Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Andris Nelsons conducting Beethoven 7.

Andris Nelsons conducting Beethoven 7

On April 20th, 2013, I sat behind the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra with my sketchbook (quiet as a mouse, because they were recording Beethoven 7). I could see what they saw – a conductor full of intense joy and enthusiasm for the music, demanding and getting the same focussed engagement from every one of them.
Andris Nelsons, CBSO Music Director, is leaning forward into the orchestra, embracing the music with his arms, shoulders and whole body - just beaming out Beethoven! The light from the score is reflected in his face, intensifying the theatrical atmosphere of the occasion, as though he is standing in the opera pit. My painting is more than a portrait – it’s a painting of a conductor totally enveloped in this music.

Nelsons’ energy is phenomenal! He gives this music precision and power, yet air and transparency. So I’ve tried to keep a lot of space and dynamic freedom in my somewhat calligraphic painting. Sharing his excitement, I’ve made my watercolour splash and flow with the music. The colours rise from the strings, then zig-zag upwards like those soaring sounds.

Back in the studio, as I developed the painting, my brush-marks were literally driven by the dancing rhythms, the power and the delicacy of this music. I couldn’t have painted this without it. Because his own recording is not yet published, Andris suggested that I listen to the recording of one of his idols, Carlos Kleiber. Beethoven's Seventh Symphony is written in A major, suggesting to my synaesthetic sensibility a variety of reds, browns and purples anchored with blacks.

The performance that April evening in Symphony Hall Birmingham provided the ultimate inspiration for this large watercolour (84 x 56cm). It can be seen as a celebration of Andris Nelson's five great seasons as the Music Director of the CBSO orchestra (with another year and a half still to come) and it will be unveiled on November 6th. Commissioned by Jayne Cadbury and funded by The George Cadbury Trust, the painting will then become part of the Birmingham Symphony Hall Collection, that now contains twenty-nine of my “action-portraits” of the great musicians who have performed in this wonderful Hall.


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