New World Syphony premieres Netia Jones’ latest video installation
By Kyle MacMillan For Sun-Times Media October 16, 2013 5:20PM
Michael Tilson Thomas | PHOTO COURTESY OF NEW WORLD SYMPHONY
New World Symphony, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph. $30-$95. (312) 334-7777; harristheaterchicago.org
Updated: October 16, 2013 5:20PM
Thousands of images barrage people every day via smartphones, glowing LED billboards and even gas-pump videos.
To attract these ever more visually oriented potential audiences, symphony orchestras and other classical ensembles are increasingly seeking ways to introduce multimedia elements into their performances.
These efforts can sometimes be clumsy or heavy-handed. But British director, designer and video artist Netia Jones has earned a reputation for innovative, intriguing visual accompaniments that get the balance between sight and sound just right.
The New World Symphony that will premiere her latest video installation in a pair of concerts in the orchestra’s home in Miami Beach, Fla., and at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 19 in Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance — the project’s co-commissioner.
The pre-professional training orchestra, which brings together top graduates of music programs across the country, has gained international recognition for its adventuresome programming and imaginative concert formats.
Earlier this year, the New World marked the centennial of John Cage’s birth with three days of concerts that incorporated a range of experimental approaches to visuals, movement, lighting and even audience configurations.
“The involvement of the audience and their appreciation was greatly intensified. I think they were able to tune into things in the music more easily,” said conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, the ensemble’s founding artistic director.
Building on that experience, he decided that Niccolo Castiglioni’s “Inverno in-ver” would be an ideal piece for a multimedia component because the 1973 winter-themed work is innately visual. It is a set of 11 short tone poems, each with evocative titles like “Flowers of Ice” and “The Stream.”
“It’s very gestural and textural, and it has a kind of trembling and glistening surface,” Tilson Thomas said.
To create an appropriate video component for the piece, he chose Jones. He was impressed with her work on a pair of Oliver Knussen operas and her March staging of Gyorgy Kurtag’s “Kafka Fragments” at the Royal Opera House in London.
Castiglioni’s music and the accompanying installation will be the centerpiece of an Italian-themed program that also includes Luciano Berio’s Duets for Two Violins, with students from the Music Institute of Chicago, and Igor Stravinsky’s “Pulcinella.”
Jones was excited to work with the New World because of its reputation for creative risk-taking, and she was especially pleased to collaborate on “Inverno in-ver,” which happens to be one her favorite compositions.
“There is a playfulness and a naivete joined with an absolute brilliance that I love in this piece and some of Castiglioni’s other works,” Jones said. “There’s a mystery to this piece. It doesn’t give itself away and it has so many layers.”
She wanted to create visuals that would be flexible enough to work in the two very different venues, and at the same time would be “suggestive rather than coercive,” and not impose any kind of a narrative on top of the subtle story of the elusive music.
Drawing on the microscopic elements of winter’s intricate, abstract beauty, Jones will project crystalline patterns of ice, snow and frost onto prismatic clusters of small, paper screens hanging on the stage and above the orchestra and, in some cases, onto the musicians themselves.
Rather than a fixed progression of images to which the orchestra has to be synchronized, the artist uses a laptop to follow the conductor and choreograph the visuals with the music in real time, assuring that they mesh with the performance in a fluid, spontaneous way.
“For including any kind of integrated visual world for a piece like this,” Jones said, “it does require a lightness of touch. It doesn’t need to be overly clever, because the [musical] writing is so beautiful and so delicate. The idea really is just to enhance a little the experience.”
Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.