EN FACE | with orchestra

EN FACE by Sarah Nemtsov

Concerto for solo percussion, narrator and large orchestra
on text Solitude by Bruno Schulz

Aleksander Wnuk, EN FACE
EN FACE rehearsal, photo by Staatstheater Cottbus

The solo percussionist has his own space, his own “room” on stage. His instruments are placed and hung around him on four, possibly interconnected high stands. His  instruments are less classic percussion instruments, but more objects.

en face setup.jpg

The solo percussionist plays only with his hands! 2 microphones are attached to his wrists. Hitting the instruments and movements therefore always “zoom in” into a sound, or into an instrument/object. The sounds are taken under a microscope. There are mainly these following ways of using the hand: flat hand (with fingers), palm, fist, knuckles (knocking sound), only fingers and fingernails, also occasionally elbows. In some places, an object is also stimulated with other objects (with cans, stones or even a cow bell on gong, etc.). The hands often make extra movements after the attack to capture resonances, to amplify, and to rhythmize them – for example, circles above the gong or nearer (zoomed in and out) or back and forth between two cymbals. As for gong, cymbals and thunder sheet the result should sound “synthetic” (almost like pure electronic music). The movements are sometimes faster, sometimes slower. Some of them are rhythmically exact notated, sometimes kind of – sometimes not at all (but thought of, because of course there are also movements by instrument change etc.!). If small movements and noises happen just coincidentally (hand on clothes or skin, for instance), these are no flaws, but also considered and embraced.

fot. Błażej Bauer

The soloist moves in his room, where he is both protected and defenseless. Basically, this solo part is about a special form of choreography (and coordination). At the same time, inwardness. The soloist has no mallets (the usual “weapon” of a drummer), his hands become ears, he perceives everything very intensely and is vulnerable in his intimacy on stage. The virtuosity is thus of a different kind, it is more of an inner space and a virtuosity of sensibility.


The actor sits at a table. Maybe like a kind of false, imaginary reflection of the solo percussionist. Possibly the “I” of the short story. A miniature stage setting.  Freedom: the actor produces sounds and noises reacting to the percussion solo part or even anticipating it. So there can be rustling, crackling, a jingling of keys, or a chain in his hand. Perhaps the teacup is led to the mouth with trembling hands (clinking), just as the solo percussionist holds his cups trembling. The actor may even, at the very end, absurdly pull a small bird call, whistle out of his bag, perhaps he makes other sounds or gestures. Maybe he hits the table, maybe he gets up suddenly (in rage) or scratches the table or something else (no limits to imagination here). It is also possible to perform the part less theatrically: as a narrator. The narrator does not need a set design, he can just be on stage, standing or sitting on a chair, maybe close to the solo percussionist ‐ perhaps even inside his “room”.

“Should I tell you that my room is walled up?…In what way might I leave it? Here is how: Goodwill knows no obstacle; nothing can stand before deep desire. I have only to imagine a door, a door old and good, like in the kitchen of my childhood, with an iron latch and bolt. There is no room so walled up that it will not open with such a trusty door, if you have but the strength to insinuate it.”
― Bruno Schulz


The World Premiere has takan place at Staatstheater Cottbus, Germany.
April 5 2019 / 20:00 / Grosses Haus
April 7 2019 / 19:00 / Grosses Haus

Aleksander Wnuk, percussion solo
Jakob Diehl, narrator
Philharmonisches Orchester Cottbus
Felix Bender, conductor

Chat with Sarah Nemtsov (3:30 about En Face)
Sarah Nemtsov website