Review: Brodsky Quartet & Loré Lixenberg – ‘Trees, Walls, Cities’

02 Feb 2015

Written by: G. Masters

Published in: The Oxford Culture Review

‘The main focus of the evening, though, was the forty-five minute work that comprised the second half, Trees, Walls, Cities. This ‘Song Cycle for the Modern Day’ was commissioned for the 2013 City of London Festival, in collaboration with Derry’s Walled City Festival. The eight songs were named after eight international cities, with texts and music by local poets and composers. This was in part a project about reconciliation, with many of the cities featured, such as Jerusalem and Berlin, marked either presently or historically by physical walls of division. This political aspect was perhaps most explicit in Yannis Kyriakides’s setting of a text by Mehmet Yashin in ‘Nicosia’. Here the poet’s sense of being stranded between languages, of lacking a mother tongue in a city divided by state politics, was neatly expressed by the device of having individual words or phrases from the text spoken by members of the quartet, thus fragmenting any sense of a unified poetic voice.

Given the diversity of the collaborators, the range of moods was unsurprisingly wide-ranging across the cycle as a whole, from the earthy rhythmic energy of Isidora Zebeljan’s ‘Dubrovnik’ to the reconstruction of a sacred baroque in Theo Verbey’s ‘Utrecht’ or the modernist dissonance of Gerald Resch’s ‘Vienna’. One of the most effective songs was Jocelyn Pook’s ‘City of London’, where one of the cycle’s central poetic images was put to subversive means. Elsewhere, trees represented freedom and peace, but here the same image functioned as a symbol of social inequality, with the music underlining the critique through its ironic use of a brittle folk idiom. Such songs provided a fantastic platform for the extraordinary vocal versatility of mezzo-soprano Loré Lixenberg, who moved from a rich operatic sound to sprechstimme, from naïve folkishness to violent snarls…’