Blog > A Fresh Perspective into Ensemble Playing
by Nicolette Wong | January 22nd, 2015

standard A Fresh Perspective into Ensemble Playing

Credit: http://artobserved.com/

Credit: http://artobserved.com/

The Guggenheim Museum Bilbao recently presented a nine-screen multi-channel video installation by the young Icelandic performance artist Ragnar Kjartansson, who is known for featuring music in his works. Bliss, his 12-hour work starring a live performance of a scene from Mozart’s ‘The Marriage of Figaro’ repeated over and over again – in which the count begs his wife for forgiveness and she later relents in a hauntingly beautiful aria – fetched him the inaugural Malcolm Award at Performa 11 in 2011.

Credit: http://artobserved.com/

Credit: http://artobserved.com/

This newer work, titled The Visitors (2012), documents another musical performance, albeit a recorded one, that took place at Rokeby Farm in upstate New York. Though the title alludes to the final album released by ABBA, there does not seem to be any other references to this pop group. Like Bliss, the work features a repetition of a single piece of music, but here, it is an original composition by the artist as well as Davíð Þór Jónsson, with lyrics written by Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir (Kjartansson’s ex-wife). The musicians, ‘connected’ to each other via headphones, play their respective parts in separate rooms (and in different moods, e.g. Kjartansson plays his guitar in a bathtub and another performer is seen smoking a cigar whilst playing the piano), so that every screen but one in the installation shows each individual in a setting either inside the farmhouse or on the grounds. But as visitors to the installation, we experience the work as a whole.

Whilst most reviews of this art piece concentrate either on analysing the message of the work, or on examining the inspiration behind it or its exectuation, it was the idea of playing together without being able to see each other that was most fascinating and thought-provoking for me.

Credit: http://artobserved.com/

Credit: http://artobserved.com/

I remember a nerve-racking rehearsal many years ago, when, during a chamber music camp, my quartet partners and I were stuck on a short but awkward passage. We tried multiple ways of rehearsing it – playing it slow; voicing it differently; taking turns leading etc – but still could not get it right. Feeling rather deflated, we took the piece to our coaching session, and of course, the piece fell apart as we approached that passage. But after some guidance from the faculty member leading the session, we nailed it. His tip for us? ‘Never follow; go with.’

Inspired by the eye charity for which we were recently fundraising, my trio partners and I tried rehearsing in pitch black. It was electrifying! Our senses seemed to be magnified, and our ears became our sole guiding stick. There was also something magical about ‘being together’ without looking at each other. In that exhilarating moment, we were truly in our element, swept into the music, breathing and feeling it together.

Bliss

The Visitors

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