Graham Reid | | 4 min read
Lemper – the foremost interpreter of Weimar cabaret songs and the
music of Jacques Brel, Kurt Weill and Edith Piaf – doesn't pull her
no prompting at all after she mentions one of her most recent
projects has been creating a multi-media theatrical setting for the
poetry of barfly Charles Bukowski, she notes the production is better
received in Europe than it might in the United States – outside of
her adopted hometown of New York and perhaps a few other large,
sophisticated cities like Chicago, Boston and San Francisco.
Americans, you know them,” she says flatly. “They are so
reactionary and I just cannot believe how far back they they are are
in their heads with religion being in the way.
goodness, they are so provincial here – except of course in New
York. Outside of New York City it is like a deep American province
and is scary and very old fashioned. Worse than old fashioned, it is
retarded and horrible.
have a house in upstate New York and if I go to the markets there or
the mall it is very scary and I don't feel at home at all.
feel very European in New York City and it is possible to live like
that here with Europeans from everywhere and a great standard of
outside of New York? Ohhh,” she adds with a shudder that is almost
yes, she would say as much to an interviewer from the New
York Times – but might be
a little more discreet with someone from Texas.
I know the country I live in . . . the average mainstream American
Republican would not appreciate Bukowski's poetry,” and then she
embarks on a digression about the vilification of President Obama
be a little accommodating to those she holds in low regard, she
admits Bukowski's poems are “very nasty and naughty, there are very
raunchy descriptions of his life and the women he was with, although
some are more reflective”.
in Germany, the 46-year old performer who has won acclaim for her
roles in Cabaret
as well as appearing in a number of art-house movies, was one of the shows in her repertoire is some of her original songs in a themed
show about Berlin.
recent album Between
Yesterday and Tomorrow –
her first album of her own songs in a 30-year acting and singing
career – seems to have been a long time coming.
have always had the stories and words in me but it was more of a
question for me of sitting at the piano and writing my own music. But
once I had licked that blood and caught that fire I knew that I was
definitely very much attracted to that situation.
songs are more introverted and more impressionistic and poetic than
my theatre work, so realising I didn't have to be theatrical in my
interpretations I could just explore progressions of beautiful
my other loves – Brel, Piaf and Kurt Weill – are still burning.”
accomplished artist as much as a performer, Lemper says her paintings
were source material for some of the images on the album cover which
makes reference to Paris and Berlin, cities which fired her creative
imagination for their romance, decadence and artistic temperament.
Music from these places are prominent in her performances, but her
repertoire and interests are constantly growing and changing.
Angels over Berlin
programme with her four-piece band also includes songs of the late Argentinian bandoneon player
Astor Piazzolla whose music she recently discovered and has become
addicted to: “It is poetic, dark, philosophical and existential --
and more like the French repertoire, the music is so passionate.
brought tango into the moden world in a way which was rather more
revolutionary than traditional tango. I have the idea of creating a
cycle of songs by him at some time and have a whole tango evening.
The good thing about his music is it sometimes sounds like jazz and
sometimes like classical music, or like Impressionistic French music
or even rock music.
has a lot of different qualities as he brought tango into a more
multicultural world inspired by European music. And we have a
fabulous bandoneon player [Tito Castro] in the band now too.
what we try to perform on tour now with Angels
over Berlin is all these
different chapters I've been experiencing.
Over Berlin is a very
cinematic metaphor about angels in Berlin taking off and looking over
the countries next to them and seeing the history and the times. The
songs are about the city of Berlin and the others around it in Europe
– and there is a link between everything.
you look at the Thirties, the people were escaping from the Nazis and
going to Paris then to America or Israel or Argentina . . . So it is
a linked history and I make up stories to bring these universes
who has frequently returned to Germany to perform in Berlin where she
once lived, says Berlin is a city she loves and has seen change
it is far more like New York with a world culture and a vibrant
spirit to it. Berlin of 80s was a tiny island in the middle of the
Eastern Bloc and although it had a wonderful culture it was a little
world. But there was this birth of avant-garde and underground
culture with a political spirit and the city had its own identity,
not to be compared with the rest of the world at the time.
extreme political situation made it a culture on the edge.”
And with typical forthrightness Ute Lemper gets in a final quick jab. “Today Berlin is almost a mecca – and much more interesting culturally than Paris or London.”
There is also an extensive background interview with, and career synopsis, Ute Lemper here.