Misty French gardens and silent Japanese snowdrifts will rise off the walls and into the air at Tacoma Art Museum tonight, as the Second City Chamber Series presents a concert of flute, viola and harp in the museum’s main lobby.
Called “Zen Pathways,” the concert features meditative musical landscapes by Claude Debussy, Alan Hovhaness, Sophia Gubaidulina and Michio Miyagi to complement the black-and-white photographic landscapes of Michael Kenna on view in the museum’s galleries.
“Kenna’s photographs often have some kind of bisecting path through them, a stream or even a freeway,” said series’ director Svend Ronning, about the idea for the program. “And a lot of the pictures have a quiet Zen to them, an austereness that suggests one kind of music to me. Also, he focuses on the Northwest, Japan, France and Russia in his work.”
Combining these three themes and four regions in Kenna’s work, Ronning came up with “Zen Pathways,” a concert of four composers who write music that echoes Kenna’s stark-but-beautiful tranquility. All four works are for flute, viola and harp, and all four derive their beauty from nature, just as Kenna does.
First up is “The Garden of Adonis,” written in 1971 by the late Seattle composer Alan Hovhaness. Based on Renaissance poet Edmund Spenser’s idea of a garden where souls are reborn as flowers, Hovhaness’ musical garden is quiet and reflective, drawing on the composer’s fascination with music from India and Eastern Asia.
“The simplicity and minimalist qualities reflect Eastern aesthetics,” said flutist Jennifer Rhyne.
Also inspired by the East was Claude Debussy, whose “Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp” remains the quintessential work for this instrumentation and who echoes the misty edges of Kenna’s earlier French garden work in his early-20th-century Impressionism. The sectional music goes from “luscious to menacing to exuberant,” said Rhyne, interspersed with moments of repose and reflection.
If Debussy brought the East to the West, then Michio Miyagi brought the West to Japan. A famous blind koto performer and composer, Miyagi was part of a group of 20th-century composers who sought to incorporate European harmonization and techniques into Japanese melody and instrumentation. His 1929 “Haru No Umi” (“The Sea in Springtime”) was originally scored for the harp-like koto and the Japanese shakuhachi flute, but reworked for flute, viola and harp, it became Japan’s most known musical export.
“It definitely has a meditative quality,” Rhyne said. “The folk song is simple; it’s really beautiful, peaceful and quiet.”
Not so “The Garden of Joys and Sorrows” by living Russian composer Sophia Gubaidulina. Inspired equally by Eastern music and the formality of Bach and Anton Webern, Gubaidulina uses extended instrumental techniques such as harmonics and pitch-bending to create otherworldly sounds. “The lyrical flute line is the only thing connecting this piece to the mortal world,” Rhyne said. “There are so many new sounds that the audience will find fascinating, many even I have never heard before.”
But while the music is full of exotic or contemporary sounds – just like Kenna’s shots of looming power-station funnels or Easter Island statues – there are also moments of silence that echo the stark areas of negative space in Kenna’s photographs: the white expanse of a frozen Russian river or a dark night sky.
“It’s the play between the silence and the music that shows that the silence is just as important,” Rhyne said. ‘ZEN PATHWAYS’
What: Second City Chamber Series puts on a concert for flute, viola and harp, featuring Jennifer Rhyne (flute), Jeanne Rogers (viola) and Catherine Barrett (harp)
When: 7:30 p.m. tonight
Where: Tacoma Art Museum, 1701 Pacific Ave., Tacoma
Cost: $27/$25/$10, includes gallery admission
Also: Take time to see the concert’s inspiration, “Memories and Meditations: A Retrospective of Michael Kenna’s Photography,” up through March at TAMblog.thenewstribune.com/arts