Pictures (and New Music) at an Exhibition: Artistic Reflections II
By Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke | May 01, 2008Editor's Note: This feature originally appeared in the May/June 2008 edition of Sounding Board, the newsletter of the American Composers Forum (www.composersforum.org) and is reprinted here with their permission.
"Repeat Commission!" Those two words please me as much as any other phrase I've heard in my life as a composer. It ranks right up there with "I LOVED your music" — but a repeat commission reinforces compliments with tangible rewards.
In July of 2007, I was contacted by Steve Fey, director of music ministeries at First Presbyterian Church in Bristol, Tennessee. "We're interested in reprising our 'Artistic Reflections' event," he said, "but this time we'd like to showcase the Neal and Alice Caldwell art collection at King College."
King College (also located in Bristol) has often collaborated with First Presbyterian's music endeavors — including the Consortium's multi-media "Artistic Reflections" concert of February 29, 2004. That event involved twenty artists and composers, fifteen performers, two choirs, and one speaker. Back then, fourteen members of the Bristol Art Guild had created original visual art works after listening to music that six Consortium composers had already written or were in the process of writing. That event was our Consortium's first "group" commission, and one we pulled together ourselves.
Many things had changed since 2004. Several Consortium members now had publishing contracts; area newspapers and arts magazines were finding us newsworthy; and an increasing number of local professional musicians were interested in our music. Best of all, we didn't have to seek out this new group commission ? it came to us from our previous partners!
King College had been given an extensive collection of fine art by Neal and Alice Caldwell. This collection is one of the most noteworthy in the Southeast, and includes works by Rembrandt, Toulouse-Latrec, Picasso, Whistler, Dal? and many others. The Friends of the Arts at King College wanted to arrange an event that would showcase this new collection.
Their idea was that First Presbyterian would provide the venue and our Consortium would provide the music ? newly composed pieces inspired by works in the collection. The Consortium composers would be given a list of available performers, how long the concert should last, and a deadline for completion of the scores. Photographs of the art were to be projected during the premieres of the corresponding music and then the original artwork would be displayed in an on-site art show following the concert.
And so — unlike our first "Artistic Reflections" concert — this time around most of the crucial elements were already in place: King College would fund the event with a Tennessee Arts Commission Arts Build Communities grant; the head of King's music and art department, Dr. W. Pat Flannagan, would provide the spoken introductions to the art and music; First Presbyterian offered their sanctuary and fellowship hall as both performance hall and art gallery, plus the services of their co-directors of music, Steve and Vicki Fey; and the Bristol Music Club would contribute a reception.
Now all we had to do was write the music!
Composing "to" visual art was the opposite of the approach taken for first "Artistic Reflections" concert, and promised to be much less cumbersome. As Consortium composer and
ACF member Ann Holler put it: "The most difficult aspect of the first concert was helping the visual artists understand how to create their art related to compositions which had already been completed." Another unanticipated challenge back in 2004 was coming up with recordings of our choral and ensemble works so the artists could "live with" our music as they created the visual art for our joint presentation ? especially since many of those pieces were still "works-in-progress" or had yet to be premiered!
There were different challenges this time around. For starters, King College doesn't have an art gallery in which to display their new collection, and most of the artwork was in a climate-controlled storage room in their library. Since the collection is extremely valuable, giving the Consortium easy and repeated access to the art became both a logistical and "security" issue.
King's acting art curator, Tom Larsen, solved this problem by giving us a private art show in August of 2007. Larsen began in the King College audio-visual lab with digital photographs of the collection. After we had perused the entire picture file, he showed us the actual art. A few of the paintings were displayed on the King College Library walls, but most of our preliminary choices had to be retrieved from storage. Occasionally, "the real thing" was not as spectacular as the photograph led us to expect, but usually the actual artworks surprised us with their
emotional impact. The discrepancies in "magic" reminded me of the difference between recorded music and live performances, but since we couldn't expect Larsen to loan us the original artworks for reference and inspiration while we composed our music, he provided each of us a CD-ROM of the entire collection.
At our first "Artistic Reflections" concert in 2004, twenty artists and composers were creating, often simultaneously. This time around, since the visual art was already completed,only five composers were creating new work: Robert J. Greene, Jr., Ann Holler, Beth Perkinson McCoy, Jane S. Perry, and myself, Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke. Greene, Holler, McCoy, and I had also participated in the original "Artistic Reflections" event back in 2004.
The next step was choosing the artwork that would inspire our new commissions.
With only five participating Consortium composers and a CD-ROM containing almost 200 fine paintings, etchings, lithographs, and drawings to inspire us, it should have been easy to avoid duplicate choices. It wasn't. Fortunately, the members of the Consortium have an excellent working relationship, and, after some friendly negotiations, 31 artworks were selected, with only a few receiving "double" musical interpretations.
Our selections made, it was then the job of curator Larsen to make arrangements to transport the artwork safely (and securely) from King's storage room to First Presbyterian's
fellowship hall for display after the concert.
Local interest in King's new Neal and Alice Caldwell collection and growing interest in the Consortium composers' own work resulted in terrific pre-concert press for this production. Our 2004 event had received only minimal news coverage, but this time was deemed worthy of staff photographers, reporters' interviews and repeated write-ups in two of the Tri-Cities newspapers' arts magazines and online editions. The resulting concert attendance appeared to be even better than the original "Artistic Reflections" event.
Here's the resulting program of new music that was premiered as "Artistic Reflections II" at First Presbyterian in Bristol, Tenn., on February 10, 2008:
"Ave Maria" for chorus by Beth Perkinson McCoy (inspired by "Madonna & Child," attributed to I. Lange; and "Madonna & Child with Elizabeth & John", circa 15th Century, Italian); performed by soloist Rachel Barker; King College Symphonic Choir; and East Tennessee Children's Choir; directed by Jane Morison, with Deborah Alonzo, accompanist.
"New York City, 1940s, After Rain" for flute, clarinet, and piano by Beth Perkinson McCoy (inspired by "New York City Street Scene," by Reginald Marsh); performed by Judy Diez d'Aux, (flute); Eugene Jones (clarinet); and Vicki Fey (piano).
"The Apostles-Twelve Sketches for Organ" by Robert J. Greene, Jr. (inspired by "The Twelve Apostles Suite: Visions of Camelot for the Knights of the Round Table," Salvador Dal? ); performed by the composer.
"Reflections of Childhood" - three movements for piano by Ann K. Holler (inspired by "Children's Games," by Charles Bertrand d'Entraygues; "Mother, Child & Cat," by Belisario Gioja, "Mother and Daughter,' by Guy Cambier; "Family in front of Home with Animals and Birds," by William Collins); performed by Vicki Fey.
"You Are the World's Beginning" for baritone and piano by Robert J. Greene, Jr. (inspired by "Barbizon River Landscape with Figure," by Paul Desir? Trouillebert; "Trees," attributed to Alexander John Drysdale; "Will You Help Us?' by Frances Luis Mora; "Boater at Sunrise,' by Louis Apol; "Mother, Child & Cat," Belisario Gioja; and "Sunlit Meadow by the Waterfall," by Henri Biva) with lyrics from a Jewish Prayer Book; performed by baritone Mark Owen Davis with the composer at the piano.
"An Encounter" for violin and piano by Jane Stuckenbruck-Perry (inspired by "The Mawddach Valley," by Claude Hayes); performed by Kellie Brown (violin) and Vicki Fey (piano).
"Reflections" — seven movements for solo marimba, chorus, and organ by Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke (inspired by "Barbizon Landscape," Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot; "River Country," by Jenny Montigny; "Lakeside Forest Landscape," by Pedar Monsted; "Barbizon River Lands," by Paul Desire Trouillebert; "Pristine Landscape," by Peter Kolean; "River Landscape," by Emile A. Gruppe; and "Boating on a Lake,' by William Adolphus Knell) with lyrics expanded and adapted from the Bible, I Corinthians 13:8-13; performed by Alan Fey (marimba); First Presbyterian Church Sanctuary Choir; conducted by Steve Fey with Vicki Fey (organ).
So, which version of "Artistic Reflections" did I enjoy more ? the 2004 or 2008 version?
As much I enjoyed having local visual artists create new art to my completed music, I found the process of creating new music to completed art much simpler. Even so, I have to confess that I found the satistfaction of having new and original visual art resulting from my music equally satisfying to creating new music inspired by the amazing Caldwell Collection at King's College.
And who knows ? maybe in a year or two the Tri-Cities Composers Consortium will hear those magic words "repeat commission" once again.
"Artistic Reflections III," anyone?
Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke is a composer, church musician, and teacher in Blountville, Tenn.
Editor's note: Members of the Greater Tri-Cities Area Composer Consortium all live in the greater Bristol, Tennessee, region, and meet about once a month to share their music and create opportunities for performance. Four years ago, the group arranged for a multi-media concert entitled "Artistic Reflections" (see "Going Multimedia: Organizing and Funding a Collaborative Concert" in the May/June 2004 issue of Sounding Board; a PDF of that feature can be accessed via the Press Room archives section of the ACF website). This year, members of the Consortium composed works inspired by viewing a new art collection at King College in Bristol, Tenn. Their music was premiered at a February 10, 2008, concert entitled "Artistic Reflections II." The report is from one of the Consortium's founding members.
Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke with "Pristine Landscape" by Peter Kolean.
Bob Greene, Jr. with the Dali prints.
Jane Perry with "Mawddach Valley" by Claude Hayes.
From left, Steve and Vicki Fey, music directors at First Presbyterian Church; composer Evelyn Pursley-Kopitzke; and marimba player Alan Fey in front of "Lakeside Forest" by Pedar Monsted.