Cabaret Brise-Jour (Shattered Cabaret): The Music of Kurt Weill

Credit: Gillaume D. Cyr.

Wednesday evening’s performance of Cabaret-Brise Jour (Shattered Cabaret) at Calgary’s Theatre Junction GRAND began with one of the eight performers of the Quebec Collective L’orchestre d’Homme-Orchestre (LODHO) proclaiming that the first song of their performance would, in fact, be the last. This was obviously not the case, but like the sentiments behind this statement, LODHO’s performance of the songs of German composer Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was filled with twists and turns, winks and nudges, and frequent surprises.

LODHO was founded as a music ensemble in 2002 in Quebec City and it was indeed their prodigious musical skill that took centre stage during the evening’s performance. Their re-interpretations of Weill’s music saw all eight members of the ensemble switching between homemade and traditional instruments that ranged from turkey-baster flutes to upright bass. Particularly memorable was their erotic approach to both harmonica and accordion technique, something that should be seen to be truly appreciated. Throughout the evening LODHO impressed with their varying stylistic interpretations of Weill’s original compositions, ranging from his periods in Germany and the United States. Weill was noted most famously for being a composer of concert and theatre music and rose to fame in Germany through his collaborations with poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht.

Credit: Gillaume D. Cyr.
Audiences were previously exposed to LODHO from a similar project that took on the songs of singer-songwriter Tom Waits.

LODCO's 2011 performance of the songs of Tom Waits.

LODHO’s take on Weill’s music took a similar approach, employing various disciplines on stage: projection, elaborate visual and lighting elements, dialogue, and of course music. Of all these components, the dialogue was the sparsest, making way for the visual and musical elements. LODHO certainly managed to evoke a general sense of the time Kurt Weill composed in; the tumultuousness of pre-World War II Europe and the tense emotional landscape that enveloped the artistic sensibilities of the time. This interwar period proved to be fruitful for Western Art Music, seeing the rise of composers such as Alban Berg, Paul Hindemith, and the French collective Les Six.
The performance elicited a general feeling of this era and the visuals employed throughout the evening certainly contributed to an effective sense of time and place. The specific sensibilities of Kurt Weill, however, were less evident. Weill was a composer who held firm convictions that art should be clear, accessible, and written for the everyman. While LODHO’s musical performances were striking and almost entirely pleasing, the surrounding elements on stage lacked much of the clarity and straightforwardness that Weill sought to express through his creations. Often there was simply too much happening on stage and the drama in relation to the songs being performed was lost. Weill was noted for paring down his compositions to only the necessary parts while still employing a complex subtlety in structure, form, harmony, and melody—an idea that the performance may have benefitted from. Perhaps LODHO was aiming more for a representation of the period rather than for the artist himself, but the feeling remains that something was lost by not integrating more—subtlety or overtly—about the man behind the music.

Ultimately, the result was a striking visceral. LODHO was treated to an immediate standing ovation from the nearly-full house and many audience members could be seen moving to the music throughout the show. In this sense LODHO was true to the ideals embodied by Weill and his music, creating a work of art that clearly spoke to all those in attendance, one way or another.

The show is running nightly at Theatre Junction GRAND from April 9–12 at 8:00 pm.

Nathaniel Schmidt

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