It’s a balmy late summer evening in Berlin in Rosa Luxemburg Platz. The sun is low, its bright haze bathing the television tower in light. On the undulating meadow across from the Volksbühne theatre, a couple of visitors can be seen sitting with a fresh pretzel in one hand and a glass of white wine in the other. Small groups of people are milling about on the steps next to the makeshift snack bar, which sells the same refreshments. What is striking is that everyone is stunningly well dressed: androgynous, floor-length black dresses, minimalist and reduced to the smallest of details, matched with silver belts and rings. Lighters are passed around, cigarettes elegantly lit, as if this process belongs to the appearance, the aesthetics.
Inside, in the large hall that is home to the Volksbühne Theatre am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, a special concert is taking place tonight that fans have been looking forward to for months: saxophonist Bendik Giske is celebrating the debut of his third solo album by performing it live for the first time in Berlin.
The album bears the artist’s name and even the choice of title adheres to the red line of clear reduction and integrity. The album was produced by Beatrice Dillon. Her very incisive presence is unmistakable on the album. Her impulse was to reduce melodies and concentrate on patterns and rhythms. It’s an album that testifies to an extraordinary degree of intellect.
But first the evening will be opened by London-based composer, singer and multi-instrumentalist Sarahsson. Sarahsson explores self-identity through her music, pushing well-being and different emotions to the limit. Her shows explore the expression of transness and feature a cross-genre arrangement of dance, design, visual queerness and musical expertise. Sarahsson plays with contrasts. Most of her concerts are gentle and angelic affairs, but with her home-made daxophone she manages to evoke a surprisingly abrupt and eerily avant-garde atmosphere, which causes – surely intended – discomfort in some members of the audience.
Few impressions, but all impressive
After a good three-quarters of an hour, her performance comes to an end and the doors to the hall open. While many people stream out, some remain in their seats, waiting impatiently for half an hour for the main act of the evening. And finally, the hall is bathed in a dark light, a sudden silence falls. The only thing you can hear is the sound of soft footsteps coming towards the audience. Those of Bendik Giske. He enters the stage, walks to the front, stands in the middle, puts the mouthpiece on his saxophone and begins to play.
His presence is so powerful that nothing else is needed at that moment: no light show, no stage set. Just Bendik Giske in a black iridescent evening gown and a bulky oversized leather jacket, on platform boots, with his saxophone. A magical moment, sadly marred by a few stragglers looking for the right seat.
This audible and tangible interaction of pure physicality, somehow fragile and yet completely controlled, is the thing that is so captivating.
Restraint and reduction are the hallmarks of the evening. Bendik Giske uses only his own body, his breath, his voice and the saxophone. Every little detail, every breath is audible, absent of any alienation or stylistic refinement. The way Bendik Giske exploits the full potential of his saxophone is a testament to incredible virtuosity – concentrating on every part of the instrument and using microphones arranged to his needs to make every touch on the keys audible, no matter how gentle. This audible and tangible interaction of pure physicality, somehow fragile and yet completely controlled, is the thing that is so captivating.
As soon as the last note sounds, everyone in the audience gets to their feet without exception and didn’t seem to want to stop applauding, touched by this powerful, pure and deeply human concert. It was as if the performance was like a reminder of both one’s own vulnerability and one’s own strength.