A new serenade for old strings
– By Cindy Starr
Their musical lives may have ended, but five old violins have found new artistic vibrancy in “MusikArt,” a collaboration between the Cincinnati Chamber Orchestra and the Wash Park Art Gallery. The violins have been transformed by local artists into visual representations of CCO’s 2018 Summermusik Festival season.
Each instrument will be sold via auction from July 13 through Aug. 25, with 100 percent of the sales benefiting CCO. The collaboration was the brainchild of Eckart Preu, CCO music director, who is known for his belief in presenting neglected works in the symphonic repertory. His embrace of the “MusikArt” project shows an empathy for vintage violins, all of which were donated by Buddy Roger’s Music, as well as a love of visual art.
To implement the project, CCO tapped longtime partner Holly Doan Spraul, owner and curator at Wash Park Art, who skillfully paired prominent local artists with the concert themes she thought would most inspire them.
Cedric Michael Cox
“Guitar with Violin in the Garden” is matched with the concert “British Invasion” (Aug. 4, SCPA) and “An Afternoon with Jane Austen” (Aug. 5, Taft Museum). Cox listened to the British band The Who while working on the front side of his violin, and researched Victorian England before addressing the back side, stepping beyond his “cubist/geometric aesthetic” and pushing toward an antique still life motif.
Cox sought to showcase his interest in different styles and subject matter while creating a cohesive work of art. “Some of the images in the violin reflect the influence the Taft Museum of Art had on me when I had a solo exhibition there last year,” Cox said. “It is an honor to have my work associated with the Taft Museum again.”
Asked to capture the expanse and spirit of the Summermusik season, Pearce wrapped her violin with summer flowers, imbuing it with pastels and the meditative feel of a summer’s walk with nature. A collage artist, Pearce chose from “full-page, vintage prints of antique illustrations from one of the most beautiful books on seasonal flowering plants: ‘Hortus Eystettensis.’ ” Also gracing her violin are birds, a frog, insects and a wily snake, which appears to emerge from one of the instrument’s sound holes.
“The noises they make are the music of summer in my mind,” Pearce said. “When I am in the garden and hear a sudden rustling of leaves or grass, I just know it is a snake.” A bit dark, she admitted, but “summer has a dark side, too.”
This shimmering violin is coordinated with “The Four Seasons: Reimagined” (Aug. 11, SCPA) and “Postcards from the Sky” (Aug. 12, Carnegie Hall, Newport). Trimble used a combination of spray paint, acrylic paint and mica flake, reminiscent of many of her paintings, to imbue her violin with the frosty beauty of Iceland and to reflect pieces from contemporary composer Valgeir Sigurðsson’s “Dreamland.”
Listening to the music, Trimble was struck by the integration of “harsher sounds … in combination with more gentle reverberations” and the “crackles and pops that seemed to appear throughout some of the pieces.” Like the other artists, she enjoyed the opportunity to work outside her typical canvas format and embrace “the challenge of trying to respond to some other type of media … in a visual format.”
“Le Violon Rouge!” was created for “Voyage of the Red Violin” (Aug. 18-19, SCPA), a concert that evokes a film inspired by a legendary Stradivarius. Towhey’s delightful work is constructed from wood, ceramics and found objects and finished with oil-based paints and custom-made stains. A painter who also creates whimsical sculptures in his woodworking shop, he relished this project, particularly the art of applying finishes to the now-gleaming violin.
The sculpture consists of symbols and metaphors. “The ceramic mushrooms,” he said, “could be interpreted as representing rebirth from decay – a continuance of life’s energy, much as the red violin had seemingly faded into history, only to circumstantially begin a new life adventure.” The three rockets? They represent “an unforeseen future for the violin.”
Who better to reimagine a violin for “The Hero Within” (Aug. 25, SCPA) than Laug, a Navy veteran whose work appears in the permanent collection of the National Veterans Art Museum in Chicago. “Because of the Brave” is covered with white, soft-edged stars that appear to float in a summer sky. The piece is suspended in a semicircular holder decorated with military ribbons from past and present engagements.
The violin, Laug said, “pays tribute to our military veterans who sacrifice to protect America’s freedoms and then return to America, where they assimilate into society to make us a stronger and more complete nation.” Whether they come home fully functioning or needing “a little extra help from a grateful nation,” Laug said they form “the bedrock of the wonderful home we call America.”