Wednesday, 25 February 2015

You couldn't make it?

You couldn't make it? A glimpse of what you missed.

It was a cold night on February 4th, with icy roads and a flu epidemic, but our try-out of the programme Nightfall, (kinetic painting with the Ebonit Saxophone Quartetin the Amsterdam Conservatorium was warmly received by over a hundred enthusiasts. 

For those who couldn't make it, three snapshots from Haydn's Seven Last Words of Christ. Here's a 4 min. montage from the performance to tempt you to watch out for the next performance; and the link to the blog I wrote when preparing for this concert. We'll be back!

Monday, 16 February 2015

Scribbles on the studio wall

Scribbles on my studio wall

We all keep jottings, ideas gathered here and there, stockpiled for inspiration, for the desperate days. Reminders to self: keep in mind when composing a picture, or designing the choreography of my kinetic painting. Wise words, floating across space and time from years gone by, these still speak to me.

Are they notes from books on calligraphy, Zen, Aikido, action painting? Fragments of advice for visual artists, authors, spiritual idealists? I can't remember. Each one is worth a whole discussion, or a hour's meditation before starting work. 

Thank you, whoever the authors were.


Sunday, 18 January 2015

Gazing at pain

Gazing at pain: Haydn's "Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross"

The slow steady rhythm of Joseph Haydn's profound music, the sense of impending doom, is with me day after day in the studio, as I create kinetic paintings to three of the seven "sonatas" from The Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross. There's no going back - this man's fate is sealed. Self-evident as you watch the painfully slow flow of my descending colours on screen. Rehearsing this tragic event and this music again and again, as I prepare for my next concert, is an emotionally draining process. That's the way I work - identifying emotionally with the subject and in this case also emotionally revisiting the Christian faith I grew up with. I must confess that I still find it painful when friends hasten to tell me that "of course" this didn't really happen. But however sure of this they are, the point is - in the performance of my abstract kinetic art form right now - it really does happen - a lonely emotional experience invoked by moving colours and terribly haunting music. Oh, man!
Sonata 1: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do"

The seven "words" are actually seven phrases spoken by Jesus as he hung dying for hours on the cross (as recorded in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John). Whether you believe them or not, these literary jewels reflect compassion, an intense awareness of the human predicament, idealistic endurance, despair - all vivid soundbites from an iconic event that for better and for worse had worldwide repercussions. And it inspired thousands of artists and musicians. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was physically horrible in itself. Add to that the extraordinary spiritual message (expressed by this person until his last gasp), set this to music, and we have a drama that still grabs you, even these days, accustomed as we are to the media horror-stories of torture and death. 
Sonata 3: "Woman, behold, thy son; son, behold thy mother"

The talented Ebonit Saxophone Quartet will be playing Haydn's own quartet arrangement of this work, as part of our programme Nightfall. Luke recorded that when Jesus died "the sun failed. Darkness covered the whole land". A unique "Nightfall". According to Haydn, his Spanish patrons in 1785 intended this work to be performed in a totally darkened space, with one dramatic illumination. Well, what could be more appropriate today, than to perform this with the coloured illuminations of my overhead projectors in the darkened Bernard Haitink Hall of the Amsterdam Conservatorium. One way or another, we are all desperately in need of enlightenment.
Sonata 6: "It is finished"

The classic question remains: how is it that through the arts this subject can be transformed in such a way that we are inspired and enlightened? Why does one of Haydn's greatest works inspire me to dig so deeply into my artistic soul, and find it so satisfying? You tell me, after the concert, over a free drink. It could be a long discussion!
This is a free concert (no reservations necessary) on February 4th at 8pm. Amsterdam Conservatorium. The seven works in our programme: Shostakovich, Haydn, Reger, Haydn, Webern, Haydn, Sibelius.

Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Bartók solo

Starting the year with violinist
 Tiziana Pintus in a fragment of Bartók

On January 3rd. in the Amsterdam Muziekgebouw I share an audio-visual taster of a developing project with the violinist Tiziana Pintus, inspired artistic leader of the Carmenae Collective and many other projects. We shall play/paint just four minutes of the Melodia from the Bartók Sonata for Solo Violin, as part of the Splendor Amsterdam Parade an afternoon of samplers of the many talents programmed year-round in the jewel of a creative music centre Splendor, just across from the Rembrandt-huis in Amsterdam. (You can become a member for very small annual contribution!)

Menuhin plays Bartók in the Marc Chagall Museum, Nice. watercolour (detail),1976.

In the summer of 1976 I made the acquaintance of this work (commissioned by Yehudi Menuhin not long before Bartók's death), when I attended a splendid recital of Bach and Bartók by Yehudi in the Marc Chagall Museum in Nice. The above watercolour was the result. An "early" work, perhaps rather too anecdotal, but it did become part of the Menuhin collection. As Yehudi played, standing in front of Chagall's monumental stained-glass windows full of iconic Old Testament stories, I was just flabbergasted as I contemplated the combined riches of musical-visual talent displayed on that night. Feeling totally overshadowed, I surreptitiously made the humble sketches that preceded this painting. Chagall's "Jacob wrestling with the angel" (Genesis 32:22), visible behind Yehudi's back, reminds me of how I wrestled to do justice to these godlike musicians/artists on that momentous occasion.

Bartók was dying with leukemia as he wrote this solo work. The Melodia starts with the warm colour of B-flat, then gradually becomes more and more ethereal. Is his angel already shimmering in those harmonics? Above are two snapshots from my practice sessions. But wait - you haven't seen Tiziana yet, standing in these projected colours as she plays...... See you Saturday?

Chagall was a grand master with light and colour. The vivid pure coloured light of his stained-glass windows moves us in ways far superior to any digital synthetic image today. I'm proud to tag along in his shadow, as I too paint on glass with the transparent colours glowing from my analogue overhead projectors - to hopefully offer illumination for our souls.