Saturday 17th November 2012 Dusseldorf

I like semi-industrial performance spaces and the Schauspielhaus has a nice rough-and-ready feel to it.  A weeny Kampnagel!  I'm here as a bystander now; it's too late for any musical alterations and I don't really want any.  They get the score really well and have made it into something of their own, finding things that I never knew were there.  Almost every time I write a theatre piece, I find that my idea of the greatest strengths is different from everyone else's.  Take the love song, Komm doch her mein Schatz.  OK, Noémi's rendition of it is magnificently sexy but I had always thought of it as quite a routine thing, a bit of pastiche Marlene Dietrich written inattentively in a cafe somewhere.  Well that's the one everyone likes!  Bart Moeyaert sent me a nice email making special mention of it.  I think the best number is the Schlusschor (onanistically it moves me every time I hear it) but nobody else seems to have noticed that the thing is there.  Heigh ho; composing is a process of learning how wrong you can be.

The company has put the show on its web site.  I hope they get lots and lots of performances: they deserve a big tour.

Du bist da, Du bist fort

While we wait for that, I am making an English version.  Now there's a three ulcer job! 

Saturday 10th November 2012 London

A wonderful, tiny exhibition; Dulwich Gallery juxtaposed a couple of portraits by Lucien Freud with three by Annibale Carracci. The technical similarities between the two artists were laid bare by the comparision; so too was the difference of spirit.

Monday 5th November 2012  London

The arrival of a cheerleader megaphone is always cause for rejoicing. I'd have preferred a pink one for our Ubu performance but was outvoted. Now the final (aural) colour in this glorious, potty piece is in place. Is there any other work that is more misrepresented when recorded than poor old Facade? It is a much odder, edgier and uncomfortable piece than most people realise: the texts and the reciting voice aren't in a concertante/ripieno relation to the band, they're part of it. Walton was too wily an orchestrator to create balance problems and we find that if we let the players have their head, the voice weaves in out of the instrumentation without difficulty. The original audience must have been as used to dance hall singers declaiming down their funnels as we are to the endless wittering of muzak and the hear the idioms of that time put through Walton's mincer is an experience close in feel to the sinister dances of Vienna in the 20s. And it is universal music: we have a Russian cellist in the band who is delighted by the whole thing.

Sunday 14th October 2012 Somewhere in Europe

I pretend dismay at being forced to drive to Dusseldorf by the madhouse economics of European travel. It's cheaper, a lot cheaper, and it shouldn't be. But...I like it. There is something about the tug of a continent as you head out overland that an aeroplane can't give you. A lot of artists find that exile is creative; I find that puttering across Europe in my little diesel tractor is an innocent pleasure, and is a nice opportunity to meditate on a project that I hesitated to take on but which has crept up on me and turned into a labour of love, one that has restored a lot of faith.

Annette was a bit bothered that she's composed something for the start! I began the piece quietly because, to my shame, I was thinking in a standard constipated proscenium fashion. No good in a space like the one we used. She improvised a single random chord like a car horn. Brilliant! I was delighted.

These Dusseldorfers have blown away a lot of despondent clouds and for the first time in a long while I really want to write for the stage again. Wresting with the over-comfortable salaried performers that you find in many places is often demoralising. If they can't sing something, it's your fault. If they are ignoring dynamics, it's everyone's fault but theirs (how can we sing piano if you don't look at us?). If you let things go, they switch off, if you insist then you're a nasty man. If you praise them they are sullen and suspicious. Give me freelancers like the Dusseldorf gang every time: meeting the creative energy of Kontra-punkt head on is exhausting but it reminds me why I got into this trade in the first place.

Friday 12th October 2012  Dusseldorf

I have just cooked an Italian meal in a Korean Artists' colony in Dusseldorf, washed down with Austrian beer and a slug from my stash of Trinidadian rum. Have I globalised? More likely I have finally divested myself of anything resembling a sense of belonging anywhere. I am not as upset about this as I probably should be.

The Kontra-punkt company have an uncanny ability to create a world and draw you into it. All of them sing well, but not in the polished, self-regarding way that is so common these days; it's a nice mixture of theatre voices and classical singing. They know how to move and I think that in part it's the physical flow of the ensemble that gives it its vocal vigour.

The five performers have turned themselves into a gang of beautifully observed kindergarten children. All are physically tiny except Matthias, the bass, who is not tiny at all; he's a head taller than me and very nearly as square. His dramatic range is extraordinary: as "Neuling der kleinste" he is the sort of querulous mummy's boy that oversized kids often are; as the drunken father he is by turns physically terrifying and disgustingly self-pitying. I am glad this character is drawn so starkly: if he had just been a nice papa who likes a drink too many, the story would have lacked any credibility. As it is, the contradiction of missing Dad and being glad he's gone is a troubling, moving thing.

Patrick, the diminutive tenor, has fallen in love with his green plastic trombone and sounds very convincing on it: further proof that all you need to play a brass instrument is good breathing. I am slightly sad that they've retired the dustbin that I lovingly drove across Germany (to even my faint surprise it was not the first time I've done such a thing). I love the variety of sounds that you can get out of the British galvanised poubelle but am bound to admit that it's too intrusive and uncontrollable for such a small company. Swannee whistles, duck and rook calls and the other nonsense persist in the score. The rook is the more expressive of the birds; cupped in the hand it can talk like a baritone Mr Punch. I am particularly pleased with the "mum driving" scene; Matthias coughs like a starter motor and everyone else rattles burps and howls like an old Morris Minor. Do I detect a distant echo of I Like Driving In My Car? Maybe so, maybe not.

I was enticed into the parallel universe that is Kontra-punkt by a superlative libretto: it is a particular delight to have the librettist singing and dancing in the piece! I wasn't prepared for the subversively bonkers world of Frank's staging or the sheer openness of Jan Kocman's attitude to his designs. When he heard the music for the first time, in June, he said "the visuals are too busy for this score; I must think again". I thought what he'd done was beautiful but he did another design anyway. Now the cast are in babygrows with face paint, romping between the scenes like children in a kindergarten.

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