At Art Gallery, uniting music and architecture

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Photo by Jordan Konell.

Last night, Yale’s art, music and architecture scenes merged in a single concert performed in the foyer of the Yale University Art Gallery.

IGIGI, a student organization devoted to supporting budding composers on campus, held its second concert of the year, “Compositions Inspired by Kahn,” Thursday night before about 80 students and faculty members. The composers’ task was anything but simple: to compose pieces that reflected the architecture of the Art Gallery, renowned architect and former Yale professor Louis Kahn’s first commissioned work and a modernist masterpiece.

The performance was part of “Gallery+,” the Art Gallery’s ongoing series of collaborations with campus organizations that invites students to respond to the gallery’s collection through special programs and performances. Eight undergraduate composers wrote pieces in a variety styles — from jazz to punk to classical — to convey their interpretation of the building’s design.

“We saw a great variety of pieces,” said Gabriel Zucker ’12, a co-president of IGIGI. Zucker, whose piece “Battle of Egypt” opened the program, added that the foyer’s walls and the Judith Shea sculptures that stand in the gallery’s entrance window served as his primary inspiration. Zucker said he adapted “Battle of Egypt” from a previously written jazz piece to mirror the contrasts and transparency of the Kahn building.

Elizabeth Manekin, a museum educator at the Art Gallery, said that while IGIGI collaborated with the gallery last year on a concert of music inspired by specific paintings, she said she thought that it would be fitting for the composers to reflect on Kahn’s groundbreaking design before the Art Gallery’s renovation is finished next month.

“The building is so interesting architecturally that [this project] seemed perfect,” Manekin said. “We wanted students to respond to space and how it can form the experience of a room.”

In translating the building’s architecture and abstract features into their pieces, composers said they focused on Kahn’s tetrahedral ceiling, its angular central stairwell and the contrast of the modernist Kahn building to Yale’s neo-Gothic architecture.

Benjamin Peterson ’15, who composed “A Brief Comment on the Art Gallery,” said that while he found translating architecture to music challenging, it was a worthwhile process. While composing, Peterson said he was particularly inspired by the layout of the gallery’s windows and how they let in light.

Rather than using a variety of instruments as in previous IGIGI performances at the gallery, Zucker said the composers of IGIGI decided to write all of their compositions for the cello because of its resonant sound.

Clair Solomon ’14, a cellist in the Yale Symphony Orchestra, said she enjoyed practicing and performing the pieces, although she admitted that some were so technical and intricate that she had to make changes. She added that while playing in front of the composers was particularly stressful, performing in the venue that inspired the music was an impacting experience.

Laura Indick ’13, a collections and education assistant at the Art Gallery, said that while she is not a musician, the music added a new view on the Kahn’s design.

“It was cool to see the music take in the building and interpret it in another way,” Indick said. “It was great to see the architecture from a new perspective.”

IGIGI will hold its next performance, an annual music marathon concert, in April.

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