Archive for October, 2013

Bringing Music to Life

As the director of Chamber Music Charleston (CMC), I am always looking for new ways to share our music with Charleston audiences. We are most well known for our House Concerts—intimate evenings and afternoons of classical music presented in a private homes—but sometimes we need to do something different, something unexpected… something that will capture the attention of someone new and energize those who already know us.

CMC performs a house concert at The Palmer House on the Battery.

CMC performs a house concert at The Palmer House on the Battery. Jenny Weiss, Frances Hsieh, Debra Sherrill, Timothy O’Malley, Ben Weiss. Photo courtesy of BT Hunter Photography

When the opportunity to collaborate with Laura Ball, Charleston Dance Institute, and the Gibbes Museum of Art presented itself to us, it didn’t take much time at all for me to eagerly accept. You see, while we have collaborated in the past with some incredible local actors for Music and Spoken Word productions and have even collaborated with singers to stage a mini-opera, we have never had the change to combine our music with dance.

Even more exciting, we are not simply preparing music by a standard, great “European Classical Composer”—say, a Beethoven String Quartet or Brahms Piano Quintet. No, for this collaboration we get to bring a brand new piece of music to life. A piece of music that only months ago was a mere though in the composer’s mind but is now a fully orchestrated score, engraved on paper and in the hands of the individual musicians.

CMC cellist Timothy O'Malley

CMC cellist Timothy O’Malley (playing at the SC Aquarium). Photo courtesy of BT Hunter Photography

How does all of the music come together? First, I had to assemble the musicians based on the instrumentation for the work. Laura Ball, our fearless composer and artistic leader, chose an octet for this work: 2 violins, cello, bass, flute, oboe, percussion, and piano. It was not hard at all to find the musicians to fit the bill, as CMC has a fantastic core of local professional musicians to draw from. The CMC musicians performing for this project include violinists Frances Hsieh and Ben Weiss, cellist Timothy O’Malley, oboist Mark Gainer, and flutist Regina Helcher Yost. We added some good friends: Jean Williams on bass, James Cannon for percussion, and Tomas Jakubek for violin, and warmly welcomed composer Laura Ball to play the piano part. This past week each musician received their individual parts and have been charged with learning the notes, dynamics and tempos. On November 5, the real fun begins as we gather together for the first time to read through the music as an ensemble.

CMC violinist Frances Hsieh.

CMC violinist Frances Hsieh. Photo courtesy of CMC

What happens at this first rehearsal? I know the string players will discuss bowings—the direction that the bow runs across the strings. As a wind player (I am a bassoonist), it took me quite some time to realize how important bowings can be, but I now realize that bowings greatly affect the phrasing of a line of music; making some notes stronger than others and helping build and taper intensity to specific notes. Also, if you have two violinists playing the same music, it is nice to see their bows moving in the same directions!

CMC flutist Regina Helcher Yost

CMC flutist Regina Helcher Yost (playing at the SC Aquarium). Photo courtesy of BT Hunter Photography

For the wind players—the oboe and flute—I bet they will be focused on matching articulations (length of notes and attacks of notes) and pitch, and blending their sounds together. The ensemble as a whole will focus on making sure everyone starts every note perfectly together and changes notes at the same time. They will also work as one as they interpret dynamics and musical lines.

The goal of the musicians for this project is to interpret the notes on the page and create the musical story that will accompany the dance. It is an awesome responsibility, but one that each of our musicians take up with great gusto. There is something incredibly exciting about bringing a new piece of music to life, especially when this music is just one element of a bigger project.

I know I can’t wait to see how this all comes together, and I certainly can not wait to see the dance set to the music! It will be incredible!

Sandra Nikolajevs, president & artistic director of Chamber Music Charleston, and guest blogger

The Gibbes Museum is pleased to present a special performance of The Little Match Girl with Laura Ball, the Charleston Dance Institute, and Chamber Music of Charleston.

The performance will be held across the street from the museum at the Circular Congregational Church. Following the performance, the audience is invited to the museum for a meet and greet with the performers, and to see the exhibitions on view.

Purchase tickets online or call 843.722.2706 x21.

Curatorial Perspective: The Fine Art of Printmaking

The Gibbes’s permanent collection is rich with examples of fine art prints made by artists ranging from James McNeill Whistler to Jasper Johns. While printmaking techniques have been around for thousands of years, American artists’ interest in printmaking as a fine art form did not develop until the mid 19th-century. Since then, printmaking has played an important role in many artists’ creative repertoire. This fall, the processes behind some of the best-known printmaking techniques are explored in The Fine Art of Printmaking now on view in Gallery H.

Canyon Wall, ca. 1975, by Boyd Saunders

Canyon Wall, ca. 1975, by Boyd Saunders

Various methods of printmaking have evolved over the long history of the medium. This exhibition features examples of woodcuts, etchings, lithographs, and screenprints by a variety of artists who mastered these techniques including James McNeill Whistler, Alfred Hutty, Prentiss Taylor, and Hale Woodruff. Prints are created through an indirect transfer process in which an image is produced on a surface (known as a matrix) such as a metal plate, wood block, or stone. The surface of the matrix is then inked and the image is transferred to paper by applying pressure. The resulting impression or print is a mirror image of the composition on the matrix. Numerous prints can be made from a matrix, so unlike paintings or drawings, prints usually exist in multiple impressions.

Returning Home, Selections from the Atlanta Period, 1935, reprint 1996, by Hale Woodruff

Returning Home, Selections from the Atlanta Period, 1935, reprint 1996, by Hale Woodruff

To learn more about the art of printmaking, please join us November 1-3 for the second-annual Art on Paper Fair weekend! The Fair celebrates the visual arts of Charleston with lively programs, conversations, and even artist demonstrations. Most importantly the Fair features works on paper for sale from eight premier dealers from across the Southeast.

Sara Arnold, curator of collections, Gibbes Museum of Art

The Gibbes Museum of Art and Redux Studios teamed up with Marcus Amaker to create a video examining the tradition of printmaking in Charleston. Gibbes Executive Director Angela Mack, and Gibbes Curators Sara Arnold and Pam Wall share works from the museum’s collection and discuss the history of printmaking in the Lowcountry. Redux artists Alex Waggoner and Kate MacNeil discuss the current relevance of printmaking in today’s artistic community. Watch the video on YouTube.

Score to Floor

Whew! It is such a relief to see a score fly out the door and into the arms of the orchestra!!

Last night I met with Sandra of Chamber Music Charleston and had a cursory read through of The Little Match Girl score. I am happy to say that two of my favorite themes belong to the cello. Cellists have always had a special place in my life, beginning with Ward Williams who broke my heart every time he played Julie-O by the Turtle Island String Quartet. The piece is so fascinatingly joyful and danceable and I have been in love with the cello ever since. The dancing roast in our performance is dedicated to Ward Williams, who used to play in Charleston with the band Jump Little Children.

Tim O'Malley of Chamber Music Charleston. Photo by Tom McCorkle

Tim O’Malley of Chamber Music Charleston. Photo by Tom McCorkle

The other cello theme represents the Mother figure in the Match Girl story. My boyfriend’s grandmother is a cellist and quite talented. After meeting her, I decided that only the rich, wise and hauntingly beautiful voice of the cello could represent the Motherly presence that so comforts the match girl. We are so excited to hear Tim O’Malley give voice to these two contrasting characters at the performance on November 16th! The cello is such an incredible instrument with a range of emotion, and diversity of character. I look forward to sharing my favorite instrument with you all at the Circular Church—make sure to meet Tim and his cello afterwards at the Gibbes!

Laura Ball, composer and guest blogger

The Gibbes Museum is pleased to present a special performance of The Little Match Girl with Laura Ball, the Charleston Dance Institute, and Chamber Music of Charleston.

The performance will be held across the street from the museum at the Circular Congregational Church. Following the performance, the audience is invited to the museum for a meet and greet with the performers, and to see the exhibitions on view.

Purchase tickets online or call 843.722.2706 x21.

The Spirit of the Garden

When Gibbes Executive Director Angela Mack first asked me to visit the museum to discuss the renovation project, I immediately began to pay attention to the beauty that is everywhere in Charleston. As plans progressed for the interior of the museum, I began to relax and enjoy evening walks around the city. I was impressed by the many beautiful gardens I encountered. I have always loved gardens and have had the great fortune to see many of the premier gardens of Europe, and all over the world, thanks to my “field trips” for the Metropolitan Museum. However, during the busy days at the Gibbes I rarely seemed to find the time to contemplate the garden at the back of the museum.

A view of the courtyard, ca. 1960s, with the Charleston Library Society in the distance.

A view of the courtyard, ca. 1960s, with the Charleston Library Society in the distance.

Once I began to consider the courtyard space hidden behind the building, I started asking everyone about the history of this grand old garden. Having spent 30 years therapeutically strolling in Central Park outside of The Metropolitan Museum, I knew that great gardens have a spirit of their own. I started to examine the history of the Courtyard through images of the garden taken over the years. Although many good attempts were made to upgrade it, the garden never seemed “just right” to complement the museum’s Beaux-Arts building.

The rear facade of the original museum building.

The rear facade of the original museum building.

The Persephone fountain and rear facade of the Gibbes.

The Persephone fountain, centered in the courtyard, after the 1970s museum addition.

In addition to the history of the Gibbes garden space, I learned more about tradition of Charleston gardens over the centuries and started to see similarities. The Gibbes archives contain numerous images of the transformations behind the museum, and curator Sara Arnold helped me compile examples and track the changes over the years. The museum’s earliest photos of the Courtyard date back to the 1930’s when all of the plant material was smaller and the trees were not so overwhelming. The historic iron gates, which were originally part of the William Aiken House, were completely visible. As you can see in the images included in this post, there were some winners and some losers in the various renovation designs, but each transformation had some good ideas that helped take the garden plan forward. Angela and I began talking about how we could not renovate the building without paying serious attention to the garden and the Gateway Walk, as well as those marvelous gates that mark the boundary between the Gibbes and the Charleston Library Society.

The Gibbes Couryard ca. 1947, looking towards the Charleston Library Society

The Gibbes Couryard ca. 1947, looking towards the Charleston Library Society.

That is when I first began to really understand that there was something missing at the back of the Gibbes. The Gibbes Courtyard Garden now contains too much mature plant material that overwhelms the minimal ground cover. As everyone in Charleston knows, if you leave a garden to its own vices it can soon become a beast and quickly grow out of control. As the months went by and we planned the new spaces for the museum’s interior, I realized that the garden had to be next on our list of improvements. So my evening walks began to shift focus from therapeutic strolls to investigative research. First, I walked the Gateway Garden Walk to see what all the fuss was about. The Charleston Historic Gateway Walk starts at St. John’s Lutheran Church on the eastern side of the peninsula and winds west to Archdale Street, meandering through historic cemeteries and walkways including the Gibbes Courtyard.

The Charleston Gateway walk

The Charleston Gateway Walk from the Gibbes Courtyard towards Meeting Street.

I explored further south towards the Battery, touring the historic areas of Charleston and the centuries old walkways. I strolled through the neighborhoods near the water, and discovered that many gardens took on an entirely new appearance and feeling during the hours between sunset and dusk. I noted that many easily converted into special private event spaces and how the use of lighting could give a garden a spectacular appearance at night. As for the city’s public garden spaces, the thoughtful ambient and directional lighting made those areas very accessible for the public. In the last 6 months I was invited to several private gardens so that I could continue my research. Each time I visited a new space I observed how the gardeners grouped the plants, where they employed water as a relaxation tool, and how they used mature plants as a foundation to ground the newer additions. I saw sculptures, stone walls, and “botanical backdrops” that wrapped the garden spaces with flowers, shrubs, perennials and annuals. These “private garden worlds” provide a haven from the stress of the city. What I love about Charleston (among many things) is the way the landscapers and gardeners create restful environments for beauty, contemplation, and relaxed socializing.

A current view of the rear portion of the courtyard

A current view of the rear portion of the courtyard, facing northwest.

After seeing so many gorgeous gardens in downtown Charleston and in the neighboring communities, I realized that the new Gibbes Garden has to follow the spirit of the city. It needs to become a haven for residents and tourists of the city, and it has to be an urban garden that reflects the artistic mission of the museum. This new garden must be contemplative, restful, artistic, and most important of all—an inspiration for everyone. At my home, I have a large garden with a meadow that looks out onto a regional valley near the foothills of the Berkshires. That is where I go when I need to clear my head. The romance and beauty of a garden can be the key to artistic inspiration.

An architectural rendering of the Gibbes Courtyard as viewed from the first floor interior of the renovated museum.

An example of an architectural rendering of the Gibbes Courtyard as viewed from the first floor interior of the renovated museum.

The next step involves bringing in the pros to help us plan the exterior grounds that surround the museum. After conducting a proposal and interview process, we are pending Board approval on the selection of a landscape architect to create and implement a new courtyard design. Just as planning any great work of art, the composition of elements in a garden must provide cohesion and contrast, inviting the eye to move around the space and find places of rest. The Gibbes Museum strives to preserve and promote the art of Charleston and the American South—soon the garden will do the same thing. I can’t wait to walk into the museum and see a brand new, artful garden through the large windows at the back of the building!

Jeff Daly, museum designer and guest blogger