Sparks & Visions Festival 2023
(Theater Regensburg, Part 2 of review – Nights 2 and and 3. 28 and 29 January 2023. Review by Sebastian Scotney)
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There has been a great deal of goodwill towards this first edition of Regensburg’s Sparks + Visions festival. The reviewer who did the round-up for this morning’s local newspaper the Mittelbayerische noted that the “applause and the bravo’s” which greeted each appearance by Festival Director Anastasia Wolkenstein when she came onstage to introduce the bands “at least matched” those which heralded the subsequent entrances of the bands themselves.
The reviewer saw this as a sign that the Regensburg audience was, in essence, just particularly chuffed to be welcoming a high quality international event into the heart of the city by the Danube. And a number of musicians did indeed comment on how warm and welcoming the audience had been.
You could feel that goodwill coming from other sources too. Local banks and hotels have been brought into the fold, as have the city and regional authorities. Bavarian radio will be broadcasting all nine concerts on its BR-Klassik channel (LINK BELOW). As one senior broadcaster noted to me, this festival with its international identity and quality definitely fills a gap for the region, and does so well.
The international aspect of Sparks + Visions has been an important one. There were artists from twelve different countries in total, and just about all of the bands had members drawn from more than one place.
The two “supergroups” on the last night showed that spirit. First Benjamin Lackner’s Quartet, on the last gig of an 18-date tour, is Lackner himself (Germany/US )+ Mathias Eick (Norway) + Jerome Regard(France) + Manu Katché (France/ Cote d’Ivoire). Reading Jon Turney’s review of them recently in Brussels (HERE), I conclude that what we heard in Regensburg was much more energised. I reckon there was a moment in the tune “Hung up on that Ghost” when bassist Regard and drummer Katché gave each other a particularly mischievous, conspiratorial smile. The mood shifted. They didn’t just know that they had found overdrive mode, they were going to made sure they kept using it.
That spontaneous adrenalin rush, however, was as nothing compared to the storm whipped up by the next international group who raised the roof as the closing act of the festival. For Andreas Schaerer’s “Novel of Anomaly Quartet, with Luciano Biondini (accordion/ Italy) + guitarist Kalle Kalima (Finnish but based in Berlin) + Andreas Schaerer and Lucas Niggli (both from Switzerland), the grandeur of Theater Regensburg was not going to inspire deference, but something very different. This group has performed a lot in the past 5-6 years, knows its business well, and duly took on the challenge to end the festival on a high. Swiss vocal acrobat Andreas Schaerer did indeed – miraculously – persuade most of the audience to stop luxuriating in our “fauteuils”, to defy the staid surroundings and get up on our feet and dance.
Among the three bands – a third of the festival’s total of nine – with British connections, the one with the most dance orientation was Kamaal Williams‘s trio with Samuel Laviso on drums and Jay Phelps on trumpet. Williams seemed a bit non-plussed by the occasion, and appeared to want to coast gently from one dance rhythm to another, so it was left to Phelps and particularly drummer Laviso to provide the real energy, enthusiasm and to make a proper connection to an essentially willing audience.
I have not heard Elina Duni and Rob Luft in a venue anything like as large as this, but they absolutely read the room, and delivered a very affecting set on the Saturday night. Duni remarked that if there is sadness around in Albania you sing it.. or dance it… or drink it.” There is apparently a new ECM album on its way, and soon.
Also at the quieter and more reflective end of the scale was Hungarian vocalist Veronika Harcsa’s “Debussy Now” set, a German premiere, with extensive use of reverb and effects from Márton Fenyvesi (guitar/electronics) and characterful and rhythmic playing from Murmansk-born harpist Anastasia Razvaljaeva. There was an extensive extemporisation on tune of “La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin”. The original piano prelude is marked “très calme et doucement expressif” and that was the vibe of the majority of the set, even if there were some more stormy and expressionist excursions. Purists would wonder if we mightn’t have heard more of the detail of the words, but Harcsa’s clear aim was elsewhere: to set a mood, and the Regensburg public definitely warmed to her. The other group with strong Hungarian connection was Santa Diver with Luca Kézdy on violin, David Szesztay on bass and David Szegő on drums. It was an interesting and varied programme…but, in all honesty, my mind just wandered….
The festival of nine concerts brought some very carefully sought-out contrasts in the programme. It went, semmingly without a glitch. Nonetheless, there must have been all kinds of lessons learnt from putting this festival on for the first time. And that bodes very well indeed for next year’s second edition…
Sebastian was the guest of the Sparks & Visions Festival