The composer didn’t write his songs to be played at stuffy recitals by musicians in ties and tails. A new project aims to the fun back into Franz

I’m at a festival on the west coast of Denmark, in an industrial port that started out as a handful of farms in the 16th century and ended up having the longest dock in Europe, 12km long, by the late 19th. On my way to rehearsals, music fills the squares of the town. It’s a lively, noisy place.

The auditorium itself is full, and spontaneous applause keeps interrupting the flow. We’re not entirely sure why (was it the wine-tasting that preceded the concert?) but the audience hang on every moment, word and gesture. We’re performing a song cycle by Franz Schubert, set to words by Wilhelm Müller, called Die Schöne Müllerin (The Lovely Maid of the Mill). A love-sick boy is doomed to romantic failure. I’m the main singer and I’m also operating a puppet. Behind me, the rest of the Alehouse Boys (AKA the international classical collective Barokksolistene) are playing their instruments, including shaking the rustling leaves of a tree branch hung above the stage. The crux of our story, the boy’s suicide, is accompanied by a gasp and more spontaneous clapping. The room is hot and getting hotter. I tell a joke.

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