SAN DIEGO — Musicians have long been favorite subjects for painters, from the angelic instrumentalists of medieval iconographers to Picasso's Cubist guitarists. Local musicians will be returning the favor over the next five weeks with a series of period concerts at the San Diego Museum of Art.
The concerts are part of the events planned for the current "More Than Meets the Eye" exhibition.
"Our goal was to place selected works in the permanent collection in historical context in an interdisciplinary way," explained Mary Stofflet, curator of education for the museum. It was her idea to enlist local musical ensembles that specialize in repertory from particular periods of history to perform in those museum rooms that house visual artifacts from the same era. Stofflet also prepared video presentations for each room that present a mixture of contemporaneous political history and artistic techniques.
At 2 p.m. Sunday, the Early Music Ensemble of San Diego will sing 15th- and 16th-Century songs in the museum's Renaissance Room. Alto Vicki Heins-Shaw of the Early Music Ensemble surveyed the museum's Renaissance Room collection before choosing the program.
"In the Renaissance Room, most of the collection is religious, especially depictions of Madonna and child. One painting is a Madonna with angel musicians (Luca Signorelli's 1508 'Coronation of the Virgin'). That was easy--we have lots of 'Ave Maria' things in our repertory," said Heins-Shaw.
"With so much religious art, the challenge was not to have the program overly reverent and somber. Since about half of the art is Italian--the rest is either Flemish or Spanish--we chose music that is mainly Italian or Italianate in style."
Heins-Shaw and her colleagues have planned their afternoon concert as a literal pilgrimage, starting in the upstairs rotunda and processing into the Renaissance Room singing a Gregorian chant. In front of Signorelli's "Coronation of the Virgin," at the far end of the hall, they will sing five anthems on traditional texts praising the Virgin Mary by Italian and French Renaissance composers.
"Then we will move to the other side of the hall, where there are paintings of mythological subjects, Daphne and Apollo, to sing some secular pieces," said Heins-Shaw. "In another section, where there are secular portraits of noblemen, we'll sing a Landini madrigal, 'Ecco la primavera,' a very macho piece for men's voices."
The ensemble's program will close with a set of five Spanish compositions, including Juan del Encina's "Triste Espagne" and a pair of lively villancicos , in the corner devoted to Spanish Renaissance paintings.
On July 26, the Allegro Quartet will play a program of Baroque trio sonatas across the hall in the museum's Baroque Room. Since the mobility of the Allegro Quartet is limited by the use of a harpsichord, it will set up at the far end of the hall in front of an early 18th-Century Flemish tapestry titled "Pillage" by Lambert de Hondt II and Jan Van Huchtenberg.
"When I visited the museum, I noted that several of the Baroque paintings were Venetian, so we had to play at least one piece by Vivaldi," said oboist Karen Victor, the Allegro Quartet's organizer. Vivaldi was a Venetian whose career flourished in his native city.
"We chose the rest of our program to reflect the various colors and moods of the paintings--pieces in joyful major keys for the brightly hued art and minor keys for the darker ones," said Victor.
Allegro's cellist, Renata Bratt, noted that the exuberance of Baroque music is paralleled by the vivid intensity of Baroque painting. In addition to the Vivaldi, the ensemble will play sonatas by J.S. Bach, Handel and Telemann.
A string quartet organized by cellist Lorie Kirkell will play German, French and Spanish 19th-Century music at the museum on Aug. 2. Their program will demonstrate that period of European Romantic art which curator Stofflet has called "Europe in Transition." On Aug. 9, pianist Kenneth Bookstein will play a solo recital of American Romantic piano music in the museum's gallery of American art and crafts.
Concluding the series on Aug. 16 will be a concert of contemporary music by the Novellus Ensemble. Designed to parallel the museum's 20th-Century holdings, their program will include pieces by Debussy, Edgar Varese and Barney Childs. Novellus will also premiere a piece written for the occasion by the group's contrabassist, Bert Turetzky.