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The Barnes Asks: Can We Listen to Music the Way We Look at Art?

Ensemble view, Room 1, south wall, Philadelphia, 2012. Photo © 2016 The Barnes Foundation
Ensemble view, Room 1, south wall, Philadelphia, 2012. Photo © 2016 The Barnes Foundation"

Dr. Albert Barnes was often keen to mix music with his legendary art collection. So in that spirit, the Barnes Foundation will be adding some 16 concerts to Philadelphia’s classical music community. The Philadelphia Inquirer’s David Patrick Stearns reports they will be serious.

The Solo Series debut concert is January 27th at 8 pm.

David Patrick Stearns: Were the Barnes taking any typical approach to pairing music with art, Debussy would be heard alongside Impressionists. But the series of concerts announced last week will feel as modern as the paintings did when Dr. Barnes first acquired them.

[Music: Red Earth, Michael Finnissy]

Martha Lucy: We look at contemporary visual art and take it seriously. Not everybody loves it. But we think of it as a kind of barometer for what's happening and what we're thinking about in our current moment. We should do the same with music.

DPS: Not everything will be experimental, says Martha Lucy, deputy director of education. The priority in the Solo Series, the Resounding Voices Choral Series, and in the formation of the Barnes Ensemble, is to achieve the kind of mixture seen on the museum’s walls, says concert co-artistic director Katherine Skovira.

[Music: Vigilia, Einojuhani Rautavaara]

Katherine Skovira: It’s about showing connections in music just like it is on the walls so people can make these connections very deeply across many concerts

DPS: Co-artistic director Robert Whalen adds:

Robert Whalen: It’s about critical thinking. It’s about expanding people’s awareness. That happens in the visual arts. We’re going to do that in music too.

DPS: Large, ambitious works such as Michael Finnissy’s Red Earth and Rautavaara’s Vigilia will be heard along with gospel music, which Barnes loved. Audiences may well be new to Barnes. And that’s the idea.