Saturday, February 29, 2020

Hans-Joachim Roedelius & Arnold Kasar - Live 2020.02.27 Roter Salon, Berlin, Germany

Thirteen months ago, I saw Hans-Joachim Roedelius play a small, intimate show in which he told stories, read from his book, and DJed CDs more than he actually played anything live. I loved his wit and outlook, so I enjoyed it despite that it was hardly a “concert” in the traditional sense. Hence, this concert was an easy sell to me: Roedelius had teamed up with pianist Arnold Kasar, which presumably meant they’d be playing “real” live music, which is exactly what I wanted more of. Plus, the show was at the Roter Salon, a side wing of the Volksbühne (which I’d visited and admired last year at the Torstraßen Festival). The Volksbühne is a great venue for plenty of reasons (beautiful, reasonably priced tickets, close to my apartment), and the Roter Salon packs all of that into a smaller, more intimate, cozier experience.

The show was scheduled a bit late, and started later than that, but there was no opener. In the meantime, I watched both Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Arnold Kasar wander through the crowd and chat with their friends. Eventually they got on stage, and to my surprise, Roedelius sat at the grand piano while Kasar stood at a table with a keyboard and various electronics. I’d rather expected the opposite, considering that Roedelius was the aging synthesizer pioneer and Kasar the younger, classically trained pianist!

They started into a peaceful piece that continually evolved through phases as the two musicians changed instruments and techniques. Roedelius mostly played piano but also worked a laptop to control samples and possibly a synthesizer. Kasar played keyboards, synthesizers, some effects boards, and electric piano. The piece was meditative and contemplative yet fluid and expressive. The highlight was something of a piano duel accompanied by a rather screechy violin sample. It was completely non-competitive and non-aggressive, yet fascinating to watch the two musicians complement each other’s parts and build around them. Despite the calming effect it all had on me, though, the crowd seemed a bit restless as the work carried on for about 45 minutes.

Kasar gave a brief address to thank us for coming despite any adversities or viruses, and then him and Roedelius sat back down to perform a shorter, more energetic piece with both musicians on pianos. Roedelius played rapidly rolling appeggios while Kasar added textures. The blend of the traditional piano with the electronic added some nice harmonic variation. I was hoping for another extended work, but it had a more conventional pop song length.

Roedelius spoke up and implied that that was the end, but of course he agreed to an encore. First, Kasar sat down at the grand piano while Roedelius leaned on it adoringly. Kasar’s piece was sprightly, intricate, fanciful, and more in the traditional style of a solo piano performance. Then they swapped places and Roedelius began playing a soft, sparse piece that I quickly recognized. It was Brian Eno’s “By This River”, which Roedelius and his former Cluster colleague Dieter Moebius had cowritten and performed on. Roedelius sang the vocals in his simple, frail, direct, unadorned voice, but hit the notes right on and carried the melody beautifully. It was quite a pleasure, and he claimed it was the first time he’d tried singing it live!

And that was that. They only played for about an hour. It was a pleasant set, it ended on a great highlight, and I know that Roedelius is quite old, but still: I was expecting a bit more. I was a bit disappointed and surprised that it was over so soon. That said, I’d also expected that Roedelius would sit back and let Kasar take the more complicated piano parts, but that wasn’t the case at all. Roedelius still had enough strength and precision to take the lead. Kasar was an excellent foil for him, as his textures, harmony, and traded-off piano parts were a great match. I just wish there had been more.

Score: C+

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