Persistence of Vision

Our last post, which could have been titled Persistence of Energy, or maybe Persistence of Andy’s Interest in Far-Flung Connections, makes a fitting, if admittedly elliptical, prelude to the one you’re now reading: Persistence of Vision: Welcome the WCM 2015 Summer Season! Hooray! Summer is here! No more black holes; we’ve crossed the event horizon.

The first question, of course, is “why this title?” The answer, as with the rationale for most season monikers, is both simple and…not so much. On the most basic level, the connection is twofold. Persistence of Vision is the technical term in film theory that describes the process whereby we see the series of individual images in a film as one continuous stream of motion: at a projection rate of higher than 16 frames per second our brains fill in the gaps between images and give us an unbroken experience of motion through both time and place. We’re interested in that because we’re interested in movies this year, and in how music and movies work together, first and foremost in the work of our composer in residence, John Corigliano. Unique among contemporary composers of concert music, John not only takes film music very seriously, he has written scores for three major Hollywood films (Altered States; Revolution; and The Red Violin); has been nominated for an Oscar (Altered States); and won one (The Red Violin)! So when we chat with John at the Catskill Distilling Company on July 23rd we’ll watch and listen to excerpts from his films and pick his brain on his approach to the problem of matching sound with image.

The other immediate, though more symbolic, connection has to do with WCM’s vision, of its past, present and future. Every organization these days has a mission statement; ours is persistent. It started with Judith back in 1994 and persists up to and beyond the present season. We love our vision, we love sharing it with all of you, and we are fiercely committed to it. It’s easy to sum up: the best music, the best performers, the most imaginative programming, the most welcoming environment, the most vivid experience for the audience. That’s it! We like this overlap between what we’re doing this year and, more generally, what we’ve always done. We love mixing things up, finding a new perspective on the concert ritual (still at the heart of who we are and what we do), hearing music from a variety of different points of view and in a variety of media, but still persisting in what we value most: excellence, challenge, beauty, curiosity, emotional depth, head and heart with no gap between them, one unbroken motion of thought and feeling.

Less obvious on the surface, perhaps, is the way in which the title speaks to us of time, both musical and narrative. Music and film/video being both time-based arts, both are in a strong position to speak to us of our own experiences of time, experiences which, as Shakespeare pointed out to us a long time ago, are infinitely variable (“ambling”, “trotting” “galloping” or “standing still”). Music in particular seems to allow us to hear our own motion through life in a way that is uniquely powerful. Stravinsky gets at this when he declares that music’s expressive power lies solely in its ability to make audible the connection “between man and time” (we would update the language here, of course, but outdated pronoun aside the conclusion is clear and forcefully argued).

Each of the summer’s composers presents their own distinctive view of time. Beethoven’s is multi-layered, suggesting sometimes competing, sometimes co-existing timeframes that run concurrently, very much in keeping with Rosalind’s view in As You Like It. Fauré gives us an entirely different experience that we might describe as Persistence of Hearing, as his wonderfully colorful, deeply affective harmony shimmers and flickers like the components of a stained-glass window. Viewed too closely the elements seem at times weirdly proportioned, almost misshapen, but seen with enough distance the whole coalesces into a profound, unified and highly personal harmonic image. And Corigliano, working with the whole of 20th and now 21st century practice at his disposal creates a time-sense that is kaleidoscopic, endlessly shifting, and hugely dramatic. An expressive omnivore he refuses nothing, reaching for whatever is at hand that will serve his dramatic intention, from the most shatteringly complex to the most transparently lyrical.

In our last post, we danced around the musical implications of Roger Penrose’s stupefying vision of energy crossing the divide between adjacent universes. With Persistence of Vision we’re confronted with a similarly dazzling array of possibilities around our relationship to time, whence it comes, where it’s going, what its passing means to us as mortal beings. This is what’s at the heart of this season’s festival. Even the musical bon-bons that we offer as part of our final gala concert on the 25th have this in common with the rest of the program; they say to us, “life is short, the future uncertain, so enjoy yourselves, surround yourselves with beauty and brilliance and take a few moments off”. All this and Bob Dylan too, as both poet and composer! Now there’s a reference that roots us in a very specific time and place, one central to the history and spirit of this area that we love so. The times they are a’ changin’, but WCM remains, happy and persistent.