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Making Music at the Johnson

September 4th, 2012

One of the most exciting processes of discovery each semester is to see how new programs change the ways our visitors experience the Johnson. Last year several especially memorable afternoons and evenings were spent thinking about the creative ways that faculty and student musicians and poets have responded to the Museum’s art and architecture. Their music and poetry highlighted the experiential nature of art, helping us all to approach familiar spaces and artworks from new perspectives.

On an evening last October, just before Halloween, the Museum’s first Look and Listen program presented ten performances. Organized by Cornell Professor of Music Xak Bjerken, the event featured H. K. Gruber’s Frankenstein!! performed by the Ithaca College Chamber Orchestra and narrated by Scott Tucker, director of the Cornell Glee Club. Site-specific and “mobile” performances throughout the Museum were presented by the San Francisco–based bass clarinet duo Sqwonk, the Ithaca Soundscape Project, the Cornell Avant Garde Ensemble (CAGE), and members of the Cornell Contemporary Chamber Players. The event concluded with a sunset-tracking electronic piece written by Kevin Ernste, assistant professor of music at Cornell, and performed in collaboration with CAGE.

Audience members responded that they were personally inspired by the integration of music, art, and space through the Johnson. Professor Ernste himself said, “Together we’ve really sparked something and moved a lot of people. As was said several times in our discussions, we’re thrilled to partner with the Johnson not only as a new space for art-/music-making but also as a place of risk.” 

Experimentation was also emphasized by Cornell Assistant Professor Tim Feeney’s Music for a Resonant Space this past February. Feeney, director of percussion in the department of music, turned the reverberant sound of the Museum building into an instrument, transforming audiences’ visit to the Johnson. 

Last spring also saw concerts conceived in response to the exhibition Lines of Control: Partition as a Productive Space. Multimedia works by international artists inspired Cornell’s departments of English and music, and original works of poetry and music were performed at two separate concert events.

This semester’s Look and Listen program on October 28 promises to captivate Johnson audiences once again. Among the highlights will be new works by Cornell doctoral student composers, produced by the Cornell Contemporary Chamber Players under the direction of Michael Small. The compositions by CAGE featuring the Museum’s Bertoia sculptures are not to be missed!

The beguiling combination of poetry and chamber music returns with Strings and Sonnets, featuring the Cornell Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Chris Kim, with original poetry by students working with Lyrae Van Clief-Stefanon, a poet and associate professor in the Cornell department of English.

The popularity of our music and art programs have inspired Johnson Museum staff and music faculty to engage younger audiences as well. This semester families with children ages six and up are invited to “sound walk” the Museum with Annie Lewandowski, a lecturer in music at Cornell. Their sonic and visual experiences will be followed by an opportunity to make their own musical instruments from everyday materials.