The new »Reflector« concert series gives selected artists the opportunity to spend a whole weekend presenting the various aspects of their work in the Elbphilharmonie’s concert halls – going beyond much-discussed genre borders to a liberating space not subject to the interventions of the style police. Collaborators are explicitly welcome.
The series kicks off on 20–21 October with Bryce Dessner – an ideal figure for this task. The guitarist lived in Brooklyn for a long time and gained an academic degree in music at Yale University. Since the turn of the millennium he has been best known as a guitarist with the American indie rock band The National. By now, Dessner – whose twin brother Aaron, another guitarist, co-founded the band – has become the creative mastermind behind The National, as well as one of the most sought-after contemporary American composers.
Covering All Genres
With songs such as »St. Carolyn by the Sea«, »Lachrymae« and »Aheym«, which will also feature in the Reflector evenings in Hamburg, Dessner has become established as an independent, almost unmistakable voice of contemporary music in the USA. Very much in the spirit of our time, he also continually seeks exchange and complementation as a composer.
Dessner writes and works with fellow composers such as Nico Muhly, Caroline Shaw and Steve Reich. A career in both worlds on this level is very unusual. Major orchestras and important conductors, directors and choreographers commission music from Dessner, while at the same time his band’s international reputation soars to new heights. In September, The National released »Sleep Well Beast«, their first album in four years. They will be touring the US and Europe with more than 40 dates in the second half of the year.
The National – An Intimate Evening
It took some persuasion before Dessner and the band agreed to play the Elbphilharmonie Grand Hall as part of the Reflector concert series. With a capacity of 2,100, it is much smaller than the venues The National normally perform in. The Elbphilharmonie received more than 50,000 ticket orders for the Hamburg concert on 21 October.
For 14 years now, The National has been primarily identified with the guitar sound of the brothers Bryce and Aaron Dessner. They also write the songs that Matt Berninger sings in his hypnotic, dark-timbered voice. Another pair of brothers, Bryan and Scott Devendorf, play bass and drums.
Dessner, who celebrated his 40th birthday last year, likes to joke about his age and claims to have managed to pull off a dignified continuation of his life as a rock star with his second career as a composer. There is no doubt that The National benefits enormously from his extraordinary gift for sound alchemy. And the fact that the embers of the rock musician consistently glow through the carefully organised structures of his compositions gives the music – despite all its finesse – a unique and thrilling punch.
Reflector at the Elbphilharmonie
The name of the series plays on a central element of the Grand Hall’s interior architecture: the reflector that appears to be hovering above the stage like a flying saucer. The round surface visible from below is, like the rest of the space, overlaid with the so-called White Skin, whose moon-like indentations reflect sounds in the hall. As a whole, the reflector prevents the sound produced on stage from rising to the ceiling, and from there go on to cause chaos. The reflector is essential acoustically and it is vital aesthetically too.