Archive for the ‘Bach’ Tag

Bach in the DDR

[25.X.15]

Been away so long I hardly knew the place
Gee, it’s good to be back home

back in the ussr beatles 45 single cover record

Started the day bright (the clocks went back during the night) and early with a jog in search of a park I knew to be nearby according to my trusty guide ‘Leipzig Highlights’ (which I picked up on my last trip to Leipzig in 2014). p.24 Clara Zetkin Park. I did a bit of a reprise of yesterday running past the Great Synagogue site with its empty bronze chairs, round the corner past my grand-parents’ married home and on down the former Promenadenstrasse, empty in the early morning. I paused at a stretch of canal in some trees (mistaken initially for the lost park) and then carried on, listening all the time to Desert Island Discs on my vintage orange iPod, companion of many runs in many countries. The guest was Stephen Fry and blow me if he didn’t play some Bach as I ran through the park and back towards the Thomaskirche. He said he hadn’t really got Bach until later in life when Glenn Gould’s playing had enabled him to see beyond the clever patterns. My friend Jon Turner gave me a Glenn Gould CD for my birthday many years ago but I’m afraid even that didn’t do the trick for me. Bach just doesn’t move me. The only great Bach experience I ever had was being taken by my mother to hear the Brandenburg Concertos from the gods of the Albert Hall at the Proms. That – as I lay on the high-altitude floor – struck a chord and probably kicked off a liking of baroque music.

Following a hearty breakfast in the shadow of Bach’s church, his statue staring in through the hotel window, I headed up with Oregon-based documentary buyer Louise Rosen to the MDR campus for Day 2 of Documentary Campus. [[ When I type “Oreg…” into Google to check my spelling, weirdly (or maybe not) its first suggestion is “Oregon Bach Festival”. ]] Listened to another morning of documentary pitches, overall a high standard. This batch included one on freeing white slaves in Russia (produced by my Russian pal Vlad’s Mrs) and another fabulous one about a young musician travelling around collecting songs that are dying out in Central Europe (shades of the marvellous 1 Giant Leap).

In the afternoon I wandered off through the allotments adjacent to the MDR, savouring the autumn colours. I ate a pear and an apple. I read ‘The Moor’s Account’ in Connewitz Cemetery. I headed in the direction of the hospital where my father was born, just a kilometre or two from the MDR. I walked past a corner shop with the name Noah on its hoarding. I walked past a car with a number-plate with 4444. Signs. People were with me. I came out suddenly at the back of the hospital and ended my journey under the 1935 clock of the S. Elisabeth Krankenhaus. The leaves were gold. The weather of the first official day of wintertime mild. In a partial way I’d come home.

I was reflecting recently that most people’s lives are in some way a journey home.

screw_you_guys__i_m_going_home south park animation

Bach to the Fatherland

The boy is Bach in town

The boy is Bach in town

So I’m sitting here in the shadow of the Thomaskirche in Leipzig listening (unusually for me) to Johann Sebastian Bach, chapel/choirmaster of St Thomas’s, on Spotify, absurdly selecting ‘tracks’ according to number of listens (Partita in B-flat major 2,764,917). And I’m writing this post 5 years and 1 day after I wrote my first Back to the Fatherland on first coming to the city where my dad was born, accompanied by my sons/his grandsons.

Here is that first post about how I found my grandparents’ house, which is just a few streets from here, the other side of the site of the burnt-down synagogue:

Back to the Fatherland – first part

Back to the Fatherland – second part

I came back in 2010 thanks to Documentary Campus/Doc Leipzig, the annual documentary film festival held largely at the MDR building just out of the city centre, just a short walk from the hospital where my dad was born. That’s why I’m back for the fifth time.

Here’s an account of my third (2013) visit during my sabbatical from Channel 4:

Return to the Fatherland

Leipzigzaging

Last year I came with my older son who was making his first documentary (Scattergun – a life in four tattoos) as part of his A level in Applied Media. He was interested in listening in on the pitching sessions.

This year I’m solo again (like 2012 and 2013). I’ve been mentoring a documentary team making a film about renouncing vegetarianism. Last year I mentored a film about Super 8. This year I brought my own Kodak flipcam (off-spring of the Super 8) to make a little video of the trip.

I arrived in the autumnal late afternoon sun of Berlin Schoenefeld, got a taxi driven by a mad Turk to Sudkreuz (he miraculously got me there with 15 minutes to spare) and then the train to Leipzig Hauptbahnhof. I had dinner with a bunch of the Documentary Campus folk in an ex-vinegar (Essig) factory. So no bitterness there, just celebration of The Documentary among a group of old pals including Elizabeth MacIntyre of Discovery Networks International, who is just leaving Documentary Campus to head up Sheffield DocFest, and Lena Pasanen, formerly of YLE, Finland, who is taking over Elizabeth’s role. I walked back, surprised at how well I could navigate the city at night.

So here I am in the shadow of the Thomaskirche as its bells chime midnight. By now I’m listening to Jacques Loussier playing Bach – sacrilege perhaps but sometimes a man just needs jazz.

Get Bach to where you once belonged

Get Bach to where you once belonged

Songlines #10: Bach to the Future (James Rhodes)

james rhodes pianist film shoot

Shooting the pianist

The Question:

What piece of music means the most to you?

One of the world’s outstanding pianists, James Rhodes, speaks eloquently – on a fag break after a shoot for a forthcoming Channel 4 multiplatform project on music education – about a supremely resonant, moving piece of music central to his life.

The Piece: the chaconne from D minor partita for solo violin, transcribed for piano

The Composer:  Bach, transcribed by Busoni

Here’s what the piece sounds like:

Songlines #9 The Flower Duet

Songlines #8 I’m Waiting for the Man

James Rhodes pianist

 

Back to the Fatherland 2

…so I headed down to the city museum – nothing from the 20th century covered, they pointed me to the Zeitgeschichtliches Forum Leipzig (Forum of Contemporary History) – that covers from 1945 onwards focusing on the GDR. So by any standards a big gap in their city history, the 30s and 40s an official blank. But I had a break through. In the back of the museum shop I found a facsimile map of the city from 1938 – the year my grand-parents got the helloutta here and arrived in London. Promenadenstrasse wasn’t renamed after a Soviet leader but after an artist socialist by nature, Käthe Kollwitz, her inherent empathy for the less fortunate evident throughout her life’s work. As soon as I’d figured out how the old map mapped onto the new I headed over. The route took me from the old town hall past the famous Thomaskirche, last resting place of JS Bach, and then past the site of the Community Synagogue of Leipzig, burnt down on Kristallnacht in November 1938. They burnt the place down and then charged the Jews for the demolition costs. The lost 14,000 (not including never-to-be descendants) are commemorated by the empty chairs of the congregation in dull bronze set out on a flat blank concrete base. When I got to 16 Promenadenstrasse where my paternal grandparents lived from (I think) 1935 to 1938 that too was flat, blank, empty. A carpark, albeit a tranquil one shaded by trees and bathed in dappled autumnal light on my special visit. I can see from no. 14 the kind of building it probably was, a typically elegant Leipziger apartment in a tasteful neighbourhood. My grandfather was always a snappy dresser – like my youngest brother and my older son (that gene skipped me for better or worse) – so I can picture him easily in these streets.

The view from No. 1 Nordplatz

Next stop was Nordplatz, slightly further out from the centre, where he lived as a bachelor with his older sister’s family. No. 1 proved to be all present and correct, with a beautiful view over St. Michaelis church, a Gothicky affair built between 1901 and 1905, and the green beside it. Another smart apartment building where I stood on the threshold trodden by Nat Gewurtz (later Gee, 1938 was a good year for dumping German surnames) and his sister Else Wolf, peering in to the interior which has evidently been revamped in recent times. I was glad to see he’d enjoyed such a beautiful and calm home. From there to Promenadenstrasse – then next stop 5 Highbury Grove.

My next stop was the address on the Nazi birth certificate, 84 Biedermannstrasse, Sankt Elisabeth Krankenhaus, the Catholic hospital where my father was born. It was only a few blocks south of MDR (Mittel Deutsch Rundfunk), the main broadcaster in the region where I spoke yesterday on Crossmedia and Broadcaster Online Strategy to an audience primarily of factual film-makers which also included a State Minister of Saxony and the President of German/French broadcaster Arte. I spoke among other things about Surgery Live, which I reckon many of them thought had come from another planet. Seven Days was from another galaxy. From the feedback I received afterward it seems my passion for the possibilities of interactive, networked media and the boldness of our ambition at the very least landed home even if the out-thereness of Channel 4’s approach and the freedoms of British culture were somewhat alien to some of the Euros. I should have mentioned another of my projects which I also spoke about in my presentation, One Born Every Minute, because that would have given me an easier segue back to the maternity unit at Sankt Elisabeth Hospital. On arrival it was clear it has been recently refurbished so fear of disappearance returned. I found the maternity unit now in a clean modern block. A chat with the receptionist soon established that the original maternity block still stood and as I roamed the corridors of the art deco building I stumbled across the original foundation stone dated 1930. That meant when my father was born there it was an equally state of the art set-up. An irony of course was that he never got to see the place himself again after his blurry-eyed first days. He died a few years after the uprising that started in Leipzig and ended with the Fall of the Wall, never getting/taking the opportunity to come back.

I’ve enjoyed a couple of days with the presence of my grand-father and father around me. I see a tiny sticker on the wall of the hospital saying “I will wait for you” (in English). I spot a sparrow (my favourite bird, rather thin on the ground these days in England) hanging around. A warm autumn sunshine shines down from a perfect azure sky the whole weekend, contrary to the usually reliable information on my WeatherPro iPhone app, created by German-based MeteoGroup with a Teutonic regard for precision.

{2nd photo courtesy of Leipzigpost}

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