Review: human requiem

The experimental projects of Rundfunkchor Berlin have garnered worldwide attention and in human requiem their delivery of Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem re-imagines choral performance in a gorgeous highlight of the Adelaide Festival.

After removing our shoes in the Ridley Centre foyer we are ushered into the unseated, open-plan event space and there is already a certain buzz from knowing that the plain-clothed performers have possibly walked in with us, or are already somewhere in the crowd.

The lights dim and the first of seven movements wells up from dozens of points across the auditorium, rising and flooding the space with its glorious interwoven layers.

Their identities revealed, the singers move slowly through the crowd, establishing direct and sustained eye contact with audience members as they pass, a disarmingly intimate action that immediately blurs the boundaries between spectator and participant.

The performers are in almost constant motion as they sing, whether pushing a piano through the crowd, distributing cushions for the seated movements, shepherding the audience into the required spots, or forming lines of male and female voices that spiral galaxy-like around the central piano before dispersing and falling into a more scattered orbit. Only briefly during one movement do they assemble into something approaching a typical choir formation.

The thrilling result is an endlessly changing surround sound. One moment there is a rich baritone over your shoulder, and next it is melding into harmony with a soprano who is passing by in front – even the superb soloists are often on the move. In deconstructing the standard choir arrangement the wonderfully executed piece invites the audience to experience, layer by layer, the composition’s intricate moving parts.

The removal of defined physical barriers between audience members, and the cooperation that arises in making space for the work to unfold unimpeded, creates in the crowd a rare warmth and connectedness for an event and venue of this scale, bolstered by the performers’ everyday appearance and one-to-one interactions with the audience.

It is of course a requiem so death is everywhere, but this is not a liturgical piece and there is no morbid contemplation; instead, the themes of the work display as forward-looking, in a striking reinforcement of community and humanity.

human requiem was performed at the Ridley Centre on Friday, March 16.

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