, with a lot of fantasy and understanding, a wide-ranging connection that continually creates a triad between dimensions of human life, locations and music,” says Pauly.

Photo: Daniel Libeskind, Alte Oper Frankfurt / Wonge Bergmann

In a recent BBC radio interview, Libeskind revealed his diverse musical taste in an island-list of works that included selections from Mozart’s Requiem performed by the Academy of Ancient Music conducted by Christopher Hogwood, Beethoven’s String Quartet in B-flat Major, Op. 133 performed by the Emerson String Quartet, ancient Greek music (performed by Atrium Musicae de Madrid), Giacinato Scelsi’s Pfhat performed by the Orchestra of Radio and Television of Kraków, and Ornette Coleman’s Free Jazz, performed by the Ornette Coleman Double Quartet. This diverse menu of repertoire is indicative of Libeskind’s own broad palette.

A multi-dimensional approach is Libeskind’s trademark, and he often relates music and poetry to architecture. “If I would not have been an accordionist in my younger years,” he says, “I don’t think I would have become an architect. If I had been a pianist, I would have continued as a professional musician, perhaps. But my architectural work stems out of music. Other architects, like for example Le Corbusier, have often referred to music in a metaphorical sense. I have a much more systematic approach.”

In 1983, the Architectural Association of London produced a series of Libeskind’s drawings titled Chamber Works, and published them as a collection of loose leaf sheets in a record box. Libeskind calls them “…musical scores of performances of a civic space.” He says: “Even though I have given up performing music, I never gave up music at all. I am always listening to the sound of a space and to its vibrations.”

Photo: 03 H – of a series of architectural sketches from 1983 titled: Chamber works As CNN Style’s first guest editor, Libeskind recently commissioned and curated a series of features exploring architecture and emotion that links music and architecture through the common thread of their emotional impact and communicative capacities. “The audience becomes a vital component of the performance. It is not passively sitting down and removed from the show,” remarks Libeskind. As we converse about the fact that without the audience, there is no concert, Libeskind remarks: “How we listen to music, the physical, visceral experience – the same goes for architecture – can never be experienced in the same way [twice/[by two people], and while perhaps nothing brings people together like music, its experience is linked to each individual human soul.” One Day in Life is possibly only able to occur once.

It is perhaps no great surprise that One Day In Life will happen in Germany, since the architect’s career is closely connected to the country. It was in Germany that Libeskind gained world fame with his prize-winning design for Berlin’s Jewish Museum in 1989; the actual structure was only realized 12 years later, exposing Libeskind’s jarring curves, bold shapes and unexpected voids to light. During this time, the architect moved to Berlin to dedicate himself fully to the museum he felt he was destined to build. He succeeded in translating the building’s powerful semantics into a discourse about German-Jewish history. Also in 1989, Libeskind and his wife, Nina, founded Studio Daniel Libeskind in Berlin. Only in 2003, when Libeskind was named master planner for Ground Zero, did the firm’s headquarters move to its current location in New York City, south of the original World Trade Center site. Today, the firm has multiple international offices, including sites in Zurich and Milan.

During his Berlin years, Libeskind spent a substantial amount of time in Frankfurt, a city he respects for its emblematic talent for combining tradition with a curious modern openness; he has also always admired Alte Oper, the city’s interdisciplinary music institution. Libeskind is no stranger to staging projects. In 2002, he accepted an engagement as a director and set designer for the Deutsche Oper, Berlin’s production of Messiaen’s Saint François d’Assise. Before that, Libeskind had been involved in some smaller-scale stage projects in the mid-nineties, followed by a contract to provide a set design for Wagner’s Tristan and Isolde in Saarbrűcken. “In Berlin,” he says, “I was involved in every aspect of the staging, even costumes and lights, but when they offered me to also conduct the performance, I said that was going a bit too far. Then I would have to stop being an architect,” he recalls. Libeskind’s creative energy knows almost no boundaries. In 2004, however, Libeskind was asked to stage Wagner’s Ring cycle for London’s Royal Opera in Covent Garden, but withdrew in advance of the production because of his involvement with the World Trade Center project.

As a speaker, Libeskind is also in high demand. There is a deeply affecting quality about his simple, elegant elucidations, which possess an air of truth that never fails to inspire. Perhaps most essentially, they offer a glimpse into the deeply enthusiastic and positive worldview so inherent in all of Libeskind endeavors. “You have to bring hope,” he says. “Without a positive sense of the future, you can’t build architecture – because you’re laying foundations,” he has stated in numerous interviews, most recently in Newsweek. This hope he speaks of recurs in all of his major work.

Photo Credit: Photo: Jewish Museum Berlin, The Void, Bitter Bredt

In Berlin’s Jewish Museum, a crack of light (photo) filling the void becomes this symbol, and occurs again in his master plan for Ground Zero as a wedge of light. The height of his tallest tower at Ground Zero, 1776 feet, commemorates the American reverie with its declaration of independence. Hope for the future also always starts with great traditions; both must be captured and expressed in great architecture, and Libeskind certainly creates something beyond mere buildings in his designs, adding his own touch of mystery and personal credo to the mix.

World Trade Center Wedge of light sketch, Daniel Libeskind

“You can know in advance a building’s dimensions; you can know which materials will be used to make it real. But you will not know its soul until it reveals itself to you. It’s the same with music. When people listen to music, they don’t hear horsehair rubbing on a gut string, or little wooden mallets hitting a piece of metal; they hear a violin or a piano. And while you provide the chords and specify the vibrations, the music is elsewhere. Between the technique and the art is the mystery,” as he tells Paul Goldberger in conversations titled “Counterpoints.”

In Frankfurt, Libeskind will attempt to tell a story of urban dimension, fragmented by chapters of unique spatial and sonic discovery; through this project, he has yet again found a way to stimulate emotional responsiveness in a fresh context. There is no doubt that Libeskind’s One Day in Life will invite intense and passionate reactions, but passion and intensity is exactly what this day hopes to inject into the city of Frankfurt.



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