Lifestyle

Inside a magical musical circle

  • Party person: Sissy Strauss in a still from The Last Salon
  • Documentary film-maker: Austrian Joachim Dennhardt
  • Sissy Strauss in a still from The Last Salon (Photograph supplied)

Now something of a relic, the salon was once ubiquitous in music circles.

Musicians and singers would come together to perform in a private home.

Katarina Hoskins is hoping to revive the 19th-century practice with a film screening in the Hamilton Princess’s Trudeau Ballroom

The Last Salon is a documentary by her friend, Joachim Dennhardt. Central to the film is Sissy Strauss, a fellow Austrian who was artistic liaison for New York Metropolitan Opera for more than 40 years.

Mr Dennhardt said: “I met Sissy Strauss through several invitations at her salon, which she called ‘pasta parties’.

“Those parties were very special because you could hear and see stars of the opera world singing in a private place in private surroundings.

“And, of course, you started to talk to them. The guests came from all parts of society — diplomats, students, artists of all kinds, journalists, business people. All of them loved her and her husband, Max, like mother and father. “She invited them to her apartment and gave them a home when they first came to the Big Apple, knowing nobody.”

Her home welcomed world-famous opera singers, including Anna Netrebko, Juan Diego Flórez, Piotr Beczala and Ferrucio Furlanetto.

Ms Strauss left Manhattan in 2016 after the Met laid her off in an effort to cut costs and avoid bankruptcy. She returned to Vienna, where she once again opened her home to opera stars and friends.

“One day she told me her plans to go back to Vienna after 50 years living in North America, in New York,” Mr Dennhardt said.

“I told her, ‘Then you will host a last salon in New York’; the idea of my film was born.”

He filmed the event a few weeks later, unsure of whether he could refinance the production, but it proved “a big success”.

In October 2016, he won the Hollywood International Independent Documentary Award for best international documentary film.

Ms Strauss moved to Canada when she was 20, looking for a more open-minded society than Vienna was at that time. She eventually made her way to New York and joined the Met.

While not a musician, Mr Dennhardt has made many films about music.

He won the Media Net Award for An Opera Affair. Sounds of the Ice came out in 1990, shot in parts of the former Soviet Union, Lithuania and Siberia.

“It was the very specific time of Glasnost and Perestroika,” he said. “The film was dedicated to the so-called new German music given in concerts far away in the Soviet Union. So my film was shot in a very specific political time with contemporary music performed for an audience which was eager to hear that music from far away.”

While the trend for salons in Vienna had wavered, Mr Dennhardt has seen a resurgence of late. He and his wife have hosted their own to “bring together young and established people hearing well-known artists reading literature, playing music, and talking about it”.

“Our time brings back more and more the former salon culture of Vienna, Paris, Berlin and Rome,” he said.

“I think nowadays we need again a discussion about the future of our planet. We need to talk about different art projects and political issues.”

Mrs Hoskins, the Honorary Consul of Austria in Bermuda, is showing the film in conjunction with the Bermuda International Film Festival.

She hopes it will lead to the birth of “public salons” here.

“Pianos standing in public parks, at train stations, at airports,” she said.

“Maybe we can even convince the Government to set up a piano in the Botanical Gardens or in town, where the public can also become part of this movement.”

The Last Salon will screen on February 24 at 7pm. Tickets, $50, include a wine and canapé reception. For more information: info@biff.bm, 441-293-3456 or joachimdennhardt.com