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Music, Dance, and Canvas Collide


Daniel Kurganov (self portrait)

It would have made a good story if two enterprising, entrepreneurial artists had marched into the Museum of Fine Art and pitched the first administrator they could collar. Violinist/educator Daniel Kurganov and dancer/thinker Ilya Vidrin, who initiate a plethora of artistic initiatives with shameless ingenuity, and have taken their innovative multi-media, cross-cultural Kurofune Ensemble as far afield as Japan, actually had a standing relationship with the MFA when they made their pitch some time back.

“What the MFA needs, would a series of pop-ups.  Gallery visitors would bump into a mini performance of dance, or of chamber music, or perhaps a rehearsal in progress. Take it or leave it as they may. Let the performing arts reflect on the surrounding representational arts of painting, sculpture and architecture.” The MFA assented, and welcomed the five-year-old Reciprocity-Collaborative project. To date, I am told, the pop-ups enjoy audiences well beyond expectations, and spontaneous audience/performer interaction has erupted just as intended.

The two final, more structured multi-media gallery events will take place (this Wednesday and next Thursday, beginning at 5:00) in that glorious, not to say grandiose, Koch Gallery, the great central hall extending almost the full width of the museum, still known to many as the Tapestry Gallery. Young artists marry chamber and piano works with complementary dance (one hopes complimentary to the composers), culminating in the chamber arrangement of Schoenberg’s lush, post-romantic Verklärte Nacht (Transfigured Night).

Having some familiarity with a local composer (your self-same writer) and having even dragged him, or at least his compositions, with them to Nippon, Ilya and Daniel decided to invite him to contribute some of his own music for one of these events. The semi-finale on this Wednesday will comprise double presentations, back to back, of some of my compositions; the show runs at 5PM and repeats roughly at 5:40 PM. Details here.

On Thursday September 28th at 7 PM) comes the grand finale, Transfigured Night. The museum admission is free on Wednesdays, and the concert is also free.

Composer notes follow:

Tony Schemmer is a New York-born composer living in the Boston area.  His works have been performed in Europe, Russia, Japan and the more discerning of the lower forty-eight. His website is here.

Ilya Vidrin interpenetrates Cage.

Toney Tango.  The piece originated as a brief music cue, for a play by Ivan Cox, Buzzwords, presented some years ago in an off-Broadway-in-the-extreme production (Allston, MA). A friend repeatedly asked for a recording of the tango, and I repeatedly demurred, embarrassed because the entire piece was only a fade-in, fade-out fragment of about fifteen seconds.  Years later, as I was in collaborations with pianist Constantine Finehouse (performing this evening) and a very talented ‘cellist, Sebastian Bäverstam, I thought of expanding the cue into a real piece, a string trio.  (Mr. Bäverstam was always dating talented and attractive violinists.) To avoid the ‘cellist’s constant carp about my music’s complexities, I thought, for once, to keep it simple.  When the trio met and read through the piece, they still carped:  what was the point of a trio if the two strings were often playing the same line?  No good deed unpunished.  So, I rewrote the damned thing, reverting to my preferred, more complex “voice.”  Subsequently, to increase the tango’s accessibility, I then devised arrangements for piano/’cello and piano/violin duos.  Just tell me which arrangement you want to take home.  

Cenno a Scarlatti.  The piece is a meditation, a reflection on a very short aria, also denominated “Sonata (K32),” by Domenico Scarlatti.  “Cenno” means a gloss, a note upon, or a nod (acknowledgement ) to.  Mr. Finehouse will perform the original Scarlatti before my composition. 

I prefer to withhold my own thoughts about what is going on, and invite you to tell me yours.

The Quintet, “Consult the Genius of the Place in All” rates as a “World Premier,” as it is a string arrangement of a previous original quintet for brass.   And therein lies a tale.  Not for now.

A number of associations prompted its composition. 

There is Henry James’ short story “The Great Good Place.”  It’s a story of a stressed and overcommitted writer (Ah, the self absorption of artistes!) who receives a unknown Visitor in his workroom. Somehow, the author is translocated into a great good place, where he evidently sojourns for three weeks.  The place is a perfection of nature blent with art.  Every wish and need is anticipated and discreetly met.  (Sex is evidently not missed.) The author  awakes in his room, thoroughly refreshed, recharged by eight solid hours of uninterrupted R.E.M.  The Visitor is gone, but his office has been tidied. 

Was this a dream?  Was it a foretaste or transport into the Other Side, which turns out to be a quite familiar and fully realizable ideal, even on This Side? 

Then there is Alexander Pope’s reflection on the marriage of art and nature in the cultivation of the land:

Consult the genius of the place in all;
That tells the waters or to rise, or fall;
Or helps th’ ambitious hill the heav’ns to scale,
Or scoops in circling theatres the vale;
Calls in the country, catches opening glades,
Joins willing woods, and varies shades from shades,
Now breaks, or now directs, th’ intending lines;
Paints as you plant, and, as you work, designs.

(Epistle IV, to Richard Boyle, Earl of Burlington)

Pope’s admonition is to grasp the potentialities of the terrain and exploit them in your design.  Hence, the great tradition of the English Country Seat, with its dialog between architecture and landscape.

Thirdly,  continuing back in time, there is the classical concept of the Genius Loci, the spirit of a place, holding sway, presiding, inspiring  all within the bounds.  

In sum, I wanted to convey that mix of inner peace, quiet delight, and exhilaration evoked by such settings. These places exist, numinous, and, in fact, numerous.  We all need to find at least one, one that corresponds with our inner landscape.

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