Paintings can inspire music.
This was the case when Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky attended an art exhibition in the late 1800s. It inspired him to create Pictures at an Exhibition in 1874. Originally it was created to be performed by a solo piano player, but in 1922 French Composer Maurice Ravel adapted it to be played by an orchestra.
The Vancouver Island Symphony is bringing the composition to the Nanaimo stage during its Music and Visual Arts performance at the Port Theatre Saturday (Jan. 23). The show features violinist Calvin Dyck, who is also the symphony’s concert master.
“That’s quite a famous work. The arrangement we are doing I have never done,” said Dyck. “It’s a favourite with audiences … that work is familiar.”
Each movement in the composition is linked to one of the drawings, paintings or sculptures in the exhibit Mussorgsky attended.
It reminds Dyck of the times he spent studying music in Los Angeles. He had a Russian teacher who always encouraged the students to go and look at art to gain inspiration.
“When he played he always chose a picture to relate the music to,” said Dyck.
The show also features compositions by Ginastera, Danzas Argentinas; Sibelius, Rakastava; and Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.
The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, composed by Brazilian Astor Piazolla, retains components of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, written in the 1700s.
“He (Piazzolla) is inspired by tango and other South American influences,” said Dyck.
The piece features a violin solo, which Dyck performs, but there’s a twist. The violinist must imitate the sound of a güiro, a Latin American instrument created out of a hollow gourd with notches played with a rubbing stick.
“It’s a scrubbing motion. You use very little bow but lots of weight,” said Dyck. “It becomes a non-pitched scratchy sound.”
To prepare for the performance, Dyck had to experiment with how to create the güiro sound. He tried behind the bow, on top of it and various other techniques to come as close as possible. It’s a challenge because usually musicians are asked to imitate sounds such as birds or other natural sounds, said Dyck. Imitating a sound of an instrument is a quite different.
“The rhythms are unusual,” said Dyck. “It has a very syncopated accent and odd beats, changing metres. He really stretches the player.”
Usually symphonies play older works, said Dyck, but for this show the symphony paid for the rights for the new pieces.
“New arrangements of music are less accessible. It’s kind of special to get one,” said Dyck.
He said Nanaimo audiences are some of the select few who will be able to hear this work.
“We live in exciting times where composers are exploring sounds in unusual ways,” said Dyck. “As musicians we always like a newer challenge. We love to try newer creative things.”
The show also features a pre-concert talk with Pierre Simard, symphony artistic director, from 6:30-7 p.m.
“This show will be colourful and excitedly intense,” said Simard, in a press release. “A show of different worlds that will be like works on a canvas – vast, varied and beautiful.”
Music and Visual Arts begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range in price from $33 to $59, $18 for students available by calling 250-754-8550 or online at www.porttheatre.com.