Interview with Sibylle Mahni


Sibylle is one of the senior artists at Krzyzowa-Music, a wonderful chamber music festival in Poland founded by Viviane Hagner (her interview will be posted soon, too!), where I spent three summers. Sadly we haven’t  worked together just yet, but we got to know each other a little better this past summer when she heard me talk about Salon Séance at the lunch table one day. Later that same week, there was a discussion for all the participating artists at the festival about the role of the arts and artists in our society today — which ended up being about 3 hours long! I had the privilege of talking a little about Salon Séance and its mission, and in particular, about the Britten program which is centered around the question, “How do I live in a broken world?” Following this long and interesting discussion (which covered a wide range of topics, from El Sistema to making an ethical choice when buying yogurt at a supermarket), Sibylle and I talked further about the subject, and thought she’d be the perfect person for this interview! So without further ado — meet Sibylle!

Mari: What's the first piece by Britten you'd ever heard?

Sibylle: As a horn player, I'm sure it was the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings (Op. 31). I enjoyed it very much.

M: And when was this?

S: I think I was 16 or 17.

M: And what was your first impression of his music?

S: I liked the colors. He has a special language, so full of emotions and moods. And whenever I listen to his music, it's as if I'm seeing pictures. It's very sensual.

M: How would you describe his music to somebody who's never heard it?

S: I'd say that it's very direct with emotions. I played in the orchestra for a production of The Turn of the Screw (Op. 54) and I remember how every time I came out of the rehearsal or the performance, I was depressed — not because I didn't like it, but because the music was so strong. It really gets inside of you. It leaves you breathless. I'd also say that the music, while beautiful, is a little 'foggy' too. It's ambiguous and resembles impressionism in this respect, in its colors.


M: When I first heard his music, I also thought that it's like a foggy forest and you're walking into but you don't—

S: You don't really see what's really going on, sometimes.

M: Yeah! In our project, we're exploring how Britten responded to what was happening around him through his music. Were there any life events or world events that really affected the way you make music?

S: Yes, when I joined the Bundesjugendorchester, which was formed soon after the German reunification. I grew up in West Germany, but I didn't live near the border, so I didn't feel the effect of the reunification directly until then. Suddenly, I was interacting with many young musicians from East Germany and it all became very real. And when we made music together, that was something special. I experienced first-hand how music makes it possible for people from different backgrounds to really connect with each other.

M: What did you play?

S: I think we played Brahms’ second symphony. I especially remember one concert in Vienna. It was open air, which was already magical, but that combined with the mood in the orchestra that year — it really was magic.

M: If you could ask Britten one question, what would it be?

S: I’d like to ask what motivated him to compose an opera like The Turn of the Screw, an opera with such a story, with such a difficult subject-matter.

Interviewed on August 19, 2018

Mari Lee