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Interview of stage director Nico Hümpel

"I am interested in building bridges between high arts and everyday life"

At the end of October, the Music Chapel welcomed the first session of an enoa training with Nico Hümpel, the famous German stage director who founded her company in Berlin 20 years ago: Nico and the Navigators. Nico has developed a personal technique known as “guided improvisation”, which she taught during this week entitled “From Score to Freedom”. 


> Nico, you came here to start the creative process of a future production which will be called “Upheaval”: can you talk a little bit more about this project?


With this work we are interested in music which was created during moments of big political changes. How does music express these very important times in society: and we want to go from classical music like Beethoven to contemporary- and pop music as well. I wish that the participants bring in their own ideas, so I can’t tell you today what the final program will be like. But what I can tell you is that the musicians and performers will be personally involved. Behind the music we will try to make the individuals visible using their biographies, backgrounds, and cultural origins etc. After a performance, I would like the audience not only to feel connected with the music itself, but also strongly with the people who shared the music with us.


> It seems that this is really your conviction: to see the person behind the artist. Where does this idea come from? When did you start thinking “I miss this”?


Making arts becomes more difficult – to find the right relevance in order to reflect the worldwide changes is a big challenge. Of course, you can make music simply, to enhance the empathy between people, and to have a nice experience together, but above this, it should lead us to something: like a discussion, or a self-reflexion with relevant topics of our here and now. When you have an international group working together, you have different backgrounds and experiences to bring into the work. Our project about Franz Schubert is a good expample for that: “SILENT SONGS into the wild” (next to be seen @BOZAR). Together as a group we explored the contemporary connections to the themes in Schubert’s songs: about  the inside loneliness, about searching a place to be, being a stranger or a refugee.


> Is it your way of working as a conscious artist? Can we say that you have a political commitment?


I think the times are asking for this commitment. Look what happened two days ago in Brazil: a dictator! As a German I am of course shocked.


> I am interested in the title you gave to this week session: “From score to freedom”: what do you mean?


My whole method is a balance between freedom and structure. This method ensures that the performer does not get overwhelmed with the whole idea of the psychological situation of a scene. They just get a little task to research on, and try to find out what this little task does to their body, to their mind. By taking this task step by step, they arrive to something that can become very personal. By researching their body and mind with these tools, they find a character, that seems to have a need to express something. I like to give them a suitcase of individual and personal tools, that they can later use for themselves.


> It is also a way for the public to rediscover the scores.


I think it’s my personal interest or mission to bring humanity and freedom back into music. The musicians from the Thalea String Quartet for example, were very free in this workshop to try out movements, different ways of playing the music – even the more radical ones. My main interest in musical theatre is to build bridges between the high culture of Opera and the every day life – finding human dialogues between musicians, dancers and actors apart from illustration.

Actually I am very happy when I see my audience: it’s such a mix of different people, old and young, elegant and freaky, you can’t gentrify them that’s great!  I wish to connect more people with classical music, even people coming from a background far outside of the opera scene. We have to find a way for this because music can heal! With Schubert it was somehow easy, because the themes in Schubert’s songs are so contemporary. Our next project is about intoxication, ecstasy and dance macabre. Let’s see what the future brings!


Interview with Nico Hümpel, comments collected by Sophie van der Stegen at the Music Chapel