Monday, 12 September 2016

Summer Heart

Tron Theatre, Glasgow
Four stars

A young woman enters wearing a raincoat, like she's going on a journey. There's a grand piano behind her, and a comfy chair and a coffee table on the other side of the stage. Over the next hour, Maraike Bruening recounts a remarkable visitation that ushers the audience into the life of Alice Herz-Sommer, the Czech-born pianist who survived the Holocaust, and whose surname translates as Summer Heart. As Bruening observes, this is an all too fitting name for the old lady whose smiling face beams from the image of her projected onto the back of the stage, especially given everything she's been through.

As Bruening recounts in her understated form of journalistic storytelling in what she styles as a 'piano play', Herz-Sommer's life may have been turned upside down by the Nazi occupation of her homeland, but her hope remained undimmed. In what is as much concert as drama, Bruening punctuates each section of her story with her own renditions of the same Chopin etudes that Herz-Sommer played for her fellow concentration camp inmates. The story itself is illustrated by an astonishing series of table-top drawings created by Bruening live out of sand and projected behind her.

Developed at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland and spotted by Tron artistic director Andy Arnold, who paired Bruening with director Fiona Mackinnon, this is a vital telling of an important story made up of a series of solos from all artforms. As Bruening brings things full circle, hearing Herz-Sommer's voice talk about the joys of life while her face beams down once more brings home just how music can be the most profound of lifelines.

The Herald, September 12th 2016

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