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Thursday, Jan. 10, 2008

The Sound Of Art

Present Music at Milwaukee Art Museum

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When attending a classical concert, most of us are accustomed to sitting quietly in one place and allowing the music to transport us. If the venue is particularly noteworthy, you might reflect on how the surroundings are enlivened by the play of sounds.

On Saturday, Jan. 12, the Present Music ensemble invites you to go a step further. In “Art, Architecture and Music” audiences are invited on a musical tour of the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM)— “a Gallery Night for the eyes and the ears,” according to Eric Lind, Present Music’s managing director.

It’s by no means the first time Present Music has performed at MAM. The ensemble has played in Windhover Hall numerous times, but for this occasion they sought a less traditional approach. Turning to the Third Ward’s Gallery Night for inspiration, Lind says he started playing with the idea of creating a stronger collaboration between the music and the venue.

“What’s a real gallery night?” Lind asks. “It’s people moving through space … the excitement of physical space.” Although the program begins with a traditional seated performance in Windhover Hall, where the ensemble will play music that uses art and architecture as a starting point, the evening is soon set in motion. The audience will be divided into three groups, each making its way around the Lubar Auditorium, Bradley Gallery and Contemporary Art Gallery, where the work of Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol and kinetic and op-art from MAM’s newest exhibit, “Sensory Overload” will be enlivened by the sounds of Morton Feldman’s Trio for Flutes, Steve Reich’s Nagoya Marimbas and Fredrik Hogberg’s Pop Musikk, to name but a few.

Experience the Music
Kevin Stalheim, Present Music’s artistic director, says the event helps to re-examine how we traditionally experience visual art and music. “With music, or dance or theater, you sit down in an audience and you watch it together as a group and that can be a cool and powerful thing,” he says. “Visual art is something where you meander around on your own. So in a way it’s an intersection of the two.”

One of Stalheim’s greatest concerns was avoiding the obvious pitfall of being too literal when pairing music with the artwork.

“What I ended up with are pieces which are mostly very subtle … I wanted the people to be in a frame of mind where the music was part of the experience rather than confronting them directly,” he says. One of the evening’s highlights is a world premiere of Portraits and Repetitions, a series of five movements composed by New York’s Alex Mincek and inspired by the work of Yves Klein, Cy Twombly and Sol Lewitt, among others. Mincek also favored a subtle approach when composing his musical miniatures.

“It’s not supposed to literally represent their artwork,” Mincek says. “It just deals with some of the same topics.” To illustrate this, he points to a movement fashioned after Yves Klein, an artist known for monochromatic paintings and a preoccupation with surface texture and depth.

“Here I’m dealing with a very limited palette of sonority and really getting into one color and one sound,” Mincek says. “It’s analogous to his work, but without the title of the piece you wouldn’t necessarily know it was inspired by Yves Klein.”

Visions of the City
You can always count on Present Music to extend its reach beyond the traditional limits of a classical ensemble, but in the upcoming concert they’ve surpassed themselves. The event not only takes on the museum, but also invites new visions of the city as a whole.

“The Calatrava has raised our level of imagination of where Milwaukee is in the world, and we’re all proud of that,” Lind says. “Now as you look out in the community, there are dozens of projects and buildings that are expanding on that momentum, so to bring it back to that place where it started is an interesting idea to me … to send people out with fresh eyes.”

Works submitted by students and staff from UW-Milwaukee’s Department of Visual Art and its School of Architecture and Urban Planning will be exhibited in the West Galleria, including works that re-imagine spaces such as MacArthur Square and installations that examine the way in which the city has architecturally reinvented itself in the past. One of the pre-concert events will be a video installation made by Donebestdone, a local multimedia artistic ensemble, in collaboration with UWM students.

And if that’s not enough, models decked out in clothes from Bay View’s Fashion Ninja will be dotted around the exhibit and the evening will culminate in a runway fashion show. “It’s really about trying to make new music accessible to everyone and make a new point of entry,” Lind says. “People get caught up on all the connotations of classical … we try to shake it up and invite people back in fresh ways.”

The event begins with a pre-concert talk with Chief Curator Joe Ketner at 6 p.m. and visiting composer Alex Mincek at 6:45 p.m. For ticket information, call (414) 271-0711 or visit www.presentmusic.org.

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