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Sight and sound: Music at the Museum

February 8, 2019

Mindy Leder
TANGIBLE TUNES: Music at the Museum, a crowd-favorite performed by Artist-in-Residence George Lopez, had a rapt audience last night.

The dome of the Bowdoin College Museum of Art (BCMA) rings with music as a full, rapt audience experiences sound interwoven with sight. On this February night, the performance series “Music at the Museum” continues yet another successful run.

For the night’s performer Beckwith Artist-in-Residence George Lopez, familiar with recital halls worldwide, this experience is unlike any other.

“It feels more hallowed—in the best sense of the word,” Lopez said. “There’s a call to bring your creative best to the moment, because you’re among the best that art and creativity have to offer.”

The concert, like the exhibit it accompanies—Material Resources: Intersections of Art and the Environment—is curated with intention, research and a quest for narrative connections. Lopez, who knows piano repertoire intimately, is guided by the themes of the exhibit.

“I select pieces that highlight directly, as a representation of the art, or that are conceptually connected by the creative impulse,” said Lopez.

The musical program for yesterday and today had been set—until inspiration struck in the most unexpected way.

When Lopez was watching the Super Bowl this past Sunday, a certain advertisement for Bud Light involving a fiery dragon and an ice-cold brew sparked an entirely new direction.

Rather than focusing on the piano as a material resource, Lopez began to sort through the flood of pieces his new theme brought to mind: the four elements.

“Making music tangible, invoking painting, color, landscape.” said Lopez. “Dealing with landscape through earth, rivers through water, bumblebees through the air—I think it lands on the listener much more strongly than simply an abstract would.”

The highlights are varied as the elements they represent. For earth, Chopin’s Piano Concerto no. 1, “Romance,” invokes a landscape reminiscent of a thousand happy memories. Air allows the “Flight of the Bumblebee” by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov to ring. For water, “Preludes” by Claude Debussy, a composer enamored with nature, conjures rivers. In fire, Manuel de Falla’s “Ritual Fire Dance” is all vigor and energy—according to Lopez, a real barn-burner.

In this program, as in his other endeavors at the College, Lopez seeks to draw people in to what he admits is arcane: classical music. Academic interest may often be enough to bring people in to listen.

“But if you draw the heart in, if you draw personal feeling toward the music through narrative, then it makes more of an impact.” said Lopez. “It gets in, somehow, rather than just staying on the surface of the skin, the ear.”

Lopez uses visuals as an integral part of his teaching and his craft. His philosophy is guided by a search for relationships not always obvious to the eye or ear.

“I’m very interested in the way that everything is everything.” said Lopez. “I’m particularly interested in always looking for connections.”

Through “Music at the Museum,” Lopez seeks to make the intangible tangible, the invisible seen—uniting the mind and heart in celebration of all that art, music or visual, has to offer.

“I believe there’s a lot more visualization in the creation of music, both as a composer and as a performer,” he said. “Me personally, I see bubbles or rings, each tone is a ring of a different size or color so that the sound becomes an actual thing in my mind, it doesn’t stay out there, invisible.”

In anticipation of the sold-out, brief program, audiences arrive in the space with intent, which Lopez believes makes a difference. After all, listeners must seek connections, narratives and the presence of heart, for themselves.

“If you’re not looking for that, my programs are quaint, but not effective,” said Lopez.

In his extensive travels, Lopez has found those connections from coast to coast, abroad and at home, no matter whose ears his music reaches.

“I’m interested in the way that people respond [to music] with the same passion or intensity—not on the surface, but with the intangibles.” he said. “And so I can take my language on the road quite easily.”

Not as far on the road as Cuba, this time—simply down the street, under the dome of the BCMA, where the convergence of sight and sound promises to fill an evening with illuminating new possibilities.

Music at the Museum will take place at the Museum of Art Pavilion this Friday at 5 p.m.


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