Soulful Music in a Surprising Austrian Venue

New museum hosted talented artist whose songs stir the soul.

AngelehnerMuseumWe expect cutting-edge museums and compelling musical performances in world cities, but not in smaller, less-known places. One such place is Wels in northern Austria. It’s not near the music meccas of Vienna or Salzburg, but it has a firm spot on the Austrian cultural map thanks to the Angerlehner Museum, which opened in September 2013 to showcase the private contemporary art collection of Heinz J. Angerlehner.

Like art museums elsewhere, it hosts concerts and recitals of surprising quality and variety.  Just as the art is contemporary, the music is often of our own time. One such was an October performance by Latin American/Austrian musician Jessie Ann de Angelo. Her commentary on pictures of the exhibition comprised clever words and personal associations. She also dedicated one of her songs, performed evergreens or her own compositions to each work of art. It was the most successful performance in the museum’s short history. Whatever the musical era, Austrian audience tend to have finely tuned ears, and the accolades she received were not just for her technical gifts but for the soul and passion she brought to the performance.

Jessie Ann de Angelo in concert.
Jessie Ann de Angelo in concert.

As a friend whom I trust on such matters put it  “It was with fireworks of musicality and a remarkable proficiency that she released the feelings expressed by the pictures without becoming too sentimental. It was singing that, as was once described by Rossini, will be heard by the soul (“Il cantar che nell’anima se sente”).”

In this performance, as in others, Jessie Ann’s music moved the audience’s hearts, her vitality and joy of life were contagious, and the associations global. For instance, the rhythm of a Rhumba Catalán perfectly fitted a picture painted by the Chinese painter Xianwei Zhu, and even ripped the listeners from their seats.

She dramatically accompanied a picture that communicated a fear of heights and vertigo with a stirring song from Paraguay. It tells the story of a child who climbs a tree before his proud parents’ eyes and then suddenly falls.  When the child’s soul rises to the sky as a small blue bird, everybody in the auditorium responded. The universal question seemed to be: Is there a greater misfortune than the memories of lost happiness?

In this performance, the program by turns expressed clever and worthy thoughts or told cheerful stories. And she made the listeners feel her happiness at the privilege and honor of playing for them on that evening. A rare gift that roused a feeling of mutual esteem and gratefulness reciprocated by her fans.

Jessie Ann might come on stage in a costume like the enormous boa below stretched out to mimic a condor’s wingspan or a tall fruit and flower headdress in the manner of Carmen Miranda, but when she gets down to the business of music, she is absolutely compelling. Here’s a YouTube video of a performance:

I wonder whether she will ever tour in the United States — and if so, by a stretch in Colorado. Otherwise, it is necessary to travel to Austria or elsewhere in Europe to hear her. Come too think of it, that’s another reason to go.