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Spanish painter to join Toledo Symphony in concert
The Toledo Museum of Art has been a happening place for more than a century.
Next weekend in its stately Peristyle, the museum, the Toledo Symphony, and a famous painter will reinvent a happening — the 1960s avant-garde phenomenon that wound up as today’s performance art.
The symphony’s Classics Series V concerts at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday will be all about music inspired by painting and painting inspired by music in a simultaneous creative concoction.
Joining the musicians and principal conductor Stefan Sanderling on stage for the entire concert will be Spanish artist Felix de la Concha, a celebrated realist painter and portraitist.
While the maestro conducts strings, brass, winds, and percussion through a rich musical program, de la Concha will transform a blank canvas into a finished portrait with his "instruments," colorful paints applied with brushes and palette knives.
Out of public view but watching avidly will be Brian Kennedy, director of the museum and instigator of this grand experiment in synesthesia, the experience of multiple sensory activity in the same moment.
"The arts are languages, forms of communication," Kennedy said, trying to sum up this ambitious experiment.
"Visual arts communicate visually. Musical art communicates with sound. But they share many elements, such as line, color, harmony, and texture."
There’ll be no pungent smoke, no tie-dyed outfits, and no nudity — elements of some happenings conjured by hippies in the free-wheeling 1960s. In fact, all of the principal players in this project were just learning to walk when flower children took over public parks for over-the-top gatherings celebrating peace, love, and beauty.
But there was a genuine and serious idea behind these seemingly spontaneous events.
Musicians, actors, painters and sculptors, filmmakers, and electronics proto-geeks were exploring paths to artistic synergy, where the whole of a performance is greater than the sum of its parts.
Today, brain research in synesthesia is revealing how sensory crossovers have for centuries inspired creative types — from painters Vincent van Gogh and Vassily Kandinsky; composers Franz Liszt and Olivier Messiaen; poets Arthur Rimbaud and Charles Baudelair; scientists such as Richard Feynman, plus many of today’s rock and pop performers — to push boundaries, conjuring new experiences.
De la Concha has for years pursued a style that incorporates synesthetic process. Still, next weekend’s concerts will be something untested, he said earlier this month.
"I have developed paintings where the whole process is recorded and capturing a unique moment, but, yes, this is truly different as it is going to be seen live by an audience, constrained to the time and moment of the performance of the orchestra," de la Concha said.
Kennedy, who met de la Concha when both were at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire — the painter on the art faculty and Kennedy running the Hood Museum of Art on campus — wanted to continue working together.
Kennedy said that for him the concerts, ephemeral as live music always is, will be exhibitions as well. "I’m curating this while Stefan conducts and Felix paints," he explained.
New technology enabled Kennedy to bring the whole shebang live to audiences via large screens to be mounted on either side of the Peristyle proscenium. Cameras will pick up de la Concha’s painting progress and, no doubt, reveal players within the orchestra who are usually not as visible.
The program comprises music inspired by visual arts.
"Il Trittico Botticelliano" by Ottorino Respighi, focuses on paintings of the Renaissance master, Botticelli. "Mathis der Maler," (Matthew the Painter) by Paul Hindemith, was inspired by the northern Renaissance artist Matthew Grunewald, and the well-known "Pictures at an Exhibition," by Modest Mussorgsky (the Ravel orchestration) was the Russian composer’s tribute to his painter friend, Victor Hartmann.
In past decades, the symphony has experimented by bringing artists onstage to draw during concerts, particularly for family audiences. It has shown slides to illustrate other works, such as images from the Hubble Telescope run during "The Planets" by Gustav Holst.
Last year, the symphony and Sanderling collaborated with the Glacity Theatre Collective in a rare performance of Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, by Andre Previn and Tom Stoppard, during its Carnegie Hall debut.
That event mixed music, theater, and super graphics for a dynamic and memorable if thoroughly scripted performance.
One new wrinkle this year will be the impact of the artist on the symphony’s performance — and the reverse. Another unknown will be, for the audience, the addition of a strong and ever-changing visual element to the more accustomed aural-only experience of a live concert.
Born in 1962 in Leon, Spain, the young Felix de la Concha taught himself to paint while with his father on fishing trips. He studied painting in Madrid, then won the Prix de Rome at the Academy of Fine Arts. He worked in Rome until 1994; after his time at Dartmouth he moved to the University of Iowa, but also spends much time in Spain.
Last year, to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Fallingwater, the Frank Lloyd Wright home in the Laurel Highlands outside Pittsburgh, de la Concha spent a year painting the dramatic, stream-side home in all four seasons. He also has a major project creating portraits of Holocaust survivors. His works are in museums in Pittsburgh, Columbus, Dartmouth, South America, and Europe.
The coming concerts are dedicated to Rita Kern, a major symphony and museum supporter, who asked Kennedy to create a collaborative project which would bring the two institutions even closer.
Kennedy, Sanderling, and de la Concha will discuss their experiment in a pre-concert program in the Peristyle at 7 p.m. both nights, just before the concert begins. Admission is free with tickets, which are $20-$50 at 419-246-8000 or www.toledosymphony.com.
Contact Sally Vallongo at: firstname.lastname@example.org.