Tuesday, 22 March 2016

A great Director retires

Andrew Jowett in Symphony Hall Birmingham

Last night was a momentous occasion, as hundreds from the world of classical music gathered on the stage to celebrate the achievements of the retiring Director of Symphony Hall Birmingham. This was a milestone for me too, a celebration of my long friendship with Andrew Jowett, going back to his first commissions in 1990, for what was to become the largest collection of my work in the world: thirty-two paintings of great musicians he programmed to perform in this great hall - Simon Rattle, Valery Gergiev, Yehudi Menuhin, Mstislav Rostropovich, Bernard Haitink and more.

During the last twenty-eight years Andrew Jowett and Symphony Hall became inseparable. So I’ve portrayed Andrew standing with disarming modesty, proud yet relaxed, as he warmly welcomes us into his second home. His gaze betrays the understanding and wisdom of his long experience as Director. I see him as a pillar of strength amidst the music that swirls around him in the renowned acoustics and beautiful colours of ”his” concert hall. The free brush-strokes of this watercolour also reflect an imaginative and dynamic entrepreneur, still full of ideas, even as he retires. The background is a reference to my painting The Mahler Experience - perhaps the most popular of all the paintings he commissioned me to paint for the Symphony Hall Collection. See you around, Andrew - we know that you have much more to offer the world.

Andrew Jowett in Symphony Hall Birmingham
Watercolour 70 x 52 cm, Norman Perryman, 2016.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

A synergy of colour & music in Berlin

A Synergy of Colour & Music in Berlin

Even though the great Yehudi Menuhin has passed on, his music and his voice will always be an inspiration to me. I hear it in my head every time I walk into my studio. Twenty-five years ago Yehudi's left this voice-mail message for me, that was later included in the BBC film about my work Concerto for Paintbrush and Orchestra. I still find the sound of his kind voice incredibly moving.

Yehudi was a visionary. He was not only very supportive of my watercolours, but he understood how I was trying to bring art and music together in a new art form. In fact he was the first major musician to ask me to create paintings live on French Television to his performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, filmed by the legendary Bruno Monsaingeon in 1979. 

Now Daniel Hope, after his lifelong personal friendship with Yehudi, has wondrously brought us all together again with a concert of music and painting, together with pianist Sebastian Knauer, for the centenary Homage to Yehudi Menuhin in Konzerthaus Berlin, on April 25th. Our concert Live: Musik und Malerei, will include discussion on the powerful synergy of colour and music. 

In Daniel's book Sounds of Hollywood he explains how that in the early nineteen-thirties composer Max Steiner was given the opportunity to compose and commission music that would underscore the emotions and dynamics of movies throughout the whole film - a major development towards what we now know as "film-music", music that now plays a leading dramatic role in all movies. I am doing exactly the reverse, creating synchronized kinetic images to underscore and elucidate the emotions, drama and structure of the music, in this case William Walton's Sonata for Violin and Piano. 

Jeremy Grimshaw writes of this work: "The genesis...is one of the most unusual and bittersweet in music history. Beginning in the mid-1930s, Walton enjoyed the close romantic companionship of Alice Wimborne, a prominent music patroness. On their way to a vacation in Capri in 1947, Lady Wimborne became ill (it turned out to be cancer) and required immediate treatment. By chance, Walton met the wife of violinist Yehudi Menuhin on a train, who offered to pay for the emergency treatment. As a gesture of gratitude, Walton offered to compose a work for violin and piano to be performed by Yehudi and the husband of his wife's sister, the pianist Louis Kentner. The story gets even more intriguing from there: by the time the work was finished the following year, Lady Wimborne had passed away and Walton had married. Thus, it is not without reason that his biographers hear in this work a strange and poignant mixture of romantic lyricism, elegiac sorrow, and optimistic contentment". 
These are precisely the characteristics that I hope to reflect in my choice of colours and graphic choreography for Walton's wonderful Sonata. Here are a few stills from my kinetic painting. 

See you in Berlin!

Friday, 11 December 2015

A climb in progress

A climb in progress

I'm looking out over a vast alpine landscape, with a plan in my mind for a large oil painting of slowly moving dark shapes, strung out across the space. A painting of a mountain climb in progress - where each foot or hand is patiently put in front of the other, in the right place at the right time. A audio-visual contrast between the small sounds of personal exertion, the grappling with the rock, the sound of progress and of the spacious silence in rising clouds of mist.

From the early sixties onwards I spent much time in the mountains to make paintings, teach, ski, climb and eventually build a chalet at 1300 metres, on the edge of the Swiss village of Leysin. For about five months of the year you had to cope with snow, ice, wind and mist, learning where to put your feet, where (not) to drive your car and how to gauge the weather conditions. Sometimes you were at the mercy of nature. A salutary experience.
                                                The view towards my chalet in 1968
My painter's eye became fascinated with diagonal lines dissecting my view. Diagonals suggest movement; and my new painting will also reflect this characteristic of my early work.
"Skiers disappearing over a hill-top", 1966. 
I knew Peter Rae as a student in Switzerland, and when he and his wife Helle Johansen-Baker recently saw some of these early works, where rhythmic shapes crept, zigzagged or danced across my canvasses, they were inspired to commission something similar. So I needed to get back up into the mountains, to sense that space again and do some active research, so that the painting would express a physical experience. 

It was extraordinarily emotional to find myself back in the same mountains where I had lived fifty years ago! It so happened that I even got to see "my" chalet, now inhabited by others, the tiny saplings I had planted around it now towering high or even decapitated. Would it be like this to return from the dead and discover that nature just goes on without you?
Meeting  mountain guide Steve Jones
Heartfelt thanks to my kind guides and mountain climbers Hilary Boardman-Rhodes (who helped me scope out possibilities) and Steve Jones (who roped up for some good demos and useful impressions). I of course didn't do anything hazardous. My struggles began back in my Amsterdam studio (below sea-level) for many hours of setting up the composition, then covering this large canvas in various ways, with my mind still full of those heady vistas. My composition is about the importance of balance in positioning. And balance is certainly something a climber relates to. 
                             A climb in progress. Oil on canvas, 90 x 130 cm. 2015.

If you stand right in front of a canvas of this size, you have to move your head left or right to take in the grandeur, perspective and depth of the landscape right and centre, then tilt your head upwards to take in the difference in altitude from your point of view in front of the man in the foreground putting on his climbing shoes. So you have to “get your head around” the rhythms and contortions of a very physical activity, as you follow a sort of strip cartoon of the progress of this climbing adventure. It might look a bit humorous. As my wife quickly pointed out – er, there isn't enough room for all those people on the peak, and who is roped to whom? The set-up probably breaks all the rules. Still, it gives room for the imagination! My son said it made him think of those old communist posters, where strenuous muscle-power is combined with the message “United, we can do it!”. Actually a professional climber pointed out that the queues on climbing routes really are beginning to look a bit like this.

Quite apart from any imagined story, I wanted to really integrate the men and women into the landscape and into the rocks, so that they become almost abstract elements as part the whole. I also hope you can hear the music echoing round that valley and in the twisted irregular rhythms, beating their way up to that pianissimo peak.
Altogether, this project became a most thought-provoking and fulfilling experience spanning time and space. Am I one of those climbers? If so, the decision on which one depends on whether I'm having a bad day :). My thanks to Peter and Helle, who visited my studio this week to view their new painting. They were thrilled, moved and delighted.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Live: Musik und Malerei

Music and Kinetic Painting 
Musik und Malerei in Konzerthaus Berlin

It gives me great pleasure to announce a concert of kinetic painting and discussion with violinist Daniel Hope and pianist Sebastian Knauer in Konzerthaus Berlin, on April 25th 2016. One of seventeen concerts to pay homage to Yehudi Menuhin at the centenary of his birth in 1906. I'm touched and honoured by Daniel's invitation to take part in this historic celebration. Ever since I met Yehudi in 1963, he was very supportive of my work, became a dear friend and the first great musician to ask me to perform live paintings - to his performance of Vivaldi's Four Seasons, filmed for French Television by the legendary Bruno Monsaingeon in 1979. 

Now Daniel, after his lifelong personal friendship with Yehudi, has wondrously brought us all together again in music and painting - with William Walton's Violin Sonata, commissioned by Yehudi in 1947.

How timely this celebration is, in our troubled times! Not only was Yehudi Menuhin perhaps the most renowned violinist of the 20th century. He was a great humanist and philanthropist, campaigning ceaselessly for human rights and international understanding. He was the first world-class Jewish artist to play in Germany after World War II, as a statement of reconciliation. Until his death in Berlin in 1999 he believed in the unifying powers of music and in using it to change society for good.

Daniel is following in his footsteps. His fascinating books (in German) Familienst├╝cke and Sounds of Hollywood include accounts of how his ancestors in Berlin and many musicians fled the horrors of the Nazis. And how many of those musicians who migrated to the USA contributed to the creation of the special "Hollywood-sound" for the films of those years, music full of both sadness and hope.
Chatting with Yehudi Menuhin at Symphony Hall Birmingham in 1991
Daniel unites the three of us in my Amsterdam studio
A old clipping from the Luzerner Tagblatt in 1971, when Yehudi opened an exhibition of my paintings at his Gstaad Festival.

Here's the link to the concert Live; Musik und Malerei 
in Berlin on April 25th. See you there?