Dr. Albert C. Barnes saw the necessity in paintings to be the equipment for teaching critical thinking. He also found music to be the final component to complete the cycle of art education. Thus bringing to life at The Barnes Foundation their newest program, ‘Solo Series’, where audiences are asked to visualize sound and listen to the paintings come to life. Beginning in January and scheduled throughout 2017, ‘Solo Series’ evenings are collaborative performances of unaccompanied instrumentalists, vocalists, and poets on stage in The Barnes’ mediation room, directly next to the lobby–existing with the integrity as both a meditational and transitional space between real-world and art.
On its inaugural night, clarinetist Carol McGonnell, mezzo-soprano Katherine Skovira, and poet David Lehman performed their ensemble titled Fragments. In proper performance-meets-visual-arts fashion, an impromptu “performance” of John Cage’s 4′33″ started the night. In a silent transition, it is immediately followed by Lehman reciting the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s Burnt Norton:
Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.
As Fragments continued, the three artists demonstrated a call and response with one another as McGonnell and Skovira performend works by contemporary composers Georges Aperghis, Sofia Gubaidulina, and Bernard Rands, and the world premiere of Robert Whalen’s i carry your heart and the US premiere of Ann Cleare’s eyam i (it takes an ocean not to). Lehman read poetry by E. E. Cummings, T. S. Eliot, Emily Dickinson, Audre Lord and two of his own works: Mythologies part 1 & 3 from his book Operation Memory. Focusing on the themes of silence, displacement, and alienation, the three artists broke the boundaries of their classical training and shook the room. Through a variation of slap-tonguing and even a sense of mumbling into her instrument, McGonnel’s performance brought forth chills to the audience. Skovira, in both English and French and at beyond impressive speed, sang with melodious atonality. Lehman, through his poignant and yet evocative voice, beckoned and invoked some of our most beloved writers right into the room with us.
The night ended with a thoughtful question-and-answer session, where the revolving question of the night was: why so much silence? Returning to Dr. Barnes’s original intention of art education, the three artists spoke of the importance of critical approach in the tumultuous mortal coil we live in and invited all to see sound (or the inner fibers of no sound) and listen to art.