"We are looking into a mirror": Jochen Sandig on human requiem

German director Jochen Sandig has reimagined a Brahms classic in the immersive human requiem, whose Australian premiere plays this Adelaide Festival

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human requiem @ Adelaide Festival. Credit: Stephanie Berger
Published 08 Mar 2018

The human condition is a cruel mistress. In an attempt to seek solace in the harsh truth of mortality, Jochen Sandig has transformed Brahms’ Die Deutsches Requiem into a hauntingly beautiful interactive experience. The original score is a classic; "the piece itself is a big tradition in Germany," says Sandig. "It is now 150 years since Des Deutsches Requiem premiered in 1868."

The piece called to Sandig, and gave him an urge to create and reinvent. He felt as though it "could be or should be translated into physical action – into something more like a scenic concept."

This urge was the driving motivation behind human requiem. Sandig knew Des Deutsches Requiem was something special due to its confronting nature. "Within the text and the music of this piece we are looking into a mirror," he says. "In it we see ourselves realising the beauty and the joy of life. It’s extremely joyful, it’s a celebration of life and love, but it’s also sad."

Being a celebratory and realistic piece, it has helped shaped Sandig’s view of his own mortality. "This piece helped me deal with my old fears of death," he says. "I feel like we often forget that our life has an end. Our life is precious, nobody knows what comes after death, we can believe and not believe, but we are living now, this is realness. This is what the piece is shaping and trying to express."

The overwhelming success of human requiem was not expected. "I never thought I could make something of such importance," says Sandig. "I don’t think it’s thanks to me, it’s in the music. I was like a medium."

The most important performers are the singers of the choir who wander around and through the audience throughout the performance. "The choir is like the Berlin Philharmonic of the voice," remarks Sandig. "Their body is their instrument... They walk around like angels between the people. We can see and hear them and that’s what’s beautiful about this show, they are getting really close to you. They are looking in your eyes if you are lucky."

This intimate connection between the performers and the audience is what really sets Sandig’s interpretation apart. "They have a real physical contact with the audience," he says. "The human soul is so connected when you are that close."

Physically and metaphorically, Sandig’s choreography presents everyone as equal. This is an important ambience Sandig hopes to create as a social comment. "As human beings we are all in a deeper sense a family, we are all brothers and sisters," he says. "Being rich or poor or the colour of our skin, we are all sharing one life on one planet."