Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Piggybacking on Picasso

I don’t know whether the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts’ bid for a place in the blockbuster tour of "Picasso: Masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris" – a successful one, Katherine Calos reports in the Richmond Times-Dispatch . . .


. . . was widely known to the rest of Richmond’s arts community. But few of the programs that have been scheduled by the city’s performing-arts groups and presenters while the exhibition runs (Feb. 19-May 15, 2011) address Picasso’s cultural milieu.

Just before the exhibition opens, the Richmond Ballet is staging "Giselle" (right place, Paris, but wrong era). Shortly before the show leaves town, the Ysaÿe Quartet will play the Debussy Quartet (contemporaneous to much of Picasso's best work) in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Rennolds Chamber Concerts.

The Richmond Symphony is playing Schumann, Brahms, Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev in its mainstage Masterworks series; the Sinfonietta of Francis Poulenc is on a Metro Collection program. The Virginia Opera is staging Wagner’s "The Valkyrie" ("Die Walküre") and Puccini’s "Madame Butterfly." The University of Richmond’s Modlin Arts Center is showcasing Chinese and Lebanese music, Japan’s KODO drummers and Tennessee Williams’ "The Glass Menagerie." Richmond CenterStage has "The Wizard of Oz" and "Beauty and the Beast."

Not to mention Civil War sesquicentennial activity. (The Fort Sumter anniversary falls on April 12.)

So, the field for piggybacking on Picasso looks wide open.

No word yet on whether the museum is planning any musical or other performance events in conjunction with the show. Hope so: Picasso's artistic influence and personal connections extended beyond visual art, into music and dance especially.

There’s certainly no shortage of music to complement this show. Picasso’s working life overlapped several eras and schools of composition, and Paris in his time was a magnet for composers and musical styles from all over the world: Stravinsky, Enescu, De Falla, Martinů, Gershwin, Copland, American jazz, Argentine tango, Indonesian gamelan. Plus, of course, several generations of French composers – Debussy, Ravel, Satie, Milhaud, Poulenc – many of whom knew the artist, all of whom lived and worked in the cultural climate he played a seminal role in creating.

The museum has only one large space dedicated to performance, the old Virginia Museum Theater, basically untouched in the expansion project, I’m told, and never acoustically inviting to musicians. The structure’s new spaces are untried musically. Its Marble Hall, however, has proved in the past to be friendly to various musics – its acoustics are quite good, despite its being built of all the "wrong" materials; it can comfortably accommodate an audience of 300 or so.

One hopes that Richmond’s performers and presenters, in collaboration with the museum or independently, will have the artistic savvy to explore Picasso’s world beyond the canvas, and the marketing savvy to exploit the local buzz and influx of visitors (this is the show's only stop on the East Coast) generated by a blockbuster.