"Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Classical Series Program No. 4
Hilbert Circle Theatre
Last weekend, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra tried something novel: combining music and painting in a Halloween-themed program, an attempt to “push the envelope” or “step out of the box.” Whether or not it portends any long-term outcome, this ISO program-cum-production was something of a hit, certainly with the Circle Theatre’s modest-sized Friday audience. The music featured Saint-Saëns’ Danse macabre, HK Gruber’s (b. 1943) Frankenstein!! (with the composer assisting), Oliver Knussen’s (b. 1952) “The Way to Castle Yonder” and Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye (Mother Goose) ballet music. Ludovic Morlot was the guest conductor.
The decision to add visuals to this scheduled program happened this summer, the brainchild of ISO President and CEO Simon Crookall. Working with a select ISO programming committee, Crookall engaged visual artists Michael Arthur and Andre Miripolsky to complement last Friday and Saturday’s program with art created while the music was playing. I should point out that the Indianapolis Chamber Orchestra had done the same thing, also with Mother Goose, in 2002 at Clowes Hall.
Arthur began his pen-and-ink drawing from near the podium, it being projected on a screen above the players as Morlot began a routine performance of Danse Macabre. The sketch — of the conductor and a few string players, with ghoulish figures above them — was nicely completed as the piece ended.
Gruber wrote Frankenstein!!, which he described as a “pan-demonium,” in 1977. Stepping onto a platform in back of the cello section, Gruber rose like a phoenix up to the screen level, where he served as narrator, singer and toy-wind-instrument player — in his term, a “chansonnier.” While I found the music delightful (it’s been a great success since its premiere), Gruber’s Viennese accent, coupled with acoustic amplification issues, made much of his monologue inaudible.
Arthur sketched each character in Gruber’s suite — e.g. “Miss Dracula,” “Goldfinger and Bond,” “Frankenstein” and “Mr. Superman” — in good sync with their musical portrayal. While the sketch’s representations were mostly evident during its creation, Arthur’s completed product appeared as a miasmic mélange, a cryptic collage of intercrossing lines and curves, some filled in, others not. Anyone encountering it in finished form would find it meaningless, incomprehensible.
Following the break, Miripolsky, working with large brushes on a huge, 24-by-7-foot canvas stretched across the back of the Circle’s upper stage, used the short, unexceptional Knussen piece — which Knussen describes as a potpourri after his opera Higglety Pigglety Pop! — to frame his canvas, using four different colors and doing lots of walking.
As Ravel’s Mother Goose music began, Miripolsky proceeded to fill in his gigantic frame with various colored splotches, curves and black highlights, which gradually evolved into six geese evenly spaced and in ballerina pose. And, as above, Miripolsky splotched the final “R” on the sixth goose — spelling “MOTHER” across the six and “GOOSE” below and between each figure — just as we heard the final cadence in Ravel’s final number, “The Fairy Garden.” Miripolsky managed the lock-sync completion to perfection.