On Sunday March 21, 2010, Adron, Mario, and I went to see I Musici de Montreal, a fifteen-piece chamber orchestra, perform two Tchaikovsky works and Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta.
I don’t think I’ve been so moved by music since my formative years as a punk teen. Adron and I arrived a little late, in the middle of Tchaikovsky’s “Andante cantabile.” I Musici de Montreal consists of eight violins, three violas, two cellos, and one amazing doublebass, played by Alain Malo. The orchestra was conducted by Muscovite Yuli Turovsky, who is also the founder of the collective.
Allegedly, “Andante cantabile” was inspired by a popular folk song sung by a gardener in Kamenka, where Tchaikovsky was vacationing with his sister. First performed in 1871, this piece features sublime sweeping melodies and interwoven counterpoint harmonies. I had to exercise serious self-restraint during this performance. The vibrations and musicianship were so beautiful, I wanted to shake Adron.
The second Tchaikovsky piece “Souvenir de Florence” Op. 70 was darker and more frantic. Tchaikovsky composed this piece after completing a residency in Florence, where he was working on his opera “The Queen of Spades.”
The second movement of this piece really showcased the virtuosity of the chamber orchestra. At times, at least half the orchestra played meticulous pizzicato, a stark contrast to the breeze-like bowing of their counterparts. I was particularly amazed by the doublebass arrangement in this piece.
After a short intermission, Turovsky and the orchestra performed Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition.” This famous cycle (which I admittedly was unfamiliar with before attending this concert) consists of ten pieces and four intermezzi, and was inspired by an 1874 exhibition of Victor Hartmann’s paintings, architectural projects, and artifacts. Hartmann, an artist and architect, was a close friend of Mussorgsky’s, and had died suddenly from heart failure prior to the composition of this cycle.
The conductor Turovsky commissioned his daughter Natasha to paint fifteen paintings based on Mussorgsky’s music, which was itself inspired by visual art. This sort of interdisciplinary symbiosis and completion of a creative circle blows my mind.
I Musici de Montreal performed “Pictures at an Exhibition” in front of a screen with animated projections of Natasha Turovsky’s interpretations of the music. The paintings themselves were dark and beautiful, slightly reminiscent of my favorite works by Munch and Degas. The animation and editing, done by digital artist Gael Hollard, were a bit distracting to me, but I was nevertheless impressed with how in sync the orchestra was with all the cuts and camera movement. Truth be told, the images definitely influenced my perception of the music.
I feel inspired by this performance. Perhaps I will rediscover my classical roots.
Keep an eye out for Musica Sacra Atlanta events. If this concert is at all indicative of the kinds of events they bring to Atlanta, sign me up. The kicker: it was free, with a suggested $5 donation.
That same day, Adron gave me a cd of an early 70s Spanish group called Vainica Doble, which reminds me a little of Os Mutantes with prettier vocals and a lot less fuzz guitar. But that’s a subject for another time. -Tommy Chung