Juliane Banse's moving song will evoke audience emotions

German opera singer graces the YMCA in Jerusalem for its 2020 Winter Mini Festival

(photo credit: SUSIE KNOLL)
Juliane Banse likes to move with her voice. That should be a given for a classical music vocalist, but Banse doesn’t just want to evoke emotion among the members of her audience; she also likes to shake a leg herself.
For a while it was a toss-up whether the 50-year-old German opera singer would base a career on her vocal cords or on her choreographic abilities. Her audience at the 2020 Winter Mini Festival, which takes place at the YMCA in Jerusalem February 6-8, will be left in little doubt as to where Banse’s principal professional interests lie, although the keener-eyed patrons may very well also espy a certain corporeal fluidity to her stage presence.
“Before I started singing I was very much focused on ballet,” she notes. “That was my Plan A, which changed when I met my singing teacher who said maybe we should try that [to concentrate on singing]. So I said bye-bye to the dance. But I still love dance and I still try to keep up with it a little bit.”
The soprano’s appearance at this week’s festival, at noon on Friday, is of a purely vocal nature. She will team up with artistic director and celebrated pianist Elena Bashkirova, to perform songs composed by Mozart, Schubert, Debussy and Richard Strauss.
But making her own singular moves is never far from Banse’s presentation mind-set. She says her ballet training, and the desire to use her whole body, even when she is out there principally as a vocalist, are constantly in the mix for her, particularly in the operatic field.
“Yes, it is always there, especially in my approach to how to act on the stage, and how to express something on stage when you try to get to know a character, or try to express the emotions of a character on the stage. Of course, if you know how to use your body for this, and how to express certain things with your body, it helps you extremely.”
That, she posits, is something that comes up in her cohorts’ strategic approach in the preliminary phases of a new production.
“I think that stage directors probably like to work with me because I am not, as we say in German, a sack of potatoes,” she laughs. “You know, you know how to fall down and then get up again. That certainly helps.”
There is more gainful fallout to be had from Banse’s structured movement backdrop.
“Ballet education teaches you discipline,” she notes, adding that she takes an obdurate line to her work. “This also helps me a lot. I can stand a lot. I think it comes from there because, in ballet, the moment it starts to hurt, you go on for like another two hours or so,” she chuckles.
That steeliness also eddies out to other areas of her everyday juggling act. “In this whole profession you have this split between family and job, and children, and singing and not sleeping, blah-blah. If you have a little bit of discipline, it really helps. I think that also comes from the ballet.”
Presumably, keeping her physique in good shape and, therefore, nurturing a healthy level of respiratory functioning can have a beneficial knock-on effect on her singing. Banse says that, while keeping fit is a clear advantage for all her professional outlets, there are some cardinal pitfalls to be avoided, too.
“It is very different because the aim in classical ballet is to have as little weight as possible, and you have to try to leave the floor in your attentions. In the singing it is actually the opposite. You try to be grounded and to be connected to the base.”
However, practice can make perfect. “This is something that you have to realize that is very different, and you have to switch. When I go to dance, and then I go back to singing, I have to be really consciously aware of that – now I have to switch to other body function. Once you understand that, you can easily switch back and forth.”
That is a useful tool to have in one’s skill locker when you combine both disciplines.
BANSE’S 2020 SEASON itinerary includes performances of Schubert’s “Winterreise” song cycle for voice and piano based on 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller.
Interestingly, the Schubert series has received a very broad variety of readings over the years. Maury Yeston, who is best known for his Broadway musical offerings, based his 1991 musical theater song cycle “December Songs” on “Winterreise,” and German conductor and composer Hans Zender orchestrated a new arrangement of the cycle two years later. Then there is 50-year-old Austrian hurdy-gurdy player Matthias Loibner’s inventive working for his chosen instrument and voice, although, it must be said, the hurdy-gurdy is noted in Müller’s original lyrics of “Der Leiermann,” the last item in the song cycle. Pushing the boat out even further, Swedish synthpop-industrial group Covenant based the title track of its 2000 album on the Schubert sequence closer, while German black metal act Nargaroth used “Der Leiermann” for its own anarchically energized creative ends on its 2007 record, Semper Fidelis.
While her interpretative approach to the base material does not push the disciplinary envelope quite that far out, Banse still has her work cut out for her in singing and dancing her way through the “Winterreise” continuum.
“It makes it not easy for this project which I am doing now – dancing and singing at the same time,” Banse muses. “That sometimes makes it really complicated, to do all these movements and still sing, or sing all this stuff and still move.  Sometimes it’s a little bit more of one, and sometimes a little bit more of the other.”
Athletic and artistic challenges notwithstanding, Banse enjoys the mixed format venture. “It’s extremely exciting and I love doing it, because I always wished to have this combination on stage, that somebody would use my ballet past and incorporate it in a stage action. With this project it is finally possible. This is great.”
She will be sticking to the vocal side of her output at the YMCA. “In Jerusalem I am going to be the classic singer standing at the piano, singing the recital and hopefully not moving too much,” she laughs.
Throughout her career Banse has devoted a lot of her time to polishing her delivery of lieder, across the ages. “In Jerusalem I will be singing a very classic program, the main lied repertoire – Schubert, Mozart, Strauss, with a little bit of France repertoire [Debussy]. I think it will be a nice program. I hope people will enjoy it.”
Banse’s last appearance in Israel was a full two decades ago, and she says she is delighted to be making a return here, and also to finally get together with her partner in creative crime, in a professional capacity. “We have known each other for a long time. Elena and I always met up from time to time, on different occasions. We always liked each other very much, but, strangely enough, we never worked together. Every time we said one time we have to do a concert together, but it never happened. So, finally, it does happen and it makes me really happy.”
There should be smiles all round at YMCA’s exquisitely ornate auditorium this Friday.
For tickets and more information: (02) 624-1041, https://www.jmc.org.il/E/index.php