Last year, Crystal Bridges worked with Symphony of Northwest Arkansas Director Paul Haas to develop a special concert that combined music and art, associated with the temporary exhibition Art of the Americas. That program turned out to be so much fun, they’ve arranged to do it again on January 27! But this time, the program will focus on artworks from Crystal Bridges’ permanent collection. I asked both Paul Haas and Margi Conrads, Director of Curatorial Affairs at Crystal Bridges, to give me a little bit of information about the upcoming concert. Here’s what they had to say.
How did the idea for this concert come about?
Paul Haas: Immediately after Crystal Bridges and SoNA collaborated together on this type of concert format last season, both organizations were prompted by the success of it to do it again this season, with different musical repertoire and pieces of art. I for one couldn’t be more excited – it’s one of those experiments we’ve taken that struck a nerve, and I’m happy to play my part in this rejoining of forces.
What can guests expect at this concert? What will the format be?
Haas: If it’s anything like last year, it’ll be very spontaneous and fun. Margi and I will each come armed with thoughts about (on my end) the music and (on her end) the works of visual art, both as such and as part of a historical context. We’ll join each other onstage before SoNA plays each piece and riff about the intersection of music and visual art, very likely with some unexpected mental journeys and conclusions.
What was the rationale for the musical and art choices to be featured in the concert?
Haas: When programming, I very rarely have an overt thematic idea – usually I’m guided much more by energetic flow, key relationships, moods, and emotions to form a satisfying musical journey. In this case, though, I did use the idea of momentum and acceleration to inspire me. The concert starts out at breakneck speed, then switches to “slo-mo”, gradually speeding up until the whirlwind finish of Ravel’s Daphnis and Chloe. Of course there are speedings and slowings within each piece, but that’s the thrust of the musical selections.
Margi Conrads: There’s so much wonderful rhythm in the music. Many of the pieces have natural affinities with our collection from the first half of the twentieth century, which we’ve just reinstalled.. The Adams is really fast, which connects to the urban experience that is so prevalent in Modernist works. Then Slo-mo, which the composer said was inspired by the iPhone slo-mo function, evokes to me a long, slow, horizontal camera-pan that can be seen in both rural and urban imagery of the 1930s and 40s.
What do you feel the relationship is between visual art and music?
Haas: Artists of whatever type or genre feel compelled to share their experience of the world with the rest of us. Each artist has their own experience, their own way of processing it, and certainly their own medium and technique within the medium to express it to others. There is no inherent relationship between the various art forms, other than that they are vehicles for this expression of the artist’s experience in the hopes of striking a chord in the audience member.
Conrads: While there might not be a work-to-work association, in terms of composition, the outcomes of art and music involve the coming together of a lot of different elements: subject, intention, stylistic interest, to tell a story, if you will.
How do you think the audience’s experience of the music will be affected by Margi’s choice of artworks? And vice-versa?
Haas: Well, that’s the fun of it, of course. Who knows? We all have our own way of experiencing art, whether visual or musical, and each of us will have a different reaction in every moment. Some will gravitate more towards the music, perhaps borrowing visual experiences to buttress their journey, and some will do the opposite, while others will do everything in between and beyond.
Does the choice of artwork affect how the orchestra plays? Or how you conduct? I guess I mean, if you are thinking about the visual art, do you think that seeps into the music in some way?
Haas: Generally speaking, I conduct music with an understanding of history and the spirit of that work’s context, so I guess you could say that I always conduct within an artist context that extends to contemporary works of visual art, as well as prevailing philosophies and zeitgeist. In other words, yes!
How did the choice of music inspire your choices of art?
Conrads: Different works had different inspirations. I won’t divulge all of them, because I want people to be surprised at the concert! But I’ll give one away to give an idea. Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta” is one of the musical pieces—I love early twentieth-century music, especially Hungarian and Slavic compositions that have folk music underneath them. This piece made me think of Yasuo Kuniyoshi’s painting, Little Joe with Cow, because Kuniyoshi had a great way of taking his roots in Japanese folk culture and making it modern and his own. For other pieces, I was inspired by the social and cultural period of the composer’s life, or by the subject of the music itself. There are many ways to come at this, so each pairing will be a different type of association.
Do certain works in the CB collection that bring certain musical pieces to mind for you?
Conrads: All the time. This collaboration has been a super treat for me because I love music. I have extremely eclectic taste and always think about how these two creative modes connect.
Sometimes people are intimidated by art because they feel they don’t understand it, but at Crystal Bridges we maintain that you don’t need to have any prior knowledge, or bring anything special to your encounters art but your own personal experience. Do you feel that’s true of classical music, as well?
Haas: I agree with that completely. However, I’ll go farther and say that I believe both genres are capable of being understood more and more deeply, on many different levels, and that such an understanding makes it possible to feel the works of art or music correspondingly deeply.
Conrads: The more time you spend with any work of art, the more you can discover about it. When you bring different disciplines together, it provides an opportunity to come through different doors,—to find new ways to connect with the works, and new ways of thinking about them. Hopefully, experiencing both these art forms together will inspire people to want to know more about both!
If someone had very little or even no experience with orchestral music, why should they come to this concert?
Haas: Because that person doesn’t exist. Classical music is such a huge part of our lives, whether we know it or not. We ALL know the top 50 or so classical pieces, because they’ve been playing in the background pretty much all of our lives, unless we had parents who deliberately kept us out of social contexts. We all know Beethoven’s 5th, Barber’s Adagio for Strings, Handel’s Water Music, Mozart’s Eine kleine Nachtmusik, and even Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The list just goes on and on; we may not all know the names of those pieces, but we recognize and respond to the music itself. We all have plenty of context for classical music (and for visual art), so don’t be surprised if you really respond to a concert pairing like this one. Last year’s audience certainly did!
You can get tickets to the SONA / Crystal Bridges concert here.