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The KPAC Blog features classical music news, reviews, and analysis from South Texas and around the world.

Modernists At The McNay: The Music


Matching music with visual art can be a challenge. In some instances the two are intertwined by intention, by design, such that the work is already done. But in the case of providing a sound track to some of the contemporary art displayed at The McNay, specifically the visiting show titled Miro: The Experience of Seeing, and the concurrent exhibition in The McNay's Lawson Print Gallery, titled Picasso, Braque and the Cubist Legacy, one is confronted with the question of whether visual art can sing and, conversely, whether music can paint a picture. Ask a composer if by seeing a piece of visual art music is suggested, and many will say: "Yes, of course." Similarly, visual artists will admit that they can sometimes take certain music and find ways to express the sound in visual form.

In many ways, it is an entirely different matter to match existing visual art with existing music. It's a challenge, as I previously stated, but one which keeps me coming back for more and more collaborations with The McNay. Modernists at The McNay is the third such collaboration. I've enjoyed doing the mixing and matching, though it is not always a direct path from Miro, or Picasso, or Braque to specific pieces of music. And it's not always a link which observes timelines. For instance, Miro's late work sometimes matches music from the 18th or 19th centuries. After all, this was music familiar to Miro and at times music which he listened to while working in his studio.

Credit Gift of The Tobin Endowment / TL2001.106. © Estate of Pablo Picasso/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
TL2001.106. © Estate of Pablo Picasso/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
Pablo Picasso's set design for Stravinsky's ballet, Pulcinella

On the other hand, contemporary art more often suggests contemporary music, and this has been an enjoyable challenge for I enjoy "modern" music of all kinds. Thus, Gary Carpenter's After Braque was a welcome discovery on my part, and I think it underscored the cubist world of Georges Braque. In some cases the cubist crowd worked hand-in-hand with choreographers, dancers and singers in the creation of theater art. Picasso was especially sought after for such collaborations and he was quite good at it. His adventurous ways have suggested music by Erik Satie, Igor Stravinsky and Manuel de Falla, while George Braque's etching, Pale Ale, gave permission to hear the 1929 recording of a piece called Bass Ale Blues. It's been fun.

Creating a correct soundtrack for Miro's work is not so direct. However, many viewers of his work are apt to find a jazz connection. It's been fun to include some Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk in the mix. And how better to reinforce Miro's love for the random and accidental than random and accidental music by John Cage and Gary Carpenter. How often do we get to hear music on the radio with pauses, or more properly, space, such as in Cage's wonderful Funeral Anthem on program three? Likewise, Miro's love of birds (they appear in much of his work, both the canvases and the sculptures) suggested the several minutes of instrumental mimicking of birdcalls in Olivier Messiaen's opera St. Francis of Assisi.

I hope the listing which follows answers some of the questions I've heard about what the music is, and why. More importantly, I hope this and subsequent collaborations with The McNay and other of San Antonio's museums will encourage listeners to become gallery-goers and gallery-goers to become concert-goers. The arts are alive and well in San Antonio, indeed across the country. Let's not ignore them for they need our attention, as we need the stimulation they provide us. The curators of the current Miro exhibit are absolutely on target with the name of the exhibition, Miro: The Experience of Seeing, except I would add: and Hearing.

Modernists at The McNay: Playlists

Program 1

  • Isaac Albeniz: Iberia (Puerto) [3:44] Paco de Lucia; Philips 510 301
  • Bach: Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello (Prelude and Courante) [2:31/2:24] Janos Starker; Mercury 432756
  • Bach: Suite No. 1 for Solo Cello, arr. Guitar (Gigue) [1:51] John Williams; London 433022
  • Frank Signorelli/Phil Napoleon: Bass Ale Blues [3:00] The Hottentots; Vocalion B15234
  • Gary Carpenter: After Braque [12:48] Ensemble 10/10; Der Flimmerkiste (NMC)
  • HerveMeschinet: Miro [1:13] Herve Meschinet Orchestra; Mediterraneo CRISTAL RECORDS
  • John Alden Carpenter: Skyscrapers (excerpt) [7:55] Kenneth Klein, LSO; Albany 235
  • Stravinsky: Piano Rag Music [3:07] Igor Stravinsky; CBS 886971033112

Program 2

  • Kurt Weill: I'm a Stranger Here Myself (One Touch of Venus) [3:11] Anne Sofie von Otter, John Eliot Gardiner, North German RSO; DG 457688
  • Manuel Infante: DanzasAndaluzas: Ritmo [4:19] Karin Lechner, Sergio Tiempo; EMI 58472
  • Michael Torke: Bright Blue Music (excerpt) David Zinman, Baltimore SO; Argo 433071
  • John Cage: Totem Ancestor [2:04] Kronos Quartet; Nonesuch 79457
  • Gary Carpenter: EinMusikalischesSnookerspiel (I & II) [3:05] Clark Rundell, Ensemble 10/10; Die Flimmerkiste (NMC)
  • Gil Evans: Blues for Pablo [5:17] Miles Davis, Gil Evans Orchestra; Columbia 40784
  • Manuel de Falla: El Sombrero de TresPicos (selections) [4:55] Carlo Maria Giulini, Philharmonia Orchestra; EMI 69037
  • Erik Satie: Parade (selections) [4:00] Ronald Corp, The New London Orchestra; Hyperion 66365

Program 3

  • Shafer Mahoney: Dance Machine, Kristjan Jarvi, Absolute Ensemble; Enja 9394
  • Trad/Van Alexander: A Tisket A Tasket, Ella Fitzgerald; Verve 517898
  • Ludwig van Beethoven: Rondo a capriccio, Op. 129 “Rage Over a Lost Penny” Jeno Jando; Naxos 8553799
  • John Coltrane: Countdown [2:13] Turtle Island Quartet; Telarc 80684
  • Thelonious Monk: 'Round Midnight [4:23] Kronos Quartet; Savoy Jazz 17404
  • Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Rondo allaturca (fr. Piano Sonata No. 11) [2:08] Swingle Singers; Virgin Classics 61472
  • John Cage: Harmony III – Funeral Anthem (fr. Apartment House 1776 Harmonies [2:50] Arditti String Quartet; Mode 144
  • EdgardVarese: Density 21.5 [3:37] Philippe Peirlot, flute; Erato 85671
  • Federico Mompou: Preludio a Alicia de Larrocha [2:17]; Alicia de Larrocha; Decca 000018002
  • James Balentine: Piano Sonata No. 1 (II. Peaceful, ethereal) [2:49] Steven H. Smith; Remembering Friends (Guildhian Music)
  • Olivier Messiaen: St. Francis of Assisi: Grand concert d'oiseaux [2:34] Kent Nagano, Halle Orchestra; DG 445176

Program 4

  • Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto in D "Il Gardellino"; Horacio Franco; Guild 7169
  • Joaquin Turina: Mujeres espanolas, Op. 17 (1. La Madrilena clasica); Martin Jones; Nimbus 5598
  • Kurt Weill: Lost in the Stars; Lotte Lenya; CBS 60647
  • Alan Hovhaness: Vision of a Starry Night; Marvin Rosen; Koch 7634
  • Paul Simon: St. Judy's Comet; Paul Simon; Negotiations and Love Songs; Warner Brothers
  • Zsolt Durko: Altamira; Andras Mihaly, Hungarian Radio Television Orchestra; Hungaroton 11607
  • Osvaldo Golijov: Ainadamar (Mariana, tus ojos); Dawn Upshaw, Jessica Rivera, Robert Spano, Atlanta SO & Chorus; DG 642902

James first introduced himself to KPAC listeners at midnight on April 8, 1993, presenting Dvorak's 7th Symphony played by the Cleveland Orchestra. Soon after, he became the regular overnight announcer on KPAC.