Posted at 1:07 PM on August 2, 2005
by Brian Newhouse
Every day during the Symposium, the Kyoto Concert Hall functions as a kind of revolving door for the planet. The two or three groups who perform on the afternoon concert have to hightail it out of their dressing rooms so the next two or three who are on their way to sing the evening concert can change. Singers from wildy disparate cultures brush by each other in the stairwells and hallways and sometimes get a little bit stuck.
Yesterday, the members of Choeur la Grace from Congo wowed everyone with their fabulous costumes (think a rainbow on steroids) and presentation in which they danced, wept, laughed—all in the first number.
I was chasing them for an interview afterward while the Swedish women’s quartet Schola Gothia was heading for the stage to rehearse their evening program. Gothia’s specialty is austere music by 14th-century mystics, read from a single page of manuscript that’s propped on a six-foot-tall wooden music stand.
La Grace was heading down the stairs, Gothia up. One of the African singers’ costumes snagged on Gothia’s wooden stand. So here was the snapshot capturing the Symposium: a choir of Swedes caught and stopped on a few strands of dried, colored grass from equatorial Africa. I was above them in the stairwell so when I heard the little bubble of laughter float up I looked down and saw two singers, one black, one white, working to untangle the mess. Their heads leaned close to each other: one of long blonde hair, the other of tightknit coffee-colored cornrows. The whole thing took only a second or two and then they each went on their way, two cultures, two eras, caught on each other in a place that neither could have ever predicted.