The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at barbican.org.uk
The latest content and news from the Barbican. Book tickets at barbican.org.uk

Variations of the Goldberg Variations

Choreographer Örjan Andersson worked with the Scottish Ensemble – led by violinist Jonathan Morton – to produce Goldberg Variations. They spoke to us about their personal experiences of this beguiling music.

JM: What I love about Bach’s music is probably what most people love – it’s immensely rich, you never get to the bottom of how rich this music is no matter the number of times you’ve performed it.

When Örjan first approached the music we were worried that because there were so many variations, there could have been a danger of losing the audience a bit unless they had technical or musical knowledge. So for me the challenge was to make it beautiful and interesting and powerful for people who may not know anything about it.

It was so refreshing working with someone like Örjan who didn’t necessarily think ‘here’s this iconic piece of music and I must treat it with reverence’. It was also quite scary at the
beginning…

OA: I can imagine.

JM: But it was really liberating.

‘it’s immensely rich, you never get to the bottom of how rich this music is no matter the number of times you’ve performed it’

OA: I’m not from the same background as Jon, so I listened to it in a different way and didn’t have that weight of history. For me it was a matter of taking each variation and making it interesting. I cannot think about the audience and worry about what purists might think; I need to think about my own reaction. If I don’t like it then it’ll be terrible [laughs].

But the music is so amazing, it’s such a journey from this very happy dance intro and the first eight or nine variations, and then when you get to the later variations there’s such darkness, which is so good to work with.

JM: I found as we did it more and more the Canons [melodic patterns repeated at staggered intervals by different instruments] became more important in my mind. For me it became the backbone in every sense: structurally and inventively and in terms of the depth – they just blew my mind. At the beginning I thought ‘gosh these are really quite dry’ but suddenly it flipped and it was a bit of a eureka moment.

OA: I tried to take the music down to a level where the images are something we can relate to watching the piece as the audience. I’m not dividing the stage as being eleven musicians and five dancers, I really try to look at them all as sixteen dancers. Some are much better dancers than others, and some play the violin better than others, but that’s what makes it very human to watch.

 

Andersson Dance/Scottish Ensemble Goldberg Variations takes place 5–7 Jul in our Theatre.