Max Richter believes in dreams. At least that’s what his music would suggest. His 2015 conceptual work, Sleep, was an eight-hour album he composed with the intention of it being played before bedtime; a kind of neo-classical lullaby meant to explore the effect music has on our subconscious.
Last week, Richter premiered the live version of Sleep at Kraftwerk, a music venue housed in an old power plant in Berlin Mitte. The twist — and there’s often a twist with Richter — was that the concert took place overnight, running from midnight to eight the next morning. Over 400 guests brought their own pillows and blankets, gathering on camping beds spread throughout the Kraftwerk’s expansive concrete halls.
With Richter on piano and a live electronic set up, a small strings section and vocalist joined him on stage periodically. The music began to swell, the lights dimmed, and the audience was eerily silent — people settled on the floor around the stage, wrapped in blankets, or curled up on their beds. There’s a dream-like feel to Richter’s piano playing, an ethereal quality to his compositions that is only heightened with his light touch on the keys; the music, at times, seemed to be almost breathing.
It wasn’t long before everyone seemed to fall asleep. The night’s most special moments, though, occurred during the inevitable intermittent stirrings: I awoke at around 2:30am to see a solitary audience member standing in front of the stage, eyes closed, arms reaching for the ceiling, completely lost in the music. Later, around 5:00, I woke up to a room that was sound asleep, while Richter played the piano alone. It was an unusually intimate moment, almost like I’d walked in on him in his living room. My own sleep was confounding; I woke up multiple times to listen and found myself wondering where I recognised the music from, only to realise I’d unconsciously heard it in my night’s dreams. There was a time where I dreamed that I was at the concert, and I awoke confused as to what was a dream and what was a memory.
I’d set an alarm for 6:30 am so that I could catch the end of the performance. Both Richter and band were on stage by the time I returned to my cot with a coffee, and the music was still moving at a relaxed, languid pace, a good match for most of the guests at that hour. Slowly the front of the hall filled up again as eventually the strings faded into nothing more than a whisper. There was a long, almost contemplative pause before the audience erupted into a minutes-long standing ovation. Despite exhaustion, Richter beamed. The performance, for all intents and purpose, was a dream come true.