The Intersection of Music & Art

By Lee, Louise | Strings, August 2013 | Go to article overview

The Intersection of Music & Art


Lee, Louise, Strings


Chamber players and string soloists find rich performance opportunities at the nation's landmark museums and art galleries

On tour in Washington, DC, last fall, Misha Keylin and his Hermitage Piano Trio were not the only representation of art on exhibit, they were the living expression of their artform. "Behind me was an El Greco painting from 400 years ago," recalls Keylin, the violinist in the ensemble, which performed Rachmaninoff, Tchaikovsky, and Beethoven on the program. The setting seemed perfect for a satisfying artistic experience.

"You're representing an art form and have the greatest art around you and you're playing the greatest composers'' he says. "It's inspiring."

On that occasion, the venue was the Phillips Collection, a 92-year-old private museum that houses a 120 -seat concert space and some of the world's greatest artworks (it was America's first museum of modern art). For attendees, "going to a museum can be not just a visual experience, but a musical one as well," Keylin says.

For performers, "it's a wonderful arena to play in," he adds.

Bringing together the worlds of music and visual art, museums and art galleries such as the Phillips provide excellent performance opportunities for soloists and chamber groups. Many institutions have well-established and well-publicized concert series that stretch throughout the year. Artist managers, the public, and players themselves consider performing at big-city museums prestigious gigs, as the museums themselves are frequently highprofile pillars of the community. The Phillips Collection, for instance, has presented concerts throughout its history. Players from the uniformed services performed there during World War II, and the museum now stages its Sunday Concerts series, which presents performances by both established and emerging players.

In the past year, concerts at the Phillips Collection's concert hall have featured violinist Rachel Barton Pine performing selections from Paganini 's 24 Caprices and the Verdehr Trio premiering newly commissioned works.

Both museum concert directors and players say that having the two art forms in one setting can heighten the experience of both. Tickets often include admission to the rest of the museum so attendees can view exhibits before or after the concert. "To be able to attend a live classical-music performance amidst paintings by Goya, Picasso, or Braque makes for a truly unique experience," says Caroline Mousset, director of music at the Phillips.

Mousset adds that she sometimes asks museum staff to place in the performance space paintings related to the music on the concert program. During violinist Rachel Barton Pine's recent performance of the first 12 Paganini Caprices, for instance, the museum put Eugene Delacroix's famous portrait of the composer on display. "I think there can be a wonderful unity between art and music," Mousset says.

Performance areas in museums tend to be small and elegant with a salonlike feel. The Frick Collection in New York - with a fine art collection that ranges from Italian Renaissance painter Piero della Francesca to Degas and other impressionists - holds performances in the Oval Room, a circular chamber with damask walls and a capacity of 170. The front row is six feet from the stage, which is about three feet high. "You walk into the museum and it has a certain aura that's not in a hall," says Joyce Bodig, concerts manager at the Frick. "You're mentally attuned. People are stimulated by being in a small hall."

That type of intimacy, popular with players and audience alike, can be found at museums and galleries throughout the world. "At best, it can be the chamber-music setting that the composer envisioned," says Thomas Diener, violist of the Los Angeles-based Rossetti String Quartet, which has performed at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Louvre Museum in Paris, and the Flagler Museum in Palm Beach, Florida, among other museums. …

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