|Sarah Willis with actor Christian Berkel; in episode to be released July 19|
Willis is a member of the horn section of the Berliner Philharmoniker, the iconic orchestra that has successfully expanded its audience with a collection of high quality live concert broadcasts in the Digital Concert Hall.
Live broadcasts in the Digital Concert Hall often include specially created “interval talks” that play during intermission. These conversations almost always feature a member of the orchestra who interviews the conductor and/or soloist of the evening. The conversations range over practical topics and often give insights about the music and those who perform it.
Willis has become a popular interval host. She has a journalistic flair, and also has a distinctive kind of charisma that puts the people she interviews at ease. Ideas flow naturally.
Alexander Lück and Daniel Finkernagel from finkernagel & lück medienproduktion met Willis through their work on the broadcast team of the Digital Concert Hall. They conceived of the original concept for “Prelude & Food,” and as they worked with Willis they became convinced she would be the perfect host.
Taped in German with English subtitles, Prelude & Food is not a cooking show in the tradition of Julia Child. Instead, each episode is centered on a guest who arrives with a grocery bag of food to cook. Other friends of the guest are already assembled, and the group begins to cook a dish at various times and in various combinations.
One might not catch all the steps necessary to reconstruct the meal at your own home, but that result is not the central focus of the show. Instead, we see the process of working together; of sharing the joy of communication in a chamber music of chopping and mixing.
Camera shots cut away from discussions from time-to-time to show interactions among the friends in another part of an adjacent dining room. The camera positions move slightly during conversations to create energy and unusual angles help shape our connection and make us feel involved.
While food is simmering, baking, or boiling there are opportunities for short musical works that are like sonic hors d'oeuvres. These works can be light-hearted and fun or can be surprisingly gorgeous, but they are an important link to the awesome talents and skills that these musicians have developed to the point where even casual playing is graceful and entrancing.
The process of preparing a dish becomes the narrative around which conversations, surprise guests, and musical interludes intersect. It is a clever format for revealing the charm of creative people, and its energy is youthful and fresh.
Willis is the perfect host for this kind of semi-indeterminate network of conversations. She directs, persuades, and develops a special kind of conversational polyphony.
In the first episode the guest is singer Anna Prohaska, who has appeared in the digital concert hall twice; once as a soloist in Mahler 8 and in an engaging concert in 2011 singing Mozart and Berg.
Prohaska explains that singers must be very careful of their health and must be aware of every change in their voices, so she shows us how to make her own special version of chicken soup. Her secret is in not using too much water, so that the taste is stronger, and she puts spices into a newly fashioned tea bag so that it can hold juniper berries and other spices.
Christoph Schneider (the drummer in Rammstein) is the surprise guest for the first episode. Like several classical musicians, Prohaska has a metal side and like many rockers, Schneider seems happy to hang out with classical musicians.
The second episode of “Prelude & Food” will be available on July 25. Cellist Alban Gerhardt is the featured guest, and he will show us how to make Moussaka. Gerhardt's friends on the show are the actor Christian Berkel, and manager Boris Orlob.
Two other episodes are in the process of being edited and will appear soon.
Episode three will feature the conductor Donald Runnicles as a main guest, with mezzo-soprano Anna Smirnova, and tenor Massimo Giordano. Episode four will feature oboist Albrecht Mayer as main guest, along with pianist Markus Becker and woodwind instrument repair guru Ludwig Frank.
We have become accustomed to thinking about audience development for classical music as consisting of concerts in the Bernstein tradition given to children. But this show is audience development for people who can become immediate subscribers; for folks in their 20s and 30s who will discover that people who are devoted to classical music are people who are basically like them (and maybe even just a little bit cooler).