Fragile Present

Ich setzte meinen Fuß in die Luft

Und sie trug *

Hilde Domin

A few weeks after the lockdown began in March, my colleague and dear friend Matthea de Muynck and I started to play violin duos together. At first it was just a good reason to get the instrument out and stay in shape, but we quickly realized how important it was to us to have someone to play with, since music is ultimately a shared experience, as we all know…

The more we played, the more repertoire we discovered, and soon dreams started to take shape. Years ago I had played Alexandre Tansmans’ Sonate pour deux violons (1950) and had been looking for a reason to perform it again, and we were both curious about Eugène Ysaÿe’s Sonate pour deux violons seuls (op. posthum)…

Neither of us was a big fan of all the living room streams that were flooding the internet at that time, we wanted to do the music justice by playing it live. The easiest way to do so was taking it to the street and hoping for merciful donations that we instantaneously transformed into ice cream, because what better way is there to spend a sunny afternoon when all of your work has been canceled?

Simple beginnings

On one of our busking endeavours we discovered an oasis in the middle of The Hague: Sunny Court, a hidden park right around the corner from where we live. Under high trees that provided surprisingly good acoustics, with beams of golden and green light breaking through the leaves, we set up our stands. At first we played for the birds who happily chimed in, but soon enough, people came from the surrounding houses to hear us play live, someone brought a chair, others sat on tree logs, a bottle of wine appeared… Wouldn’t this be the perfect place for a concert in the summer? Couldn’t we make more of this? Combine music and dance maybe?

It turned out that our neighbourhood is actually full of artists. (Rumour has it that Newtonstraat was at one point home to eighteen piano teachers alone…) Matthea knew Cora Bos-Kroese, a choreographer and former dancer of Nederlands Dans Theater who lives close by, who in turn invited Alice Godfrey, an incredibly talented dancer, to join our band of dreamers and we began exchanging ideas about our different art forms and how to arrange everything in the space we had found. 

We didn’t only want to dream, we wanted to earn money with this project and applied to several emergency funds for small-scale art projects. For the first one we were late since the budget was already up by day three. The second time around we were better prepared. Until late at night we wrote a bullet proof request, got up early the next morning when the application site opened, relentlessly fought our way through an online form that was collapsing under the general despair of the arts, and lo and behold – a few weeks later we received funding from the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds.

Embracing the space

And so it happened in the end of August: Fragile Present, a fourty minute performance of music by Tansman, Ysaÿe and Bach, combined with dance and poetry. Reflecting on vulnerability, human connection and the impermanence of this particular time that is so different from the past and full of uncertainty concerning the future of our entire society.

We performed four times on three consecutive days. On average, 30 people came to watch and listen, which is what we had hoped for and what was possible while social distancing. We provided folding chairs for those who hadn’t brought their own and set up an online payment system to allow people to donate with their phones, which they generously did. The stars must have been in perfect alignment given how stable the weather was.

Maybe the most magical thing about this whole experience was the connection we felt with the neighbourhood. As professional musicians, we are used to hiding the preparation process and only show the end result. But since we were working with a dancer in an outside space, we couldn’t do that, everything was open. During our rehearsals, children were running between us or climbing into trees, or just standing there, thunderstruck, mesmerized, watching us work. Passers-by asked what we were doing, when we would perform. Neighbours were either extremely happy or extremely unhappy about the audibility of our preparations. Our art affected people.

I believe that fate is often on our side when we decide to have faith. When we take matters into our own hands, we can create our own opportunities. That gives me hope for the future, even – no – especially now.

With Alice Godfrey, Matthea de Muynck and Cora Bos-Kroese

*I set my foot upon the air
And it carried me

Photos: Jan Hordijk, Cora Bos-Kroese