At YUAG, viewing art through music

The Haven Quartet will serenade visitors with “Playing Images,” a concert meant to create a multisensory experience and broaden viewers’ experience with visual art.
The Haven Quartet will serenade visitors with “Playing Images,” a concert meant to create a multisensory experience and broaden viewers’ experience with visual art. Photo by YUAG.

Today, audience members will experience a concert in an unconventional venue — the Yale University Art Gallery.

The concert, “Playing Images: An Exploration of Music and Art,” will be performed in the YUAG at 12:30 p.m., and will feature a talk by Public Education Curator Jessica Sack and a performance by Haven String Quartet, the resident quartet of local nonprofit Music Haven. The audience will be asked to listen to a piece of live music and then connect it with a particular piece of art on display. The idea behind the event is for the audience to have the chance to explore similar themes presented in the music and art, and to gain insight into how each informs the other, said Tina Hadari, executive director of Music Haven.

“A lot of people say they hear or notice things in the painting that they never would have noticed had there not been music attached to it,” Hadari said. “Making these connections really opens up the possibility to look and listen in totally different ways.”

Today’s concert is part of a biannual series on the intersection of visual art and music that the YUAG has presented since 2010. Sack, an amateur violinist herself, grew connected through the New Haven music network to members of Music Haven, a nonprofit organization that provides tuition-free music programming for kids in under-resourced New Haven neighborhoods. Hadari said that while Music Haven has brought kids to galleries to look at art in conjunction with music as part of an after-school program, concerts like “Playing Images” are intended primarily for patrons of the art gallery.

The idea behind the series is simple: The audience listens to a talk — usually given by Sack — on how themes from the two works intersect, and then listen to the concert while viewing the relevant piece of art. Today’s concert features the first movement of Beethoven’s string quartet Opus 59 no.1, juxtaposed with the 1986 painting “Cedar Bar” by Red Grooms.

Sack said the talk will focus on the themes of scale, size and time portrayed in the two works.

“They’re mainly talking about scale in terms of expansiveness of both of the works, but also the idea that there are these motivic elements that are repeating and then are developed into something of wealth, something of a massive scale,” Hadari said of the two pieces.

The first movement of the quartet is one of Beethoven’s longest, which explains why the quartet is not playing the rest of the piece, Hadari said.

“He takes these very small motives and just develops them in a variety of different ways, and the scale in which he does it is very broad,” Hadari explained, adding that this idea of scale drew both the quartet and Sack to the Red Grooms piece.

While “Playing Images” carefully curates the combination of music and art, interdisciplinary appreciation of different media on campus extends far beyond the YUAG’s series.

“Of course juxtaposing two works of art — in any medium — helps the viewer-listener experience elements they might not have noticed singly,” said music professor Judith Malafronte in an email, who uses a variety of media other than print in her “Shakespeare and Music” freshman seminar. “People often respond more quickly to either sound or visual cues, and can then be coaxed into relating that response to the other medium.”

Still, interdisciplinary art appreciation is increasingly uncommon. Suzana Bartal, a School of Music student who teaches the undergrad course “Intro to Elements of Music” explained that as those in art professions specialize more and more, they are less likely to appreciate the inspiration that comes from “crossing boundaries outside of their own specialty.”

The YUAG’s goal of combining art and music appreciation will not end with today’s concert.

“[The series] is about really looking closely, taking to time to look,” Sack said. “In a world right now where things are happening very fast and things are always changing, it can be nice to have an extended period of time to just linger with a piece.”

The same concert was also performed on Sunday at the YUAG, as the concerts usually take place bi-annually in groups of two.

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