Soho Factory, Warsaw

Our venue in Warsaw...

We’re all up early and ready for the fun and games that is check in at Heathrow. 3 staff narrow their eyes at the theorbo at once: “Have you ever travelled with it before?”  ummm…   I refrain from saying “only the last 20 years” and smile as they figure out the procedure about extra seats.  These days (and I hope no one from BAA is reading this) you can’t buy seats for “lute” or “theorbo” so I have to go under cover as “cello”.  And hope it fits. Which on the way back, it doesn’t.  Fortunately the stewardesses on the plane itself are very chilled, and we rig up an arrangement involving more than my fair share of seat in a prime place next to the loo…

This is the first outing of Heiner Goebbels Songs of Wars I have seen since we were in Modena in May.  One of the pleasures of this piece, aside from getting to catch up with the London Sinfonietta in glorious form, is checking out the audience reaction to the mixture of Gertrude Stein and old and new instruments.  When we did it in New York in March several friends and friends of friends said the weirdest thing was hearing us read the Stein with our apparently “cut glass” British accents (not sure my Mum would recognise the cut glass bit…). Reminded me that the texts already have a music of their own, before Heiner adds his definitive  mix of swing, last-post trumpet and ammunition effects and the odd bit of Matthew Locke, to Stein’s words.

The coach goes through gleaming sunshine and grand looking central town buildings. And then on some. And then on some more to a random-looking shed on an industrial estate. And stops.  Er…

Interior of Soho Factory, Warsaw

Interior of Soho Factory, Warsaw

It’s a dilapidated but very trendy-looking old factory, which has an unexpectedly resonant acoustic.  Good news, you might think, but not really for the combination of intricate rhythms and words, which are in danger of all melding together.  “It sounds terrible but you’re doing you’re best” smiles Goebbels, not altogether reassuringly.  But Ian the sound genius has it all under control, and gradually we can hear things we haven’t heard before in conventional halls. Picking your way in the dark to the other bit of concrete that is backstage is interesting: fog lights are set up which cast film noir kinds of shadows on the huge bare walls.  For this performance we have some “newbies” to this piece in OAE, who pick it all up amazingly quickly and with seeming ease and mix their own personalities into the brew, making us wonder why it took so long for us oldies to get the hang of it…

7.05pm and it’s more or less just us and the weeds outside the factory, and then taxis start to multiply and before long a crowd of the mixed new-old music scene turn the building into a happening place, we’re lucky to be here.

And it’s the only concert hall I’ve been to which has a row of hammocks outside to catch a lie down in.  Rachel Brown found them, and swung away happily for a while until the chill set in. It may be sunny but it is still September.

Elizabeth Kenny, Principal Theorbo