|Aharon Appelfeld (ithl.org.il)|
With the theatre and stage plunged into darkness, there was one spotlight focused on the ‘cellist seated on the stage. Backed by the magnetic tape, at times as a drone, at others in a more active role, Wieder-Atherton begins to play. Time seems to stand still. We then begin to hear Appelfeld talking, his voice attesting to his age and wisdom as he enunciates each word clearly and slowly in language never convoluted by superfluity. He begins by asking when memory begins to remember. The music and other sounds flow into each other, meeting the text, reflecting upon it and drawing the listener into each scene, each description, each silence. Appelfeld describes many scenes and situations through the eyes of a small child – the family home, its balconies, the familiar smell of starch, the chimney sweep, a book of Grimm Brothers stories, thunder, his father’s love of walking to the river and singing there spontaneously. He describes a visit from gypsies, how he feared their music and his mother paying them to leave, we hear of the joy of a basketful of strawberries brought to them by a little girl, the girl’s singing, the memory of his mother serving the fresh strawberries with sugar and cream. We learn that he and his mother spoke German together, that his grandparents spoke Yiddish. Appelfeld’s narrative always conveys what remains as thoughts, what is left unsaid, the untold secret, the child quietly observing family members and the importance of observation, as he subtly infuses many scenes with an aura of this probing silence. Not all is so quiet – there are agitated pieces, the rattling of trains, thunderous effects, voices of a crowd of people culminating in a scream, these possibly hinting at the retaking of his hometown after a year of Soviet occupation in 1941, when his mother was murdered. (With his father Appelfeld was then deported to a Nazi camp in Romanian-controlled Transnistria, from which he then managed to escape.)
Sonia Wieder-Atherton’s playing seemed to find relevance and natural coherence in the mix of repertoire chosen to accompany Appelfeld’s texts. She is one of today’s most dynamic and original artists. She studied in Paris and Russia, today performing mainstream 'cello repertoire but also much new music, many works of which have been written for her. Her traversing of stylistic boundaries, of east and west, is a natural, well-oiled course of hers, taking the form of profoundly emotional utterance, free, polished, sophisticated and convincingly intertwined with the spoken text. Her technical mastery is indeed matched by her passionate involvement in performance. Not to be ignored is the finely created, effective and integrated magnetic tape. The event, concluding with Aharon Appelfeld’s initial question on memory, was humbling and moving. Appelfeld himself was present.