The Auburn Symphony Orchestra (ASO) opens its 2019-2020 season this Sunday with a unique collaborative concert. Seattle-based artist Adrian Wyard will once again provide live visual accompaniment during the concert. This year his visuals will be to the popular piece, Pictures at an Exhibition.
Bringing Back Adrian Wyard
This is the second time Wyard will be providing visual accompaniment for an ASO concert. “This program came about in two ways,” explained ASO Music Director and Conductor Wesley Schulz. “First, I really wanted to bring Adrian back to ASO. Although I didn’t conduct the Planets program, people raved about that program for months on end. I chatted with Adrian and he told me that he had created visuals for Pictures at an Exhibition and so we decided to program it.”
Schulz continued, sharing how he arranged the rest of the concert, “I’ve paired that piece with a work by living American composer Adam Schoenberg, called “Picture Studies.” Adam took Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition as his inspiration. Adam went to the Kansas City Museum of Art, selected a number of works that inspired him, and then like Mussorgsky, wrote music in response. “Picture Studies” is a thirty-minute, multi-movement piece that is Adam’s own response to visual art. The art that inspired him includes works by Albert Bloch, Kurt Baasch, Vincent van Gogh, Kandinsky, Miro and more. The recording by the Kansas City Symphony of Adam’s work was nominated for a Grammy.”
As one might expect, Schulz’s focus was more on the music versus the visuals “I’ve spent a lot of time looking closely at the score and musing on how Adam Schoenberg and Mussorgsky came up with the music in response to the visual art that inspired them. If I can unlock a bit of that, then I think I can help bring the music to life on stage.
Visualizing the Music
Creating the visuals for this concert was different for Wyard, as “for “The Planets” all of the visuals were based in part on real imagery from NASA, etc.,” he explained. “Where this time a great deal is original artwork. For example, ‘The Gnome’ features animated pencil drawings by Ken Priebe, ‘The Ballet of Unhatched Chicks’ uses a 3D model by Anna Czoski, and ‘Baba Yaga’ includes paintings by Bojana Dimitrovski. There’s also a bit more variety in style this time because each movement is intended to reflect a distinct art genre in the exhibition.”
Wyard shared his process in creating the visual accompaniments for Pictures at an Exhibition. “The first step is to thoroughly research the composition, the composer, and the context in which the piece was written and first performed. The second is to try and discern a narrative arc in the composition as a whole – although sometimes the composer has provided that explicitly, as is the case with this piece. Mussorgsky wrote Pictures at an Exhibition to honor the memory of his artist friend Viktor Hartmann, and the music depicts a tour of his works that were displayed at the Imperial Academy of Art in St. Petersburg. So, to stay true to the composer’s intent my visuals also represent a tour of an exhibit. Much of Hartmann’s artwork has been lost, and so what I show is very much an interpretation, although I do show a few stills of his work and also external shots of the real Imperial Academy of Art. Next, I try to imagine visual scenes that correspond to each of the changes in the music while matching the theme at hand. Often this results in hundreds of ‘visual phrases’ which I then set about creating, often with the help of collaborators. The final step is to arrange these phrases such that they can be ‘performed’ live so the timing matches that given by the conductor.”
Of all the pieces he created for this weekend’s concert, Wyard admitted that “the Gnome was particularly challenging because the music is so very dynamic, energetic, and stylized. My intent is always to enhance the music as written, so I needed to come up with something visually that matched each of the dramatic turns in the score. Simply showing artwork of gnomes wasn’t working. It took an age but I eventually hit upon a storyline that advances with each turn in the music. I’m very pleased with how it turned out – although I wasn’t prepared for audiences to laugh out loud, which they often do. But in retrospect that humor really is in the score.”
The Importance of Joining Music and Art
Despite any challenges he may have had during the process, Wyard will argue that visual accompaniment to music is important. “It’s important because the pairing has the potential to greatly enhance the symphony experience for many concertgoers. If done well visuals can help new listeners appreciate a composition more deeply at the first hearing – but only if they are carefully chosen to illustrate the themes and moods in the score. It turns out this is very hard to accomplish!”
“And of course,” Wyard added, “there’s no denying that visuals also make the symphony more appealing to a younger audience who have grown up surrounded by rich multimedia experiences.”
Though important, Wyard also acknowledges the risk involved in visual accompaniment. “There is a risk too; if visuals are not well thought out they can easily distract or detract from the music, and I’m not sure that every piece of music will benefit greatly from a visual accompaniment.”
Partnering with the Interurban Center for the Arts
Connecting the ASO to the greater Auburn community, especially the young people, is important to Schulz. With that in mind, the ASO is also partnering with the Green River College Foundation’s Interurban Center for the Arts for the concert. According to their website, the “ICA has a long and valued history in our communities with 31 years of experience in arts – enrichment and development for school-age children. The ICA serves several elementary schools in South King and Pierce County.”
“As this program came together, I thought it would be a wonderful opportunity to partner with some local schools and develop a visual art project,” said Schulz. “Our Executive Director, Rachel Perry, connected with ICA and a partnership was made. Art docents from the Center are working with nearly 200 fifth graders in Auburn Public Schools to create visual art in response to music on our program. Their art creations will be displayed in the lobby at the concert for all to see. I’m SUPER excited to see what our students have created!
Monica Tolas, Program Coordinator for the ICA, shared about the project. “Students [from Pioneer and Arthur Jacobson Elementary schools] will be responding to six of Mussorgsky’s movements from Pictures at an Exhibition in a very modern, fun, and at times abstract way depending on the art project. This is an excellent way to highlight music as art!”
“Music and art have movement; they share color and emotion as well,” continued Tolas. “These Auburn 5th graders will be asked to listen to Mussorgsky’s music, view the artwork of Viktor Hartmann, and respond artistically. I am excited to see the creative results!”
Beyond individual projects like this one with the Auburn Symphony, Tolas explained that the ICA “works with children in our local communities. I was an ICA art docent years ago and now I am the program coordinator. Back then, as now, I feel that arts education is so very important to the development of young children.”
“Through the ICA and the work of our volunteers we help children develop motor, language, social, and problem-solving skills through artistic expression while at the same time putting a caring adult into their lives,” continued Tolas. “The arts also tend to engage children that otherwise might not participate in the classroom. Without the amazing 600+ adults who volunteer for the ICA most of these kids would not receive art in the classroom. Children are asked to work “within the box” on a daily basis, through art they are given the opportunity to imagine outside the box, to tap into their imaginations and create! More importantly, there is no wrong way to do art!”
You can help support the ICA and arts education through “volunteerism, philanthropy and advocacy. The ICA is dedicated to embedding arts education, in all its forms, throughout the fabric of each child’s educational experience. I would encourage members of our community to volunteer in the program, make a donation to the ICA or advocate for arts education in our schools. Anyone interested in finding out more about the ICA, donating or becoming a volunteer should visit our website or call me at 253-833-9111 X2735,” said Tolas.
Wyard perhaps explained the importance of arts educations best, “art can’t happen without imagination, creativity, and at least a little introspection – these are skills that will prove valuable in almost every situation they face in life.