The 20s, and all that dissonance

By Leeor Adar

Ah, the 1920s. Some think Gatsby, but I’m inclined to think Weill.

A period that inspired many current-day flapper parties, but fundamentally tested an array of structures, very notably in music. It’s almost too good: Meow Meow and the MSO coming together again (remember Pandemonium?) to jostle a comfortable audience’s senses with tales of tragedy and temptation.

Meow Meow is joined onstage by the incredible Aura Go on piano and Christopher Moore conducting and on violin. They take us on a long (and I do mean, long) journey through the 1920s with Hindemith, Walton and Stravinsky. Amidst these pillars of discord, we are also treated to Picabia’s La Nourrice Américaine (The American Nurse), Schwitters’ Cigarren, and Weill, of course.

Meow Meow keeps things light to begin with, adding her own unique schtick that elicits chuckles from the audience. Once the back is suitably exposed, and we’re all smiling, she does a fine job of introducing the audience to the 1920s and what it meant politically, socially, and importantly, musically.  Parallels are made to our current end of days, and we nod understandingly.

The first pillar of discord of the evening is Paul Hindemith’s Kammermusik No. 2 for Piano and 12 solo instruments. Composed in 1924, the piece is structured across four movements, with the piano at the centre. Go is absolutely in element here, showcasing her versatility as a performer and every bit the virtuoso. Hindemith’s piece essentially takes chamber music and thrusts it into a storm, all the notes carrying off the ground and ascending to a place beyond the period and spouting it back out with vigour and contempt. It’s an uneasy ride, but it’s perfectly well suited to the commencement of the pieces this evening.

It’s time for more chuckles with Cigarren by Kurt Schwitters, an obscure piece of disassembled language that only a Dada could love. It curls and purrs out of Meow Meow’s mouth like it was written for her. Meow Meow also gives us a delicious rendition of Brecht/Weill’s classic, Pirate Jenny. The shrill cruelty of Pirate Jenny’s words sounds as it should in German, and it’s quite titillating despite only three audience members speaking a lick of the language (Meow Meow checked). It’s okay, we, the bourgeoise audience all universally understand the welling hatred of those who look down upon us.

It’s all cruelty, with another Brecht/Weill ballad, in The Ballad of the Drowned Girl, until we fall headlong into William Walton’s poetic universe in selections of Façade. The morbid state of the evening ascends briefly in Igor Stravinsky’s The Soldier’s Tale. The tale is compellingly narrated by Meow Meow, and the devil in disguise is elegantly portrayed by Moore, who’s silhouette as he conducts and plays along, is a ghoulish projection upon the Melbourne Recital Centre’s curtains. And just as I too am about to abandon all hope, the lighting saturates a deep red, the drums crescendo, and the soldier makes his choice in the face of the beckoning devil.

Ah yes, the 1920s as we like to remember, where temptation wins.