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Review: words and music in Vienna 10/10

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No-one is allowed to applaud.

After each item the audience stirs, a captive beast, constrained – and stays silent.

Only after 15 performances – seven readings by Julian Barnes, and eight piano pieces by Angela Hewitt, lasting two hours – is the audience unleashed.  Rapture ensues.

The Konzerthaus is one of Vienna’s great cultural institutions.  With four separate concert halls, it offers an eclectic range of arts designed to be accessible to a broad public.  In recent years the programme has included the “Originalton” cycle – literary readings with music.  Most authors read in German but in 2015 British author Ian McEwan read; and in 2017 it was the turn of Julian Barnes – both accompanied by Canadian pianist Angela Hewitt.

Julian Barnes and Angela Hewitt at the Konzerthaus – Photo Robert Pimm

I’ve long been a fan of Julian Barnes, having read both his first book, Metroland, and his second, Before She Met Me, when they came out (the New York Times said of the latter: “It’s rare to come across a novel that’s so funny and odd, and at the same time, so resonant and disturbing” – I agree).  I’ve also enjoyed A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters; The Porcupine; England, England; and his award-winning The Sense of an Ending.  As the New York times point out, he has a wonderful way of pairing intriguing themes within a readable – often, compulsive – story.

At the Konzerthaus he read from his books (including The Noise of Time, about Dmitri Shostakovich) and from works by Turgenev, Alastair Reed and others.  Angela Hewitt’s pieces included Bach, Shostakovich, Mozart and Sibelius, all matched intriguingly with the literary texts.

What thrilled me about this event was how the subtle recipe of  readings and music made both delicious and digestible.  I now want to learn more about Turgenev – and Sibelius, who allegedly said: “Remember: a statue has never been set up in honour of a critic.”

The noise of time, indeed.  Wonderful stuff.


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