Triptych Inspires Compositions


Verdier’s “Energy Fields” as Muse

Philip Lasser's Composing for Non-Composers class created works inspired by Energy Fields, a triptych by Juilliard artist-in-residence Fabienne Verdier. From left: Melody Nishinaga, Lasser, Bryony Gibson-Cornish, Verdier, and T.J. Tario.

 (Photo by Ken Howard) More Photos »
Fabienne Verdier and Students

Philip Lasser's Composing for Non-Composers class created works inspired by Energy Fields, a triptych by Juilliard artist-in-residence Fabienne Verdier. From left: Melody Nishinaga, Lasser, Bryony Gibson-Cornish, Verdier, and T.J. Tario.

Ken Howard
Fabienne Verdier's Energy Fields

Fabienne Verdier: Energy Fields (2013) 76 in. x 162 in., ink on Moulin du Gué paper

What are the links between painting and music? In September, Juilliard welcomed an artist in residence of an unusual kind: the French abstract painter Fabienne Verdier. Her quest at Juilliard is to break boundaries between painting and music. Toward that end, she has been collaborating this fall with my Composition for Non-Majors class. After hearing Verdier discuss her triptych Energy Fields, the students talked with her about their interactions with and interpretations of it—and then composed works based on those reactions. The compositions will be performed at the the class’s Double Visions concert on December 4. At the beginning, Verdier will speak about the triptych, which will be on display, and then the vocal, chamber, electronic, and multimedia works the students composed will be performed. Following are statements from Verdier and the students.
—Faculty member Philip Lasser (D.M.A. ’94, composition)

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Fabienne Verdier, Painter

Musical gesture and gesture in painting might be born from listening to the harmony of the world—it records, grasps, evokes this untamable line of phenomena, waves, fluids, reflections, meanderings, arborescence, tectonics, and captures the life force of the musician and painter. Like a musician, I explore the idea of duration of the moment itself. A brushstroke lets us see the sudden and fleeting perception of movement. All is in flux, nothing lasts. My triptych Energy Fields tells of the trace of energy in movement without beginning or end. This primacy of the instant and the immediate are at the heart of our modern lives, and the artist strives to render them poetic. The creation of suspended time is no doubt one of the most beautiful things we can seek to share.

Bryony Gibson-Cornish, Master’s Violist 

I saw Energy Fields in a number of ways that led to my composition for nine voices. To begin with, I saw a landscape—it was hazy and out of focus, so it made sense to use “shh” sounds to set up a soundscape. From this, layerings of chords emerge, building intensity until the sounds of bells chime through. Inspired by Verdier’s take on combining the old with the new, I incorporated the famous French nursery rhyme “Frère Jacques” into the next section of my composition. It’s first heard in fragments, then in a crazed canon in which the voices unite into three parts with bells ringing with a cantus firmus and a descant line. To complete my triptych, the opening material returns in a familiar but different manner. Energy Fields is hauntingly beautiful: it has a sense of connection with the earth and life itself. It is my hope that this composition will inspire this same connection. —Gibson-Cornish holds Baroque Music, Irene Land, and Juilliard Council scholarships.

Nico Namoradze, Master’s Pianist 

Left to Right is my set of seven short pieces for cello, piano, and electronics. Some focus on isolated features of the artwork, such as the color black or a certain texture. These are essentially studies in articulation and color that draw upon the possibilities of two types of instruments—string and percussion—as well as electronic effects to try to render elements of the painting into sound. The opening, central (fourth), and last movements, however, are more abstract reflections on the sense of movement and direction in the artwork, and, by extension, the process of creating a painting. —Namoradze holds Byron J. Gustafson and Louise Chisholm Moran piano scholarships. 

T.J. Tario, Bachelor’s Pianist 

In composing a reaction piece to this beautiful painting, I wanted to be able to show contrasting worlds colliding with one another—interacting and thus transcending. In Verdier’s use of Western and Asian brush technique, I was able to find my inspiration through modal mixture and chiaroscuro harmonies. Over the summer I played Fauré’s C-minor Piano Quartet in Fontainebleau, France, and I’m using that instrumentation because of its wonderful sonorities. When brought together, the strings and piano create a finished canvas in sound.  —Tario holds a Joseph Fidelman Scholarship and a Susan W. Rose Piano Scholarship.

Patrick Doane, Master’s Violinist  

I remember how foggy my senses were due to a cold on the overcast day I shared a room with the triptych for an hour or so. It left the impression of a bell that is struck and struck again, releasing waves of overlapping frequencies in a
decaying dance—whereupon it is struck again. My composition is challenging my sense for structure because the painting 
so courageously captures the scope of a seemingly endless vibration through its texture and gesture—and the implication that the structures within the painting continue where it ends. —Doane is funded by the Alice Hendricks Kuhn Memorial Scholarship.

Melody Nishinaga, Master’s Harpsichordist 

The journey that led Fabienne Verdier to create Energy Fields interested me in how she captured the dichotomy of the personal and the universal as well as the intersections of life experiences. Subconsciously or consciously, we create our identities through the accumulation of life experiences, which seem to me to be largely composed at the intersections of beginnings and endings. Verdier’s painting also reflects universal resonances such as the ebb and flow of the sea, the branches of a tree, the flashes of lightning in a storm—it frames universal moments that continue long before the paper has started and long after it has ended. In my composition, I aim to create a series of beginnings and endings that evoke her painting.

Ian-Joe Chang, Bachelor’s Pianist 

Physics has long interested me, not just as a fascination with explaining phenomena, but also an inspiration for aesthetic principles. One is the perpetual existence of opposite forces: as a result of their struggle, a new medium is created that we perceive as having order. In Verdier’s painting, I was struck by the balance between gravity and inertia, which in my composition will be represented by the piano and the cello. I will explore the relationship between these forces and represent the process by which our perceptions of the world are created down to their most basic natural elements. 

Aaron Plourde, Master’s Trumpeter 

My piece is for trumpet and interactive electronics. The electronics part will contain samples of acoustic instruments that will be sent through different pitch modulators and programmed to respond to a mixture of improvised and predetermined music I’ll be playing on the trumpet. It has been exciting to try and write a piece in which I won’t have to touch the computer much, or even at all, during the performance. Hopefully this will enable the audience to be more engaged in the work itself and not distracted by my meddling with technology. —Plourde holds a Juilliard Scholarship and the Frieda and Harry Aronson Scholarship in Trumpet.

Robin Giesbrecht, Bachelor’s Pianist 

This painting is a triptych, therefore my piece is also a triptych and while there are three separate sections, they are so intertwined and connected that one cannot see a beginning or end to any of them, just like there is no real separation between the three paintings. I see height, I see stress, I see lines that move and yet are static, I see a structure that is there but also isn’t there. I see a background that’s white and secondary, yet it fills a void that it created. This painting is pure emotion, which each person feels differently. I hope to achieve that with my music. —Giesbrecht holds Adele Marcus, Susan W. Rose, and Cecelia Felman piano scholarships.

Daniel Chmielinski, Jazz Double Bassist 

Energy Fields is absolutely stunning. It features three distinct lines that interact with each other on the canvas, and as a viewer, you are thrown into the momentum and drive of each brushstroke. I hope that my composition can capture this same momentum and drive. The three main elements in Verdier’s work rip across the canvas with grace and strength; each line has a raw and ethereal beauty. In my work, I also use three main elements in the setting—for string trio—and I aim to capture the related, but not necessarily imitative, nature of Verdier’s lines. —Chmielinski holds a Ron Carter Jazz Scholarship and the John P. Hanvey Memorial Scholarship.

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