Be With Me Now is all about dialoguing and exchanging – interview with Sébastien Van Kuijk



We usually expect instrumentalists to be great musical interpreters, but what happens when they are also expected to be great actors? In Be With Me Now the five singers are joined on stage by violinist Fanglei Liu, flutist Ana Filipa Lima, pianist MaNOj Kamps and the cellist Sébastien Van Kuijk  -who we had the chance to interview between two dates of the European tour-, so let’s find out!

How did you find yourself taking part in Be With Me Now?

I didn’t join the team in the very beginning of the process. The production started in January 2015 by exploring and developing the main concept of the show with author and stage director Julien Fišera, musical director MaNOj Kamps, singers and instrumentalists. As I took part in the chamber music academy of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence a couple of years ago, Emilie Delorme, general manager of enoa, asked me if I was interested in the project and I said yes! I was really excited to experience something new. Then I met Julien Fišera in Paris in order to discover more precisely what it was all about. Instantaneously, we connected as we both deeply wanted something new for our art.

How is this experience different from other projects you have done? What did you learn from it as an instrumentalist?

Be With Me Now is all about dialoguing and exchanging. The strength of this project is to gather artists from different disciplines (singers, instrumentalists, stage director, literary author, dramaturge, light artists, composers) and from different origins (French, Dutch, German, Polish, Portuguese, English, Chinese, Icelandic, Greek) on the same stage, trying all together to share in order to create. I think this idea is really powerful! Somehow, this story that starts with a clash (editor’s note: Tamino receives a break-up phone text from his girlfriend at the beginning of the performance) tells us metaphorically that something needs to be broken in order to start dreaming, to live our ideal way of expressing our hopes. The whole creation process leads us to ask these fundamental questions: can we understand each other? Can we dream together?

How did the creative process occur?

Be With Me Now is a collective creation. As we work differently, the creative process was really demanding. However it was fascinating to discover all these different ways of developing a project. Julien Fišera came with a story that he kept making evolve with the dramaturge Isabelle Kranabetter but also with the artists involved in the project as he wanted a vivid creative process: we would listen to everyone’s ideas, try things in order for each of us to find our character and position in the story. On the other side, singers need a motionless storytelling in order to explore in a “vertical” way their body movements and musical ideas. As an instrumentalist, I discovered how little knowledge I had regarding body language. However, despite of our fundamental differences, I really think everyone learned something in the process of creating this story that we all like.

What do you expect from the European tour?

Confronting our show to different audiences is really interesting. We’ve already seen diverse reactions between cities, sometimes the difference is huge! Be With Me Now is a non-conventional show and some people are not prepared for that. Indeed the story starts by destroying one of the most beautiful Mozart’s operas – the Magic Flute– in order to explore a colorful patchwork of European music! I really love this idea to meet different audiences in order to share with them something which -who knows- might be the beginning of a new art form.

4 November 2015

photo credit : Lioba Schöneck

An open ending that raises questions – Interview with Vasco Mendonça


Vasco Mendonça_portrait

A few days before the performance in the hometown of Portuguese composer Vasco Mendonça, we bring you some extracts of the interview he gave last April 2015 about the creation of his piece What the Night brings.

How has your career in music developed?

I got a degree in composition in Lisbon before going to Amsterdam to prepare a master’s with Klaas de Vries and then went to London to be taught by the composer, George Benjamin, and take my doctorate.

Be With Me Now has been created to mark the fifth anniversary of the European Network of Opera Academies (enoa). What, in your opinion, does a network like this bring to music?

enoa plays a crucial role in today’s lyrical world. It encourages mobility among young artists at the beginning of their careers, supports young talents and helps to organise numerous artistic meetings. Personally, it is to enoa that I owe my connection with the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence and The House Taken Over can be considered, to a certain extent, the product of that encounter.

How did you find yourself taking part in Be With Me Now?

Be With Me Now was the subject of a call for proposals that was won by the director, Julien Fišera, who I had met at the Festival d’Aix in 2010 and with whom I stayed in contact afterwards. As soon as he knew that he was responsible for the project, Julien Fišera immediately commissioned me since, as well as the extracts from the established repertoire, he wanted to include works by living composers. I was absolutely thrilled by this request.

How would you describe the piece that you have composed for Be With Me Now?

It is the piece that brings the show to an end, which represents something of a challenge, as it is not particularly easy to make a contemporary work heard after the Magic Flute. My piece uses the five singers, and yet I did not want to compose a final chorus – a moment traditionally reserved in opera for the denouement of the plot. In contrast, I have favoured an open ending that raises questions, even though Be With Me Now, while conveying the idea of a Europe of culture, does not carry properly speaking a political message. To do that, I chose a poem written in 1945 by the English poet, Philip Larkin (1922-1985), This Was Your Place of Birth. While it is possible to establish a link between this text and the global intrigue at this stage of the performance, it remains sufficiently vague to be able to raise more general questions about our joint future as Europeans. Lastly, in terms of aesthetics, the writing is similar to that of a madrigal.

What is the relationship between your piece and the other works in the programme?

This piece is obviously going to be included in Be With Me Now, but it is also destined in the future to be performed on its own. So I have not worried too much about the other composers who are here. Indeed, I do not think one should seek coherence at any price between the different parts of Be With Me Now, which is in essence a combination of several repertoires that emphasize differences in style and nationality.

Extracts from the interview by Anne Le Nabour made on April 30 2015 for the evening programme of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. 

Vocal music above all – INTERVIEW WITH DAAN JANSSENS

Générale de Be With Me Now, un spectacle musical pour cinq chanteurs et quatre instrumentistes, une nouvelle production du Festival d’Aix-en-Provence et de l’Académie du Festival, le 6 juillet 2015 à l’Auditorium du concervatoire Darius Milhaud, Aix-en-Provence. Maartje Rammeloo, soprano ; Rannveig Karadottir, pamina, Kinga Borowska, mezzo-soprano, Gwilym Bowen et Ioannis Kalyvas, tamino ; Tomasz Kumiega, baryton ; Julien Fisera, mise en scène ; Isabelle Kranabetter et Julien Fisera, conception et dramaturgie ; NaNOj Kamps, direction musicale.

Daan Janssens directing Tristia from the screen. Photo credit: Vincent Beaume 

Interview with Daan Janssens, composer of Tristia, one of the two pieces commissioned for Be With Me Now.

How did you find yourself taking part in Be With Me Now?

I don’t really know! I had previously taken part in several projects with enoa, notably workshops organised in Aix-en-Provence with Peter Eötvös in 2011, but also in Lisbon with the Gulbenkian orchestra, for which I wrote a piece that was conducted by the composer Luca Francesconi. I am also a composer in residence at LOD muziektheater, a production company based in Ghent that specialises in opera and musical theatre. These activities probably must have contributed to my name being put forward for this project. I also knew from an earlier workshop in Ghent, Julien Fišera and Isabelle Kranabetter, who are respectively the director and playwright of Be With Me Now.

How do you see this project?

Although it is based on Mozart’s Magic Flute and brings together a traditional artistic team for an opera – singers, instrumentalists, director, playwright, conductor – as well as sweeping over about four hundred years of music, I see Be With Me Now as something that is eminently contemporary. The extracts selected, in a variety of styles, once brought together form a new entity, particularly since here they are transposed for four instruments: violin, cello, flute and piano. It was therefore justified to associate with the piece the creations of living composers, of whom I am one, together with Vasco Mendonça and Wolfgang Mitterer.

How does your piece, Tristia, fit into the general scheme of the piece?

Inspired by the Magic Flute, Be With Me Now tells the story of Tamino searching for his Pamina from whom he has been separated. Although far apart, these two characters want to find each other at any price. My piece comes after the Airs de Cour of the French baroque composer, Michel Lambert, the oldest work in the programme, and before the tune “I go to him” taken from Stravinsky’s Rake’s Progress. In the story of the opera, that corresponds to the moment when Pamina decides to set out to search for Tamino. My piece closes the first part of the show, before the start of a series of shorter pieces, notably by Wagner. Right from the start, Julien Fišera and Isabelle Kranabetter asked me to put to music an extract from Ovid’s Tristia. The Roman poet is addressing the question of exile, currently a major topic, through letters sent to his wife who has stayed behind in his homeland that he will never see again. This subject immediately caught my imagination. With Tristia, Julien Fišera had it in mind to echo the aria
“O du, mein holder Abendstern” from Tannhäuser – a piece included in Be With Me Now – when Wolfram looks at the stars while thinking of the love that he has lost. In the Tristia, the poet is also looking at the sky and particularly at one star that allows him to commune with his wife.

What is the music of Tristia like?

Tristia is sung by a mezzo-soprano and a baritone. At the time of the commission, Isabelle Kranabetter was insistent that the male figure was central, with the female one being kept in the distance. So, the piece starts with a brief intervention by the female singer, followed by the entry of the baritone and then a distant echo of the feminine voice. Tristia uses silences – very present in the sung parts, unlike the four instruments that play continuously – to reflect this absence evoked by Ovid. The singers intervene through small fragments, but do not hold a dialogue, to the extent that the other never arrives.

More generally, what place does vocal music occupy in your repertoire?

A very important part: opera and vocal music are some of my favourite genres. I have written a lot of music for voice: pieces for vocal ensembles, a chamber opera for six voices and six instruments. I have always adored opera. It was with opera at the age of twelve that I discovered classical music – my first record was the Marriage of Figaro by Mozart – and it was much later that I found out about chamber music and the symphonic repertoire. In my opinion, the voice possesses qualities that are unlike anything else: no instrument can rival it. And what’s more, on stage the voice become a real character and becomes part of a dramatic art that strengthens the music.

Extracts from the interview by Anne Le Nabour made on April 27 2015, for the evening programme of the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence.