Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Music in a photography exhibit

I was very excited to be working with Loli Kantor, whose work and method is featured in the Mar-Apr 2010 edition of LensWork. Although she just came to visit me yesterday at I-Park, we are familiar with each other's work. I knew of her theater documentation, and she knew of my jazz playing. As pointed out in the LensWork interview, Loli has been working for several years with subjects in Eastern Europe, many of whom have become her friends; and with palladium and platinum/palladium contact printing at her darkroom in Texas. In the last several years, she has exhibited in China, Ukraine ,Poland, Czech Republic and the U.S., and she opens Saturday, April 10th at the Dutch Kills Gallery in New York.

It had been several years since we saw each other, but Loli and I were able to rendezvous at the I-Park artist enclave in East Haddam, CT, where I have been working on solo clarinet repertoire. I have played solo clarinet in the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and have played with jazz trios at many museum and gallery exhibitions. Loli and I have set out to achieve some context in which the clarinet music will enhance the opening at Dutch Kills.

Oftentimes a gallery opening will have the character of a social event, and this one will be no different. But her powerful images seem to call for something bespoke. I have spent some time with an old collection of early 20th century piano songsheets, interested in extracting melodic material from them. Loli and I discussed this, and what came through, paraphrasing very generally, was that her photography would trigger the emotions, and any melodic material might enhance them. But there was no need for a "soundtrack" because the ebb and flow of daily life in Loli Kantor's work is a visual music in itself. I was seduced by this very thing as I looked through her catalog/book There Was A Forest: Jewish Life in Eastern Europe Today 2005-2008. She showed me the parts of her work featuring Alfred Schreyer, which brought to mind the klezmer sounds I fell in love with more than 20 years ago when I first learned "Gay Life in Dikanka" to play in "R. Crumb Comix" (with R. Crumb himself!) at the Hip Pocket Theatre.

We were searching for a common musical language which we knew was there. Working with a potpourri of folk melodies, I have come up with Kaleenka Suite for solo clarinet, to play at her show. The clarinet is an instrument engineered for orchestral composers, so it is the furthest thing from a folk instrument. But just as early New Orleans ragtime unlocks the key for the clarinet's role in jazz (wearing its "band instrument" hat), klezmer music unlocks the clarinet for folk music (wearing its "recorder" hat). In honor of that, I wanted my piece to begin with the A clarinet and a key signature of no sharps and flats, to make this instrument act like a folk instrument; thus the opening measures of the Kaleenka Suite are in service to the length of the tube. Many klezmers use C and D clarinets also for these reasons but I do not have those! Then, I change to B flat clarinet, a traditional orchestral instrument, back to A, and finally to bass clarinet in B flat. Going from high to low traces a breadth of range similar to Loli's in There Was A Forest. From happy to sad, from decline to revival, from celebration to work, from past to present-- the ebb and flow of daily life.

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