Monday, 19 March 2012

Edward Gardner conducts Elgar’s “friends pictured within”.

When I was a boy, a favourite spot for our walks and Sunday picnics was the Malvern Hills. This is where Sir Edward Elgar composed his Enigma Variations in 1899 - a much-loved masterpiece that established his reputation as a major composer. The theme and fourteen variations were inspired by the idiosyncrasies of a number of his friends.

So I was thrilled to be invited to create a thirty-minute sequence of kinetic visuals for live performance in concert with the Rotterdam Philharmonic on March 10th. The link to my Worcestershire roots felt just right and the inspiration flowed. How appropriate too, that the terrific Edward Gardner, who also grew up virtually within view of the Malvern Hills, should be the conductor. We both have Elgar in our blood, you might say - the “dream team”! 
In the dreamy undulating theme of “Enigma” it’s easy to imagine the Malvern Hills.
I had already made a painting based on the “Enigma” - a multiple portrait of Elgar surrounded by his friends - the large canvas commissioned by Michael and Inge Messenger for the Elgar Birthplace Museum, near Worcester. So I knew the piece well – but creating a live performance was a different challenge. Rather than merely creating a series of illustrations of the “friends pictured within”, as he put it, I visualised the characteristics of the music in abstract terms of colour and dynamics. As always in my kinetic visuals, people see what they imagine in the tiniest figurative hints.
The cellist BGN – where my brush moves with up-bow or down-bow of the soloist.
Is this a steamship disappearing over the horizon? From the heart-wrenching “Romanza” Variation – a goodbye forever to a dear lady-friend.
The morning after. Exhausted but happy after a long complicated get-in and set-up in Rotterdam and just five hours sleep before the dress-rehearsal. This is a top-class orchestra and Edward Gardner really is a great conductor. It was an inspiring night. We had excellent communication, as I followed his beat, or as he went with the sweep of my brush or waited a second for me to switch brushes. Fading to the black devastated emotion at the end of Nimrod, the hall went totally silent. My wife said people were wiping away their tears. Great! That’s exactly what I wanted to achieve with this emotive synthesis of colour and music. 

There are already more projects hatching. Watch this space!


Next Monday: Excerpts from chapter 8 - A unique collection: Great Musicians portrayed in action.


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