Ever ready to create something new, Teddy Abrams leads the Louisville Orchestra and seven visual artists in concerts Friday and Saturday in the Kentucky Center’s Whitney Hall. The symphony is calling the collaboration “Art + Music.” And it won’t be the usual thing in which pretty art forms a friendly backdrop for a musical performance. This art will be inside the performance and out and about.
“In most situations where music is working with art, there’s kind of a prescription,” says Abrams. “The musician will say: Can you make me a projection set? Can you create costumes for an opera? You hire an artist to do something very specific. You don’t generally ask the artist what they would want to do if they were given free rein — if they thought of the orchestra, or the music itself, as a palette.” But that’s exactly what the music director has asked the artists selected by the Kentucky College of Art + Design to do. In an “Artebella” podcast hosted by Keith Waits for ARTxFM (WXOX 97.1 FM), Abrams explains how he hopes to recast the traditional relationships of music and art.
“So I say, let’s reverse the whole process,” says the symphony’s youthful music director. “If we could give visual artists the platform of the orchestra, the music itself, how would (they) change the parameters?” So don’t expect to see a stagehand placing a painted canvas on an easel next to the orchestra. In fact, there’s not a painting in the show. And some of the art isn’t even created yet, but it will unfold, or project — or, believe it or not, be tasted — in real time as the concert proceeds. Abrams began “Art + Music” by choosing seven symphonic works he thinks offer colorful possibilities. And are all over the place. From the screeching witches of “Night on Bald Mountain” to “The Fairy Garden” from “Mother Goose.” Abrams invited the artists to a meeting at his home to explain the project — then turned them loose.
Pixelated spectrograms and taste tests
The artists came back with some pretty wild ideas. Chicago artist Ricardo Mondragon will use a computer algorithm to convert music by 20th century composer Bela Bartok into what the program notes for the concert call a “pixilated spectrogram that will be projected as a ‘scrim’ between the orchestra and the audience.”
You understand that, I’m sure. Another artist, Mariam Eqbal, who teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University, will follow Abrams’ baton as he conducts a passage from Handel’s “Water Music.” “She’s doing something really interesting with light and a screen that’s not actually for video,” Abrams told Waits in the podcast. “The orchestra obviously faces out, toward the audience. I face the orchestra. This light is going to come from the orchestra. There’s going to be a big screen between the audience and me. So the light that’s blasting at me from the orchestra is going to create a giant shadow of all my movements on this screen. So: light, me, screen, audience.”