The word “synesthesia” came to mind last weekend while listening to the world premiere of Christopher Theofanidis’ “FIVE for string quartet,” played by the Miró Quartet at Carmel’s Sunset Center. A powerful composition, impeccably performed by the celebrated string ensemble, this new work stretched the senses in the manner of synesthesia, in which someone, for example, may hear light or taste colors of sound.
The Theofanidis commission took us into a realm of hearing visual art.
The composer speaks of the profound impact of the five “video panels” from moving-image virtuoso Bill Viola’s epic exhibition “Going Forth By Day,” which inspired this Chamber Music Monterey Bay Arc of Life commission.
In “FIVE for string quartet,” Theofanidis strives to musically transmit his experience of this potent transformative art to the listener in short intense movements named from Viola’s panels: Fire Birth, The Path, The Deluge, The Voyage and First Light.
Before Miró took the stage, still images from the exhibit were projected briefly onto a screen, giving the audience fleeting visual impressions of the masterpieces. Then, when the images were gone, the quartet arrived to perform Theofanidis’ musical impressions of “Going Forth By Day.”
The score is passionate and complex, reflecting the composer’s exceptional vision and skill along with his deep commitment to the material. Miró masterfully executed the intricate conversations and synergies between the instruments in each movement. These strings delivered light, fire, water, birth, challenge and beauty to the mind’s eye, along with the poignancy of human striving.
The still images served as a remembered pictorial key to the score, which helped the five movements come alive in the imagination as the music unfolded.
There was something unique about this convergence of notes, musicians and artistic intent that had some of us actively trying to hear the music as a visual experience. This proved a brain-bending and vivid undertaking that, among other things, made me regret not seeing the Viola installation.
The evening was an artistic triumph for Chamber Music Monterey Bay. This gift of the Arc of Life commissions has been a boon not only to our community but also to the world of contemporary music.
This new work is dedicated by Amy Anderson and George Somero, who made it possible, “to the importance of the contemporary composers’ voice in the evolution of chamber music.”
Miró also gave gorgeous, supple and impressive performances of quartets by Haydn and Schubert. This foursome is a chamber music treasure. So is Theofanidis.