German musician Nico was a lot of things, as we are told by singer Danielle Asciak in Nico: Songs They Never Played on the Radio. But there's also a lot of things she isn't known for, or at the very least, she hasn't received the acknowledgement that she deserves. On the 30th anniversary of Nico's death, Asciak has teamed up with Forest Collective to host a unique interpretation of Nico's music through chamber music arrangements.
Artistic director of Forest Collective and Nico conductor, Evan Lawson, has brought together eight musicians (Vilan Mai, Ali Fyffe, Trea Hindley, Bec Scully, Erica Tucceri, Isabel Hede, Nikki Edgar and William Elm) to accompany Asciak as she takes us on a journey not just through Nico's music, but also her life. Despite much of the room not knowing who Nico was, the brief anecdotal history we are given and the power of the songs selected, allow the audience to garner an understanding of who this woman was and understand the challenges she faced in how she was defined.
The opening number "My Funny Valentine", originally a gothic jazz hybrid, sets the mood and tone for the rest of Nico, where even those who are fans of Nico's music are surprised by how stirring it remains with Elm's chamber arrangement. Instead of trying to replicate Nico's distinctive vocals, Asciak ensures that hers match the gorgeous arrangements by Elm, Lawson and Alex Turley (Forest Collective's 2018 Composer-in-residence), and in doing so, they present the audience with new pieces of music while recognising and honouring the original source material. Further highlights of the evening include "Secret Side" and the closing numbers of "Afraid" and "These Days".
While the performance of Nico is expertly put together, the show is slightly hindered by some inconsistent lighting throughout the first four songs, with lights being turned up and down constantly and at times being projected right into the audiences' vision. A further problem was the positioning of Lawson in the middle of the space, which while common for a conductor to stand, it meant that Asciak was completely blocked out of view for a number of people whenever she stood in the middle of the stage. However those proved to be good opportunities to pay further attention to the musicians and watch them giving their mind, body and soul over to their instruments and the music.
Forest Collective has cemented itself as a leader in presenting contemporary classical music that elicits strong emotional responses from its audiences. Their collaboration with Asciak in Nico: Songs They Never Played on the Radio is another example of how innovative the organisation is and their ability to create experiences for audiences that constantly leaves them wanting more.
Click here to read my interview with Danielle Asciak and Evan Lawson.
Venue: Lithuanian Club, 44 Errol St, North Melbourne
Season: 16 September | 5:30pm
Length: 60 minutes
Tickets: $32 Full | $25 Conc
Bookings: Melbourne Fringe Festival