Culture Conversations: Music Utah Chamber Artists Bring ‘Collage’ to Cathedral by Jennifer Napier-Pearce
Walking into the Cathedral of the Madeleine is sensory overload. Vibrant colors and murals adorn every column and sanctuary of the building’s dramatic Gothic interior. Ornate wood carvings and delicate sculptures decorate the confessionals and shrines. Twenty-one stained glass windows depicting saints and Christian holy events draw the eye upward. But it was the acoustical possibilities that immediately appealed to a younger Barlow Bradford. “The European cathedrals were traditionally the great choral spaces,” Bradford says. “It’s that reverb time that is just inherent in these buildings that is so fun for a choir. It just puts this magic halo around the music.”
In 1995, Bradford wanted to create a surround-sound experience that would showcase the harmonic talents of his recently-formed ensemble, Utah Chamber Artists (UCA), and was looking for an equally impressive setting. UCA had performed at the reopening of the newly-renovated Cathedral of the Madeleine a couple of years earlier and Bradford knew the Cathedral fit the bill hands down. “While we’ve tried different venues for the Collage in addition to the Cathedral, we’ve never found anything that is even in the ballpark for the overall experience,” Bradford says.
Conceptually, the Collage is a theatrical event featuring accomplished soloists, carefully choreographed lighting and UCA singers performing in different parts of the Cathedral. The evening is topped off with an exquisite demonstration on the Cathedral’s 4,066-pipe organ.
UCA Executive Director Becky Durham, who co-created the Collage, says the trick is using the building’s natural echo to the group’s advantage.
“For the first number for the first performance, we had Copland’s ‘Fanfare for the Common Man’ with the brass players in the back (of the Cathedral) and no one knew it was coming,” Durham remembers. “It really was a shock. In fact, we never did it again because we didn't want anyone to suffer from cardiac arrest.”
For that first concert, Durham enlisted the help of Chip Dance, current stage manager for the Utah Symphony, and he’s been a partner in the Collage ever since. “Chiefly, he is a lighting guy and really knows his stuff,” Durham says. “This year, Chip is trying something he has wanted to do for a long time and that is shooting lights through the windows from the outside once it's dark. The windows are gorgeous and this will feature them in a way they've never been showcased before.”
This year’s performance includes the music of Victoria, Walton, Bradford, Miskinis, Gjeilo, Howells, and Mozart with soloists Douglas O’ Neill on the organ and cellist John Eckstein.
Bradford says a highlight will be the world premiere of a piece by acclaimed composer J.A.C. Redford. Redford spent much of his youth in Utah before starting a career in Hollywood as a composer, orchestrator and conductor for films such as Newsies, Avatar, Wall-E, and more recently The Adjustment Bureau and The Help. The premiere of “Rest Now, My Sister” is a deeply personal and solemn tribute to Redford’s sister-in-law who was brutally murdered last year in Salt Lake City’s Fairmont Park. Bradford says this piece comes at the darkest moment in the program.
“We’re taking this journey depicting joy, going through difficulty and then coming out of it. And what we have at the central point of the concert – the lowest of the depths, if you will, is [Redford’s] requiem piece,” Bradford says. “This brings it to a very immediate human experience, that this is part of our lives right now. This is not a requiem from 500 years ago, and this is something that we have to know: that there is pain, there is trial, but there is also joy and there is also triumph from the pain and that’s what we’re giving in this concert. There is this ability to rise above and find this other-worldly peace.”
For the performers, the Collage presents a singular experience as well as a challenge. In stocking feet, the 40 performers must stealthily roam from one location in the Cathedral, perform, then noiselessly move to the next spot.
Matt Hope, a first tenor who has been with UCA for 20 years, says singing behind the Chancel Screen in the front of the Cathedral is a highlight. “There is an intimacy felt amongst the group, creating a sound that, for the audience, seems to come from nowhere,” he says. “I enjoy the theatrics of it all, and appreciate the fact that the organization is serious about creating a multi-sensory experience for our audiences.”
Each year, audiences fill the cathedral to capacity, expecting the best from this ensemble. And for audience members, that experience can be transformative. Andrea Deming recalls attending the UCA Collage concert in 2008. "The whole time they sang, I closed my eyes and let the music paint pictures in my head,” she says. “It was amazing! I've never had that experience with music before."
Utah Chamber Artists performs its Cathedral Collage Concerts Monday, September 19 and Tuesday, September 20 at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City. Performances are free to the public and begin at 8 p.m. For more information, visit www.utahchamberartists.org.
In this video from 2008 Utah Chamber Artists flash-mobs England's Gloucester Cathedral to sing Barlow Bradford's "Ave Maria." which will be part of the Collage Concert.
Exhibition Spotlight: Springville Spontaneous Memorial Frank McEntire's annual installation's final incarnation by Shawn Rossiter
At the Springville Museum of Art last week Frank McEntire installed the tenth-anniversary version of Spontaneous Memorial, the project inspired by the lives lost on September 11th that he has exhibited every year for the past eight.
McEntire's project was inspired by the "spontaneous memorials" he and his wife Marjorie found on a visit to New York two months after the 9/11 attacks. "Altar-like memorials abutted the city sidewalks wherever we found a fire station or a fence," he writes. "New Yorkers and visitors continually replenished the make-shift altars throughout the city offering flowers, notes, prayers, even their silence—tokens of remembrance, admiration, and grief."
When McEntire returned from New York he felt compelled to compose 3,000 remembrances of each person killed in the attacks. After reading Portraits 9/11/01: The Collected “Portraits of Grief”from The New York Times (Edited by Howell Raines, 2002), McEntire was inspired to use the biographical sketches and photos of the September 11th victims as materials for collage. From there his ideas evolved to the point where the project became both an emotional response to the tragedy -- "a meditation on the purpose and value of life" -- and an aesthetic exploration of the concept of memorialization.
Spontaneous Memorial was first exhibited at Utah Valley University in 2004. McEntire has shown it every September since, adding a new element each year.
"When I work in series, I find as many variations on a single theme, or use of a particular object, as possible . . ." he says. "Spontaneous Memorial gave me the opportunity to work extensively on a single theme (memorial) over an extended period of time (eight years)."
The core of the exhibit is a partly enclosed space that functions as a shrine to the dead.|1| At its center, a cube, inspired by the Ka'aba in Mecca, is encased in glass. On its top a triangular vase holds ashes and fifty blank tags. Price tags, with their weighty symbolic quality -- the price of an item for sale, the cost of a life, the identity of a corpse in a morgue -- became the base for his Portrait collages.|2| Spatters and drips of red, yellow, gold, silver and black enamel paint serve to give "the tags a sense of abstraction in order to create emotional distance." These are tied to a grid structure that surrounds the cube and calls to mind the fences or protective structures raised around memorials of the innocent or people of note. Finally, three hand-made music stands hold two cut-up copies of The New York Times publication and a third complete copy.|3|
Around this contemplative core additional works have been added over the years. To an old oak roll-top desk complete with ledgers McEntire affixed blank tags, inviting viewers to comment.|4| A wall-mounted tithing table acquired during the renovation of an LDS chapel was turned into "Message Table," its slots filled with tags and pens for patrons to write comments and hang them on the “Fence.” A hymn board from the same chapel became “331” when its slots for holding one-digit number cards to identify hymns was filled with the "Most-wanted Iraqi" playing cards developed by the U.S. military. A nearby wooden music stand holds an old Mormon hymnal, opened to number 331 titled, “Oh, Say What Is Truth?” The paint-splattered black-and-white photos from the Portraits collages were enlarged and hung to cover an entire wall.|5| A priest's stole draped on a wardrobe stand became “Fly with the Angels,” a reminder of Flight 93; its title came from the words a participant inscribed on the back of one of the exhibit's memorial tags.
During the past eight years, in addition to his full-time job, McEntire has been extremely busy with an intense exhibition schedule (over twenty-five exhibits in and outside of Utah) as well as curatorial projects (see the Doug Snow retrospective up this month, page 7). Every summer, though he returns to Spontaneous Memorial as he prepares to install it in a new location. Looking back on this he says, "I reflected on the individuals whose lives were taken each time I touched one of the memorial tags or found ways to work with the 9/11 theme—a humbling experience."
As he installed Spontaneous Memorial for the last time McEntire says he was conscious what coverage of the event has done to its memory. "Every time I’ve turned on news channels or read a newspaper or magazine this past few weeks, there’s been 9/11 coverage. An out-of-state art dealer friend told me a year ago that she was tired of such coverage." So, saturation, McEntire, says, was of some concern. "My interest, however, has been to explore 'memorial' not only as a way to remember an historical event and honor the dead, but also as a form or artistic expression in itself." With Spontaneous Memorial, he's accomplished all three.
Spontaneous Memorial is at the Springville Museum of Art through. You can view more of Frank McEntire's work at his website.