Monday, 17 December 2012

My kinetic painting to Cantus Arcticus now on YouTube

My kinetic painting to Cantus Arcticus now on YouTube

With all good wishes for Happy Holidays, here’s a little present to help you slow down and relax with music and nature. A rehearsal of kinetic painting in my studio for a performance of Cantus Arcticus (Concerto for birds and orchestra), by the Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara. This first rehearsal (with a CD) was later improved - the concerts were definitely better - but this gives a good impression.

The concerts with the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra were two of my most memorable. The three movements are linked with the sounds of birds, recorded near the Arctic Circle: The bog, Melancholy, Swans migrating. Oh yes, turn the sound up – it starts very softly. Enjoy!

In case you missed them, I posted two blogs about my preparations for his work and the performances, on 9th and 21st October. 

Here’s the YouTube link:

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the modern colours of Debussy

Pierre-Laurent Aimard and the modern colours of Debussy.

The programme Piano Colours that I have been touring with Pierre-Laurent Aimard (painting kinetic images to Liszt, Scriabin, Murail and Benjamin) consists of a beautiful juxtaposition of these works with the Préludes of Debussy. Demonstrating what a crucial figure Debussy was in the transition to the modern era in Western music and “modern” his works can sound.

Debussy doesn’t need illustrating (he hated being termed an “impressionist”). That label may have originated from the titles of many of his works (the Sunken Cathedral, Footprints in the Snow, Fireworks, etc.), which get us straining to “glimpse” vague visual “impressions” in the music. In doing so we may forget to listen to him as a modern abstract colourist.   

In a letter of 1908, he wrote: "I am trying to do 'something different'— an effect of reality...what the imbeciles call 'impressionism'”. How different? What did he mean? Cue Thea Derks…..

As part of her excellent "Quick-start" course on contemporary music, music publicist Thea Derks will show how Debussy was the father of the French music of 20th and 21st century (at 18.45), preceding a performance by Pierre-Laurent Aimard of all 24 of Debussy’s Préludes, in the Amsterdam Muziekgebouw at 20.15 on January 11th. PLA's Préludes are sublime. Thea’s good, too!

An alert for all my Dutch readers: Book now for the course and concert!

                                 Photo: Marco Borggreve

Pierre-Laurent Aimard's recording of Debussy Préludes has just been nominated for a Japanese Record Academy Award.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

 Saddened by the passing of the great sitar virtuoso Ravi Shankar.

This is a sad day. My vivid memories of Ravi Shankar go back to the late seventies at the Yehudi Menuhin Festival in Gstaad, where I made half a dozen paintings of this remarkable musical friendship, during rehearsals for those East meets West concerts. Yehudi and the phenomenal tabla player Alla Rakhar, who provided the rhythms for my carpet, have also passed on. Read more about this creative process on Bob Singelton's blog Overgrown Path.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Piano Colours in Salzburg

Piano Colours in Salzburg.

                 “I saw whole worlds being created and destroyed”

Gentle snowflakes were falling onto the groups of Russian tourists, as they weaved their way past the kitschy Salzburg Christmas cribs, chocolate “Mozart-kugel”, and stalls with gluhwein and hot-dogs. But pushing through the crowds, I had other things on my mind last Friday - under pressure to get the show (Piano Colours) on the road. It was an unreal feeling to suddenly see my name in lights (finally, ha, ha!), projected onto the Mozarteum wall for the Dialoge festival. 
Set-up the gear, one rehearsal with Pierre-Laurent Aimard, then another surprise. The amazing piano technician Stefan Knüpfer, now famous from the film Pianomania, bounded on to the stage to uncrate a brand-new complete inner mechanism for the Steinway that Pierre-Laurent was going to play in our recital. Stefan slid one set out and the new one in with the skill of a heart transplant surgeon. A casual request to Pierre-Laurent to please be gentle with it. But P-L immediately launched into the loudest fortissimo and the gentlest pianissimo he can create, smiling like a schoolboy with a new toy. These guys are like brothers, planning their choice of the right Steinway and exactly the appropriate sound for each programme. Stefan will make it available. Just back from his Asian tour, P-L later joked over a fabulous dinner at Hotel Sacher that at one location he was billed, not so much as a pianist, but as “starring in the film” Pianomania!

Our duo recital went better than ever and a warmly appreciative Salzburg audience brought us back for four curtain calls. Following our practice, we then had a 30 min. “dialogue” with the audience. I had just discovered that the composer Tristan Murail was in the audience and yes (phew!) he “adored” what I had done with his work “Cloches d’adieu…. in memoriam Olivier Messiaen”. One visitor said that the purple globe, floating alone in black to the final chord, gave him an intense nostalgia and awareness of our fragile planet.

During the weekend, it was lovely to be stopped in the corridors by smiling people telling me: “I was there…. thank you!”.

One fan travelled six hours by train through Germany to attend this concert. Here are some of her comments. "The collaboration of these great musical and visual artists is mind-expanding in all directions. It's impossible to find the right words for this, as the mind played only one part in the perceptive process. I saw whole worlds being created and destroyed. Microcosms, planetary systems and a whole range of emotions passed through me in a visceral way. I was sitting close enough to the piano to feel the vibration of the sound. Then finally, the projectors were switched to black and I was falling into the dark, shrunk to atomic size, falling into a big black nothing. I definitely have to see/hear/feel Piano Colours again."  Even though it sounds traumatic, I know she found it therapeutic!

Monday, 19 November 2012

Liquid colours in Salzburg Mozarteum Dialogues Festival

Liquid colours in Salzburg Mozarteum Dialogues Festival

Großer Saal der Stiftung Mozarteum

Performing in the grand Concertgebouw is always quite an experience, but the large hall of the Salzburg Mozarteum (above) appears to be even more elaborately decorated. No, sorry, we can’t hang your screen from the ceiling. Yes, we can raise the large chandeliers a bit. Psst! Don’t even mention the danger of splashing paint on to that stage! (It won’t happen). I can’t help a naughty giggle, thinking of the shocking moment when my projections will escape “out of the box” (screen) and the paint will appear to spread all over those oh-so-splendid walls. My hat goes off to the adventurous Festival director Matthias Schulz, for bringing an artist’s work-table, paints, jam-pots an’ all, into this distinguished Mozart shrine. I think Wolfgang Amadeus would have loved it - it’s almost opera.

Welcome to Salzburg. No, this isn’t the famous Salzburg Festival, but the contemporary festival of the Mozarteum Foundation. The Dialogues festival was established to celebrate the Mozart Year in 2006. “It’s primarily aimed at an audience which is open to a controversial, contemporary take on new and classical music. For this purpose, the festival invites contemporary artists from the disciplines of music, dance, literature, fine arts, and film. This interdisciplinary approach of the Dialogues festival seeks to move beyond the traditional concert protocol and develop unusual, powerful listening situations.”

The Piano Colours programme with pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard and my live kinetic painting fits into this concept perfectly. Our dialogue is between colour and sound. Pierre-Laurent’s painterly interpretation of Debussy’s Preludes reveal the composer’s genius at creating images in sound: he doesn’t need me to paint to that music. But these pieces are cleverly juxtaposed with works by Liszt, Scriabin, Tristan Murail and George Benjamin. And that’s where I come in, with visual harmony. 

Oh goodness – the composer Murail himself will be in the hall, watching for the first time the kinetic visuals I shall create to his beautifully resonant Cloches d’adieu, et un sourire (In memoriam Olivier Messiaen). It’s always a tense moment, wondering how a composer will react to my treatment of his “off-spring”. Well, I have Pierre-Laurent on my side. (Liszt and Scriabin can’t comment right now).

November 30th will be a long day: unload, set up and fine-tune projection gear, paints, brushes at 8.00 am, rehearse with PLA, rest, performance at 7.30pm, then right after the concert a verbal dialogue with the audience. Then, if I’m still alive, no doubt a stimulating discussion over a fine meal with some of the brightest brains in music today. More inter-disciplinary dialogue is exactly what classical music needs right now, as Bob Singleton has been telling us for ages in his blogs.

And this day is just one event in an intriguing festival. Can’t wait to get involved! See you there? For more details and tickets, go to:

Dialogues Festival - Piano Colours, November 30th. 7.30pm. Stiftung Mozarteum, Schwarzstrasse 26, Salzburg.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Touch and go with the elements

Touch and go with the elements.

(my notes from November 5th. 2012).

From birth, we are in touch with water daily, even bathe in it happily. With fresh air, water is possibly our greatest friend. Yet its power remains to be feared. 

The sun shines brilliantly this Sunday morning in New York’s Central Park and Ella Fitzgerald sings Autumn Leaves to me. But there’s a lot of sadness in the cold air this morning. I weave my way between thousands of frustrated runners as they demonstrate that the cancellation of the Marathon will not inhibit their daily rituals. And I’m thinking of those still without their homes, without power and their basic needs, as winter sets in.

How come we can’t befriend our natural resources instead of misusing them and arrogantly thinking it doesn’t matter? Will we ever heed Sandy’s awful message?

In a comparatively microscopic way, I’m totally at home in water(colour), wondering at and manipulating the organic flow, evaporation rates or delicate textures that emerge as I paint. Even on a small surface it has the inevitable destructive potential of a tsunami. The projection of this on a giant screen is awesome. Here’s just one example from my performances of kinetic painting:
The opening calligraphic rhythms on a silken background, kinetic images created for Written on the Wind: Huang Ruo’s music for pipa, vocals and visuals, created for Min Xiao-Fen.

Watch the video of Written on the Wind (parts 1 & 2) on YouTube:

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Sandy: the ultimate four-dimensional kinetic painting

Sandy: the ultimate four-dimensional kinetic painting.

October 29th. 2012.

In New York for portrait commissions and highly civilised and delightful dinners with old friends, Hurricane Sandy has rudely intruded on my schedule.

This time, no romantic watercolours of falling leaves in Central Park. As I write, the elements are providing me with the ultimate expressionistic fluid kinetic painting - and surround sound by a very avant-garde composer. My high-rise appartment is lashed with savage brushloads of wind and rain. The ocean is surging into the lower end of Manhattan, but forget Debussy’s La Mer. The liquid painting on my imagined projector is accented, or rather savaged by honks, screams and a wailing chorus of flashing colours, reds, blues and whites, police and fire-service tape-barriers zig-zagging across my screen. Definitely New York school of painting, but which composer does this remind me of?

From my back window, I can see a broken crane that hangs, unhinged by the storm, above the unfinished sky-scraper on 7th Avenue, dangling like a long paint-brush ready to strike through Carnegie Hall next door on 57th St. The open skeleton of the sky-scraper sounds like a ghostly express-train, tarpaulins flapping frantically.  I feel like I’m inside a horrific Gesamtkunstwerk! All concerts are cancelled of course, whole blocks sealed off, the streets are virtually empty, but the audience is watching it all on television.

Thankfully we have few problems in mid-town Manhattan compared with those poor 220,000 people who are without power, those flooded out of their homes, or victims of crashing trees. The city has never been so quiet. Uncanny. Perfect setting for the “sounds” of John Cage’s 4’33”.