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.

Monday 28 October 2013

A marathon of kinetic painting

Saturday's marathon of kinetic painting.

Saturday night saw my marathon performance of about two hours almost continuous painting, live to the music of Hosokawa and Bach with the excellent Netherlands Chamber Orchestra. And that after a complete dress rehearsal that only finished less than two hours before the concert. I not only survived, but judging by the applause from a sold-out house, it all went very well indeed! Especially Hosokawa's Meditation for the Tsunami victims touched everyone deeply. Here's a snapshot from the audience of Hosokawa conducting Cloud & Light for shō and orchestra:

The week had been crammed with creative discussion, rehearsals and staging issues, in my studio and in two halls. All followed by a film crew, for a documentary about my life and work. It so happened that Toshio Hosokawa's birthday fell on the Wednesday he would visit my studio to view the kinetic painting I had "choreographed" to his three works for performance three days later. So I also gave him a little watercolour on paper, dashed off the night before as a souvenir of his piece Cloud & Light.

That inspirational violinist Gordan Nikolić, brimming with enthusiasm, joins me with Mayumi Miyata and Toshio backstage for the obligatory photo afterwards. 

This was a fabulous project. Toshio's music relates so beautifully to the nature of my kinetic painting, that we already have ideas for further collaborations. Watch this space!

Tuesday 15 October 2013

The Flow of Bach & Hosokawa

The Flow of Bach & Hosokawa

The German word Bach means brook or stream. And Bach's music really does flow, pulsate, unstoppable as water. I'm preparing my kinetic visuals for the concert Cloud & Light on 26th, a lovely juxtaposition of Bach and Hosokawa. The whole programme is about flow (and colour)figuratively and literally, at times a stream, at others a tsunami. Toshio Hosokawa's music has a deep relationship with Nature, with the Asian terms ki, chi or qi, the universal energy that flows through us all - our spiritual or physical force that surges or fluctuates, less or more, depending on our willingness to access it, respect it and focus it. It can be accessed or harnessed in many ways: in martial arts, Chi Kung, meditation, rituals for mind and body, acupuncture, EFT (the Tapping Solution), and creative miracles. We were all born with this analogue energy flow. Digital imitations, by the very nature of their discontinuous separate entities, just can't compete
Extract from Bach's Double Violin Concerto in D minor.
The psychologist and author Mihály Csíkszentmihályi is best known as the architect of the notion of Flow. He describes it as a mental state where you are so completely absorbed in the process of an activity, so immersed in a feeling of energized focus that you lose all sense of time. Nothing else matters. Your coffee gets cold, but you feel deeply fulfilled. This is of course nothing new. Thousands of years ago, Asian calligraphers and craftsmen were aware of this state of being. And Bach must surely have composed in a state of Flow. We feel it in his drive, his understanding of the range of human emotions, from joy to sorrow. He carries us along - in this concert through the splendid violinists Gordan Nikolic and Lisanne Soeterbroek.
Extract from Bach's Violin Concerto in A minor.
You don't need to conjure up images to Bach's music. I've discovered the sheer bliss of accompanying the three Bach violin concertos with my pure liquid colours. Colours that I've simply made to flow, gently, hardly moving, in various directions, with no visible brush or human hand. The slow-motion effect counter-balances the energetic rhythmic flow of Bach and is absolutely mesmerizing. I'm following the Taoist concept of wu wei. Doing by non-doing. Less is more. Allowing my water-based medium take its natural course. And there we have the link to the music of Toshio Hosokawa. In fluctuating coloured water, the programme comes together. It will be the longest performance of kinetic painting to music that I've ever given, but well, I shall go with the Flow.
Extract from Bach's Violin Concerto in E major.
I'm afraid that my still shots cannot possibly convey Flow, but later I should have some video material for you. 

Saturday 5 October 2013

Meditation - for the victims of the Tsunami.

Meditation - for the victims of the tsunami

Toshio Hosokawa's Meditation (for the Victims of the Tsunami 11/3/11) is a haunting composition, awfully relevant, as the immediate tragic losses threaten to be eclipsed by the ongoing drama of radioactive leakage from Fukushima. We have all been shocked by the video footage, but this music touches us at a deeper emotional level, as we consider the future of our planet. 

How can one visualise this? The gradual dawning of a terrible reality demands kinetic visuals, not still photos. My images stem from and are driven by Toshio's music. The still shots below are painfully inadequate, but they might give you an inkling (I like that word, because I'm using coloured inks) of what you need to see as a continuous performance.

The earth splits apart - then Japanese harmony with nature is shaken by a calligraphic shriek from the strings, followed by chaotic fragmentation and so forth.... This is as much about shock and inner turmoil as physical destruction.

In my visualization, the encroaching waters only literally appear in the movement entitled Meditation. The alto flute solo conjured up in me a nightmare flash-back in slow motion, where the calligraphy gradually crumbles apart and floats away. My kinetic painting on seven overhead-projectors spreads off-screen, then all around the podium.

The final movements: Elegy, Tear, then Pray, are terribly sad. My giant brush (the cycle of Nature? The hand of God? The power of the Brush?) gently sweeps everything aside, to create a clean slate, as it were. All quietly presided over, as it were, by Mount Fuji.

I can't wait to work with Toshio, as he conducts three of his own works with Mayumi Miyata, the Netherlands Chamber Orchestra and my visual premiere. The Amsterdam concert Cloud & Light on 26th October is already virtually sold out.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Remembering Pavarotti

Remembering Luciano Pavarotti

Tomorrow night at London's Royal Albert Hall a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award for Luciano Pavarotti will be presented to his widow, Nicoletta Mantovani, at the 2013 Classic BRIT Awards ceremony.

This large (86 x 54cm) watercolour was painted for the Birmingham Symphony Hall in 1997. My intention in all of the paintings of great performers for that Collection (now nearly thirty) was to make the painting sing, so that you can hear the music, as it were. But in this one I focussed on the moment of radiant relief and exhilaration just after he has propelled the last note of his concert into the auditorium. The sound of that incredible voice is still fading away, yet even now, it's still in our memory. Possibly the daily inspiration for everybody's O sole mio under the shower.

The handkerchief is an essential accessory in this characteristic gesture, as he moves forward into the spotlights. My festive, theatrical colours are chosen to symbolize the warmth and humour of that larger than life personality, perhaps the most famous voice in the popular concept of the world of opera. Ciao Luciano.