Music as a risk. The Leuphana Concert Lab

2024-01-25 Concerts are not a risk. But this one is. Usually you go to a cultural venue, show a ticket, sit or stand up, and listen. The participants in the "Leuphana Concert Lab" project tried something completely different - an art event that could be like an experiment in a lab(oratory). The audience proved them right.

[Translate to Englisch:] Musik als Risiko. Das Leuphana Concert Lab ©© 2024 beyond portrait, all rights reserved.
[Translate to Englisch:] Musik als Risiko. Das Leuphana Concert Lab ©© 2024 beyond portrait, all rights reserved.
[Translate to Englisch:] Musik als Risiko. Das Leuphana Concert Lab ©© 2024 beyond portrait, all rights reserved.

The concert evening entitled "Connecting" on 18 January marked the end of the first Concert Lab seminar, which was held in cooperation with Steinway & Sons as a practice partner. The young Iranian pianist Arash Rokni was recommended for the collaboration following his success at the Leipzig Bach Competition and agreed to participate. The assignment for the pianist and the seminar was to organise a concert evening together on the theme of "social cohesion" and examine the topic from different perspectives. Students from the various departments in the complementary studies programme spent a semester discussing the topic, attending various concerts as examples and exchanging ideas with artists in order to put together their own concert evening. At the same time, a cultural studies seminar focussed on new approaches to audience research and flanked the concert evening with its own research projects.

Among the 200 or so guests were many Leuphana students, and also interested Lüneburg residents. The initial results from the audience discussion and the survey show that there was a very wide range of visitors - not only the traditional regular audience came to the concert, but also many young people in particular, who would otherwise describe themselves as non-attendees.

Towards new patterns

Arash Rokni explained that as an artist, he does not see himself as an objective observer, but as part of society. Together with the students, he therefore selected composers whose creative work had been restricted by social division or who had been excluded from society for various reasons. He believes that the role of artists in today's increasingly individualised society is to demonstrate the interconnectedness and dependence of the individual on their fellow human beings, and to contribute to the awareness of their audience. Two speakers from the seminar complemented the music with stage directions, quotes, and poetry. In addition, the students invited two dancers to perform Hindemith's "Suite 1922", em-body-ing, in a way, social dynamics, conflicts, division, and the expulsion of individuals from society. "The topic of social cohesion is constantly on everyone's lips, but very few people have a clear idea of it," said one seminar participant, "although we all want to convey tolerance, everyone is subconsciously travelling in their own bubble and we find it difficult to leave old patterns behind."

The music performance began with Élisabeth Jacquet de la Guerre and Georg Muffat, both baroque composers, whose pieces sound tidy and catchy, typical of the era, and thus invited the audience to pause and reflect. The contrast with the music by Paul Hindemith, Dmitri Shostakovich and Alexander Mossolov - modern composers whose pieces are challenging and leave behind the security of familiar harmonies - was all the stronger. You can clearly hear the process of increasing social conflict, marginalisation, division and isolation of the 20th century.

The existing groups in the audience were separated by stage directions, asked to close their eyes or change seats or were only supposed to watch the scene from the sidelines. This was followed by a phase of reflection. What has changed? How do I feel? Using small lights, the audience were invited to express their agreement with thoughts projected onto screens and thus realise that they might have more in common with each other than they thought. The forum of the central building was completely darkened during this nocturne by Fanny Hensel, you could almost only see these small, moving lights and only realised when it was over that you had goose bumps the whole time.

The rehearsible and the unrehearsible

Afterwards, the audience was invited to move freely around the room during "Musical Toys" by contemporary composer Sofia Gubaidulina, to approach each other again, to encounter each other with an open mind, to observe their surroundings and others with curiosity. The term "play" in German encompasses playing with a toy as well as playful movement (as in dance) and musical play: Thus, how can we manage to truly listen to and perceive each other? The students explored this question as well and translated it musically - the audience was instructed to start by humming dissonantly without regard for others and then gradually agree on a common sound by listening. You can't rehearse something like that. Nor can you rule out the possibility that the audience (not even starting to discuss, but quite simply) won't join in. Yet this risk was an integral part of the concert programme. How does the audience react to the instruction to move freely around the room? Do they start humming when asked to do so? The organisers were impressed by how openly the audience reacted to these instructions, how they actively interpreted them and discovered the space for themselves, opened it up, took it up. Some guests placed the lights on their heads, many used the moving phases to observe Arash at the grand piano at close range, some lay down on the floor. The audience was also encouraged to get to know others and exchange ideas.

It was a positive surprise that the really complex repertoire was also perceived as both accessible and exciting by those who tend to describe themselves as non-attendees. In the follow-up discussion, it also became clear that dramaturgy and setting - compared to the concert experience in a classical piano recital - made a big difference to the audience's experience and reflection. And not just for the audience: Arash Rokni also declared that the contact with the audience was much more tangible for him and that it was a unique concert experience.

Further information

The Leuphana Concert Lab is a transdisciplinary project in collaboration with academic and practical partners. It is designed as a three-year pilot project and brings together artistic means of expression with perspectives from other academic disciplines: We wish to devote ourselves to the societal "Grand Challenges", work on them co-creatively with musicians and students, and communicate them to the audience.

In the area of teaching, new didactic formats have been trialled since the winter semester. The aim is to develop several modules and implement them as a permanent part of the complementary study programme. Students will also be able to participate in various Concert Lab seminars in the coming semesters.


  • Prof. Dr. Sigrid Bekmeier-Feuerhahn
  • Lea Jakob