Over the past two days I have had wonderfully stimulating visits to two great museums, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology. Debussy and Syrinx are me all the time, so I noted some inspiring connections with the works I saw.
First in this video is Robert Henri’s Boulevard in Wet Weather, Paris (1899), which the American artist painted on his honeymoon in Paris. He was an influential painter and teacher at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and with William Glackens and John Sloan was a founding member of “The Eight,” a group of progressive artists who rebelled against the policies of the National Academy of Design in New York. Henri exposed his students to Old Masters and encouraged them to paint the everyday world around them.
The second painting accompanying Syrinx is Edward Redfield’sLate Afternoon (c. 1917), a Pennsylvanian painter influenced by the French Impressionists. He painted en plein air (open air) as they did, depicting the effects of light on natural surroundings. Redfield was a classmate of Henri, and they both studied in Paris after graduating from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, where they encountered the works of Monet, Pisarro, and other Impressionists. I was struck by how trans-Atlantic the artistic world was between the United States and France in Debussy’s time, Mary Cassatt being a famous example of this.
Next is an Attic Hydria in the spectacular collection of classical Greek art and artifacts in the U. Penn Museum. Not only was I very interested to study this collection in relation to the mythological setting of Syrinx, but I found it particularly edifying since I am currently reading the plays of Sophocles.
Finally, you see the cover of the Museum’s magazine Expedition, featuring the exhibition on Beth Shean. A University of Pennsylvania team conducted the excavations on the Tel (mound) of Beth Shean (Bet She’an), Israel in 1921, which I visited last summer. I launched Syrinx Journey last August 22, 2012 with my performance of Syrinx in the Roman theater at Beth Shean (Syrinx Journey Day 1).
Today’s Syrinx continues my series at the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Anne D’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden. Visual art always inspires my music-making, and I have been finding surprising fonts of inspiration throughout Syrinx Journey. It was very windy, so not the easiest playing circumstances, but there was something witty about playing Syrinx in front of Claes Oldenburg’s “Giant Three-Way Plug (Cube Tap)” (1970), with Philadelphia Museum of Art in the background.
I had fun playing Syrinx walking around Franz West’s sculpture Lips (2012). I was inspired by the swaying shapes, which seemed like visualizations of Debussy’s serpentine lines and arabesques. The artwork was designed for its site in the Anne D’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
I was somewhat sheltered from the wind in this shady area with Sol LeWitt’s Steps (2010), making it easier to play on this windy day. I learned that LeWitt was a Philadelphian. This area of the sculpture garden overlooks the Schuylkill River.
This is the first in a series of Debussy’s Syrinx I am playing at the Anne D’Harnoncourt Sculpture Garden of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Devoted to modern sculpture, the site includes works by Sol LeWitt, Isamu Noguchi, Claes Oldenburg, and others. In this performance I am in front of Gordon Gund’s Flukes (2004). It sparks my imagination to be among the sculptures when I play, though I had to contend with a strong wind.
It was a pleasure talking with James, who was on security duty at the garden.
This afternoon I recorded Syrinx in the beautiful Azalea Garden at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In this setting it was easy to imagine a quiet, verdant garden in Debussy’s time. The cicadas joined me – their singing got a lot louder after I started playing. At the end of the video, you can see the trees where the chorus lives.