Vanessa Porter

Rising Stars: Vanessa Porter

The percussionist combines contemporary works with improvisation, electronics and the performing arts.

Be it with body percussion, bells or the vibraphone: in her programme »Folie à deux«, percussionist Vanessa Porter creates hypnotic soundscapes that vary between delicate beauty and violent eruptions. Her concert combines solo pieces, improvisations, electronic sounds and music theatre. Ms Porter performs three new commissioned works, one of them by major composer Georges Aperghis.

Rising Stars Festival 2021

Hear tomorrow's stars perform today. Five concert streams available on demand.

Vanessa Porter
Vanessa Porter © Christopher Bühler

The Artist

  • Award-winning percussionist from south Germany (b. 1992)
  • Combines contemporary works with improvisation, electronics and the performing arts
  • Plays with her sister in the Porter Percussion Duo
  • Gives concerts and workshops worldwide

Nominated by Festspielhaus Baden-Baden and Kölner Philharmonie

Kölner Philharmonie Kölner Philharmonie © Joern Neumann
Festspielhaus Baden-Baden Festspielhaus Baden-Baden © Festspielhaus Baden-Baden

Programme :»Folie à deux«

Salvatore Sciarrino
Appendice alla perfezione for 14 Bells (1986)

Vinko Globokar
?Corporel for Body Percussion (1984)

David Lang
The Anvil Chorus (1991)

Georges Aperghis
The Messenger for Tombak and Voice (2020) / commissioned by Kölner Philharmonie, Festspielhaus Baden-Baden and the European Concert Hall Organisation (ECHO)

Emil Kuyumcuyan
Shapes for Vibraphone (2020)

Georges Aperghis
Le corps à corps for Tombak and Voice (1982)

Alexander Sandi Kuhn
À Deux for Vibraphone (2020)

Backstage impressions

Vanessa Porter / Recording the interview Vanessa Porter / Recording the interview © Sophie Wolter
Vanessa Porter / Recording the interview Vanessa Porter / Recording the interview © Sophie Wolter
Vanessa Porter Vanessa Porter © Sophie Wolter
Vanessa Porter / Recording the »Köpfhörer« podcast Vanessa Porter / Recording the »Köpfhörer« podcast © Sophie Wolter
Vanessa Porter / Recording the »Köpfhörer« podcast Vanessa Porter / Recording the »Köpfhörer« podcast © Sophie Wolter
Vanessa Porter / Stage set-up Vanessa Porter / Stage set-up © Sophie Wolter

Departure from the norm :Vanessa Porter talks about her programme

Ms Porter, a glance at the programme announcement tells us we can look forward to an out-of-the-ordinary concert. What can the audience expect?

A mixture of solo percussion pieces, sound installations and music theatre. That was the outcome of working together with different producers, which explains why there is a lot of scenic action on stage.

What exactly is the programme about?

The title is »Folie à deux«, literally »Madness for two«. The medical term, shared psychosis, denotes a psychiatric syndrome where delusional symptoms are transmitted from one individual to another. My stage performance depicts the course of this illness with its ups and downs: not in an obvious fashion, but subliminally. Nonetheless, I still want the symptoms of the disorder to be portrayed clearly – the sound installations, for example, show its dark sides. But the music also depicts the familiar and endearing sides of shared psychosis. On the stage I take turns playing the two individuals involved: sometimes I am the observer, sometimes the person suffering from delusions, and sometimes I realise that something isn't right here. The performance is a constant alternation between schizophrenia, restraint, insight, repression and reality.

Vanessa Porter
Vanessa Porter © Sophie Wolter

This sounds like a staged concert. Is it?

You could say so. Though two-thirds of the programme consists of me playing solo works. But we wanted to avoid the classic, conventional applause situation, and the outcome was a 70-minute programme without any breaks. However, there are transitional sections between the solo numbers that give the audience an idea, visually and scenically, of what kind of music it can look forward to next. The central question that arose while working together with the producers was: how complex can we allow the project to become? Will the audience understand the story? And does it need to understand it, or is it okay if each member of the audience makes his own story out of what he sees and hears? The result of our work is a programme that helps people to understand the disorder known as »folie à deux«, but also leaves them the space to forge associations with their own experiences.

What instruments will you be bringing with you? The titles of some works already answer the question, from Sciarrino's »Appendice alla perfezione« for 14 bells to Globokar's »?Corporel« for body percussion.

Well, one thing I wanted to avoid at all cost was what has already been done plenty of times: a percussionist crams the stage with 200 instruments, and then puts on a fireworks display where he plays each instrument once. My basic idea was to achieve as much as possible with limited resources. I want to show that you don't always need a huge arsenal to tell an interesting story. For example, I play two pieces for hand drum alone, one of which is the piece »The Messenger« for tombak and voice commissioned from Aperghis.

»My basic idea was to achieve as much as possible with limited resources.«

Vanessa Porter

You already mentioned one commission, »The Messenger« by Georges Aperghis. Then there are two more first performances in your concert, namely Emil Kuyumcuyan's »Shapes« and »À deux« by Alexander Sandi Kuhn. Isn't that incredibly demanding?

Indeed it is, both physically and emotionally. We already tried things out several times in rehearsal to see whether the project works: it calls for uninterrupted presence on stage, with every look and movement being rehearsed. The performer doesn't really have even one moment to take a breather. So it's demanding, but in a positive way, and it offers the potential for an experience that departs from the usual concert norm.

Vanessa Porter
Vanessa Porter © Sophie Wolter

How did it come about that the audience can hear as many as three first performances in a single concert? Isn't that pretty unusual?

»This is a huge honour for me: Aperghis is someone I take as a great example.«

Vanessa Porter

The centrepiece, of course, is »The Messenger«, which the European Concert Hall Organisation commissioned from Georges Aperghis. This is a huge honour for me: Aperghis is someone I take as a great example – I had the opportunity to visit him and work with him in Paris. That was already an incredible experience for me. And then, after the underlying idea for the programme had taken shape, I started to look for pieces that describe the different moments of the shared psychosis syndrome. The existing repertoire doesn't contain much that would have been suitable, so I decided to commission two more new works. I spoke with the composers and sketched the situation for them in each case, and the outcome is pieces that fit into the programme and round it off on the one hand, but also correspond to the composer's particular style on the other.

What kind of work did Aperghis end up writing for you?

In this piece I tell a story, which is why there are a lot of language elements. To give you a rough idea, »The Messenger« depicts all the drama of the refugee situation. Many people just turn a blind eye; they know about it, but they remain passive. This in turn can be applied very well to »Folie à deux«, a disorder that provokes a passive response, with the individuals involved taking no action until the situation explodes and they are forced to react. It is a highly introverted piece for the tombak, a Persian hand drum covered with goatskin, in which I also do a lot of talking.

Can you tell us something about the closing piece in your programme, Alexander Sandi Kuhn's »À deux«?

The programme is really quite depressing in places, as this illness is in itself depressing. But I wanted the programme as a whole to have a positive level as well, which is why I chose to bring it to a peaceful end with the work by Alexander Sandi Kuhn. The ending is deliberately left open, emphasising once more the level of familiarity between the two individuals. At least this illness doesn't make the sufferer lonely, and in a certain way, »Folie à deux« is also a great declaration of love.


This interview was conducted by Bjørn Woll when the programme was given its first performance in September 2020. An original contribution for the Cologne Philharmonie.
Translation: Clive Williams

The concert was recorded on 23 January 2021.


Promoter: HamburgMusik

In cooperation with ECHO - European Concert Hall Organisation

With support by M.M.Warburg & CO.

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