Moving ‘Pictures’: ASO to accompany animated film in East Coast premiere
Art inspiring music, inspiring more music, which inspired more art. Sounds like a tongue-twister, or a lesson in cause and effect.
It all started in 1874 with a gallery exhibition of the drawings and paintings of Victor Hartman, an artist and architect who was a good friend of the Russian composer, Modest Mussorgsky.
Victor Hartman had recently died, and Mussorgsky, looking for a way to honor the memory of his friend and his work, decided to try to capture the essence of some of his paintings and sketches in music. He wrote a piece for solo piano with 10 sections, each focusing on one of the pieces of Hartman’s art in the exhibition.
Years later in 1922, Maurice Ravel decided to “colorize” the original version for piano by orchestrating it to be played by a full symphonic orchestra with all the different instruments. Over the years, more than 90 composers have written orchestrations and versions based upon the music of the original “Pictures at an Exhibition” for piano.
Fast forward to 2011 in Miami, Fla., where Michael Tilson Thomas commissioned 11 artists and two faculty members from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts to utilize the music from Ravel’s orchestration of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” and create new animated art, similar to Disney’s “Fantasia” film, to accompany the piece.
This version was premiered on five screens at the opening of the New World Theater in Miami. Each artist’s style was unique for bold and creative “painting.” Some of the artwork is more traditional in style with hand-drawn cartoons and book illustrations, while others utilize 3-D and 2-D techniques with live-action photography.
I first heard about this film and the performance shortly after its premiere and thought it would be something wonderful to bring to audiences in the Lehigh Valley. At that time, it was tied up in copyrights with all the different people involved with creating the film and it was not manageable because of the use of five screens. Where in Miller Symphony Hall would I ever be able to put five screens?
I kept following the project, however, and learned that the film’s creators were working on editing the film so that it could be shown on one screen, utilizing new tracking technology in order for the film to follow the conductor, not the other way around. There would be no click-track in the headphones in order to stay with the film, and no time-counter to watch. Instead, a person sits on the stage, in black like the rest of the musicians, and toggles on a laptop to gradually slow down or speed up the animation so that the conductor can have total artistic license in the performance of the piece.
At this point, I knew I had to bring this new film and new technology to the Lehigh Valley. It took five more years to work out all the details with Ion Concert Media, the film’s presenter, but I am happy to announce that at 7:30 p.m. March 10 and 3 p.m. March 11 in Miller Symphony Hall, the Allentown Symphony Orchestra will present the East Coast premiere of this new animated film to Ravel’s arrangement of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.”
The concert includes 2017 Schadt String Competition winner Tengyue Zhang performing “Concierto de Aranjuez” by Rodrigo on classical guitar, accompanied by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, and the world premiere of “Pictures at an Exhibition 2018,” based on paintings in the Allentown Art Museum.
This is something you don’t want to miss.
The animated film was created by a team of 11 students and graduates of the USC School of Cinematic Arts in Los Angeles, under the direction of faculty members Michael Patterson and Candace Reckinger.
The piece is tied together with a “Promenade,” which characterizes the viewer as he or she walks through the museum exhibit. The animation for the opening sections was created by Emily Freeman, and depicts figues walking through the gallery.
The first painting, “The Gnome,” is a child’s toy nutcracker styled after a grotesque gnome with gnarled legs and erratic hopping movements. Andy Lyon’s animation displays the character as a grotesque circus performer.
The “Old Castle” animation is done by Ryan Kravetz and Elizabeth Willy as we travel through ghostly rooms and out to the garden where we find the troubadour.
“Promenade 3” was created by Professor Michael Patterson as we travel back in time to a majestic 19th-century art gallery.
For the painting, “Tuileries,” we visit Paris and a famous garden with children playing. Cecilia Flecher’s hand-drawn animation is reminiscent of early- to mid-20th-century book illustrations.
The word “Bydlo” means “cattle” in Polish, so this next section portrays a lumbering ox cart. Artist Melissa Bouwman uses a cut-out style to portray the passing of this ox cart carrying a giant tuba.
The “Ballet of the Un-hatched Chicks” is always a favorite. The original drawings were costume sketches from a ballet that was produced in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1871. Animator Shaun Seong-Young Kim creates a baby chick ballet using 3-D set designs, but when a baby rooster joins the party of baby chicks, things get interesting.
“Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuyle” is the name of the original paintings that we often refer to as “Two Polish Jews, One Rich, One Poor.” Carolyn Chrisman uses classic hand-drawn character animation techniques with the two characters emerging from parchment paper.
“The Marketplace at Limoges” is a bustling scene where Steve Day uses scenes shot in Europe and Japan and creates a stop-motion, time-lapse animation.
This is followed by “The Catacombs,” created by USC faculty member Candace Reckinger, using still and moving imagery. While still in the Catacombs, Reckinger and Patterson, together, depict a ghostly scene for “With the Dead in a Dead Language.”
“Baba Yaga’s Hut on Chicken Legs” is based upon the famous Russian witch, often portrayed as either a hut or a clock resting on chicken legs. Artist Alessandro Ceglia uses a bold, illustrative style with hand-drawn animation to bring this Russian tale to life.
The final music section is “The Great Gate of Kiev.” Animator Ria Ama uses the original sketch by Victor Hartman as a point of departure, but adds so much more, including a spectacular fireworks display.
This is a great opportunity to experience cutting-edge animation techniques as well as more traditional animation, all combined together, and accompanied by amazing music performed by the Allentown Symphony Orchestra. This is the first time this type of concert has been done on the East Coast. The Allentown Symphony is at the forefront of bringing new, exciting programming to the Lehigh Valley.
“Meet the Artist” with Allentown Symphony Music Director-Conductor Diane Wittry, Schadt Competition winner classical guitarist Tengue Zhang, and ASO conducting fellow Ismael Sandoval, noon-1 p.m. March 9, Miller Symphony Hall, Allentown. The talk is free and open to the public. Bring your own lunch to enjoy during the talk and question and answer session.
Diane Wittry is Music Director and Conductor of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Ridgewood Symphony, N.J., and author, “Beyond the Baton” and “Baton Basics” (both, Oxford University Press).
Tickets: Miller Symphony Hall Box Office, 23 N. Sixth St., Allentown; allentownsymphony.org; 610-432-6715. Free student tickets, underwritten by a grant from the Century Fund, are available for Allentown Symphony Orchestra concerts.