Musician, curator mix music and art

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Photo by Yanan Wang.

The Yale University Art Gallery and the Haven String Quartet presented a novel opportunity for the modern Renaissance man and woman Wednesday afternoon: the chance to peruse an art gallery and attend a music concert at the same time.

Attended by a group of about 40 people, Haven String Quartet violist Colin Benn led a musical performance while Associate Curator of Public Education Jessica Sack gave a lecture on the incorporation of visual arts into sound. The event, which was one in a series of talks organized by the Art Gallery, focused on music from the years 1911-’13 as viewed through the lens of modernist art.

“The goal of these talks is to help the audience discover what new things you can see and hear when you put music and art together,” Sack said. “What is the effect of simultaneously looking and listening?”

The Haven String Quartet began by playing Anton Webern’s “Op. 9, Six Bagatelles for String Quartet.” The audience was instructed to close their eyes during the performance and concentrate on the images that came to mind as they listened. The music, which featured muted strings and high-pitched tremolos, evoked the dark colours and sharp edges of the modernist paintings that lined the gallery’s walls, the presenters said.

As Sack explained, the piece was meant to correspond with Wassily Kandinsky’s abstract painting entitled “Waterfall.” Other paintings on display were Kazimir Malevich’s “The Knife Grinder” and Marcel Duchamp’s three-dimensional creation, “tu m.’”

The talk was interactive, with Benn asking audience members for their own ideas and sentiments throughout the event. Benn used visual descriptors to characterize various elements of the music — notes were “thick and dark”, tremolos were “colorful,” he said — and encouraged the audience to do the same.

Both Sack and Benn emphasized the value in bringing the two skill sets of viewing and listening together. They noted that doing so allowed spectators to form a deeper connection between themselves and the art and, in turn, enable them to listen to the musical piece with a new perspective.

“What we want,” Sack said, “is to exact a change in how music is conceived and perceived.”

Audience members said they found the experience immersive. One said in a question and answer session that it even made her more comfortable with what she was seeing and hearing.

The next Music and Art talk, which will be centered on African art, will take place in mid-April, Sack said.

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