Multimedia debut for YCB

The Yale Concert Band combined music with graphics, paintings and works of literature for its 2010-11 academic year debut last Friday.

The show, titled “Projections: Pictures at an Exhibition,” took place in Woolsey Hallin front of an audience of 150. The multimedia performance simultaneously exhibited images and musical pieces, pairing the paintings and the music that inspired each other.

“Young people are growing up more visually stimulated,” Thomas Duffy, director of university bands, said. “[Multimedia performance] is a national tendency.”

Among the six pieces the band showcased, the concert included the world premiere of an original composition by Stephen Feigenbaum ’11, titled “Rooms by the Sea.” The piece is based on a painting of the same name by 20th century American Realist Edward Hopper, which currently hangs in the Yale University Art Gallery. In Feigenbaum’s piece, low, sustained tones mimic the sounds of the ocean, which is seen in Hopper’s work.

“You can really augment the music of the concert with the visuals,” Kate Carter ’12, a clarinetist for the band, said. “Having these art forms put together makes [the music] more accessible for the audience.”

Another student-composed piece, “Ziggurat,” by Johns Hopkins undergraduate Viet Cuong, combined the work of the young composer with a graphic display by Grace Needlman ’11. The graphics featured a person playing with chalk, a girl on a bicycle multiplied several times throughout the frame, flapping birds, martial arts, a bulldozer, and a ziggurat — or early middle-eastern step pyramids — as well. It combined sketched silhouettes and moving animation with photographs to mirror movement in the music, for example by projecting the image of a still lake to echo the hushed volume of the music..

Cuong, who composed “Ziggurat” in high school, said he met Duffy at a national band conference and has since kept in touch with him.

Duffy said he immediately thought of performing the piece with graphics. He added that he is looking for a South African artist to create another set of graphics for the piece when the band tours South Africa this May. Duffy said he looks to involve locals in performances abroad to bridge cultural connections.

Needlman said her animation was loosely autobiographical, based on personal experiences of her waking up in a city and feeling overwhelmed by images. Needlman added that her summer in Berlin with Hans Werner Holzwarth Publications and Design served as the inspiration for her work, which featured scenes from the Berlin cityscape.

She said she and Cuong thought the ziggurat was a superhuman structure that represented the human desire to reach for the grand.

“I really liked ‘Ziggurat,’” French horn player Alan Hutchison ’11 said.“I thought it was a dynamic piece on its own, but then the animation was really cool.”

A composition by Duffy himself — “Max the King!” — provided a musical setting for the adventures of the children’s fiction character Max in “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak.

Duffy said the piece follows the plot of the story, mimicking the noises that Max heard upon entering the dream world filled with lions’ roars and animal sounds. The piece is filled with lively galloping sounds, low accents and glissandos — flourishes that connect pitches — with a recurring transitional, musical theme. The award-winning illustrations of the book were projected on the screen alongside quotes such as “I’ll eat you up.” Meanwhile different instruments, such as the horns and flutes, overlapped throughout the piece to build suspense. “Max the King!” closes with Brahms’s lullaby.

“The whole piece is based on ‘na na na na na na!’” Duffy said.

But he added that Max, the fictional character as personified in Duffy’s composition, is an allegory for the left and right brain hemispheres.

Following the intermission, the band performed Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” a classical orchestral piece based sketches by Victor Harmann, which Duffy said characteristically have two light sources representing the sacred and the secular. Some pictures, such as “Limoges—Le Marché (The Market Place at Limoges)” were not displayed and descriptions from notes on the pictures such as “French women quarrelling violently in the market” were projected instead. Hutchison said this was because many of the works have been lost.

“Pictures at an Exhibition” follows the trail of a composer through an art gallery in 15 musical parts, each movement describing the composer’s walk or the works he saw. Titles such as “Ballet des Poussins dans Leurs Coques (Ballet of the Unhatched Chickens)” and “Catacombae—Sepulchrum Romanum,” a painting of a tomb with three shadowy figures, provided varied settings for different musical textures.

Following the performance, guests were treated to a reception in Hendrie Hall, which included a cake with an edible image of “Rooms by the Sea” and icing saying “Picture at Woolsey Hall.”

The concert was streamed live through the School of Music’s website.

Correction: December 30, 2010

An earlier version of this article mispelled the last name of French horn player Alan Hutchison ’11.

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