By BRUCE DENNILL
Caroline Leisegang: Come Full Circle / Circa On Jellicoe, Rosebank, Johannesburg 7.5
Having spent much of the last year-and-half in and out of hospital, composer and pianist Caroline Leisegang might’ve despaired of ever writing new music or playing in front of an audience again. However, one of Leisegang’s many unconventional characteristics – she spends much of a brief welcome and explanation speech before her Circa performance suggesting that she’s weird and doesn’t really know what she’s doing – is her resilience, both physical and creative, and she’s not only written an album’s worth of new material (the collection is called My Body Of Preludes, and this concert is its public launch), but also stepped up to perform these compositions herself, rather than delegating that aspect to a more recognised concert pianist.
With her prized, petite upright Steinway set in the centre of radiating ley-lines of fairy lights, Leisegang points out the many metaphors inherent in her chosen theme of circles – lives introduced to hers and then ebbing away in her hospital experiences; the impact of the Circa Gallery’s unique architecture on acoustics; and her return to the venue after debuting there as a composer to this new official debut as a pianist. She doesn’t mention the generally cyclical structure of the pieces she writes, which often repeat tender, thoughtful melodic motifs before being pithily interrupted and given new emotional depth by an unexpected minor note or phrase, but that facet of her output remains in the new muic.
The event has an interesting atmosphere. In her opening monologue, Leisegang informs the audience that she won’t stop to introduce pieces and has prepared no programme to elaborate on her thoughts on the compositions. She adds that she will – also unannounced – perform a version of John Cage’s 4’33”, which, famously, features no playing at all from the artist involved. Happily, Leisegang elaborates further, explaining that the piece is not about silence (as many believe) but about appreciating the ambient sounds heard during its running time – including the awkward shifting of audience members unused to sitting still for an appreciable period. Furthermore, the composer dedicates her performance of the piece to those new friends – her fellow patients – lost along the way, as well as to a late aunt, and encourages her audience to spend the quiet time reflecting on those people and relationships.
This creates a space of mixed profundity and banality – someone with their head bowed and perhaps some pain in their heart alongside someone who nervously crossed and uncrosses their legs, apparently unaware that their boots squeak jarringly on the polished concrete floor every time they do so. The time Leisegang spends playing her new works is more consistent and calm, though her own recent history and her courage in stepping up to the keyboard herself this time speak of the steel beneath the relative stillness.
Another inimitable and memorable showpiece.