In der Schwerelosigkeit der Musik
(In the Zero Gravity of Music)

read by Johanna Wokalek
at the piano: Adam Benzwi

The Grushinskaja scenes
from the novel Grand Hotel
by Vicki Baum

arranged by Gerhard Ahrens

In her 1929 novel Grand Hotel, Vicki Baum places a handful of people in a grand hotel, allegedly modelled on the Hotel Excelsior at Anhalter Bahnhof station in Berlin, and paints an atmospherically dense picture of 1920s Berlin with a light touch, full of poetry and subtle wittiness. The work was dramatised and performed on Broadway, turned into a Hollywood movie with Greta Garbo in 1932, brought to the cinema screens again in a European production with Michèle Morgan in 1959 and made Vicki Baum world-famous.

Vicki Baum throws each of the people in the grand hotel into sharp relief only briefly, employing this technique to describe the crises, dreams and disappointments in a fragmentary style that reflects the era's fast-paced character. The reading In der Schwerelosigkeit der Musik therefore correspondingly focuses on the encounters of the Russian prima ballerina Madame Grushinskaja, who is past her zenith, with the Hungarian Baron von Gaigern, who frequents grand hotels in order to steal from the guests, in an excerpt-like way.

Adam Benzwi at the piano provides the musical timing for the fast plot changes in Johanna Wokalek's reading of a relationship's rapid progress after the initial fateful meeting of these two people in the hotel.

Johanna Wokalek, who studied at the Max Reinhardt Seminar in Vienna, made her debut at the 1996 Wiener Festwochen before joining Vienna's Burgtheater cast from 2000 to 2015. Since 1998, she has also regularly played major characters on screen, most recently in the television miniseries  Spy City. In 2014, she also started to perform in operas.

The Californian pianist and conductor Adam Benzwi has lived in Berlin since 1984. His musical direction for Barrie Kosky's hugely successful production of Brecht's The Threepenny Opera at the Berliner Ensemble is currently attracting great acclaim. The Professor and Musical Director of Musical⁄Show at the Berlin University of the Arts is particularly interested in the music of the 1920s. Since he has been based in Berlin, Benzwi's works have therefore also included Cabaret at the Bar jeder Vernunft and many other legendary productions. His next major project for the Komische Oper Berlin is Barrie Kosky’s All Singing, All Dancing Yiddish Revue.