We’ve all felt it—that simultaneous convenience of, yet enslavement to, our computers, email, iPhones, musical cloud. The merits vs. dangers of technology may seem an endless debate these days, but the Charlotte Symphony hopes to harness technology to visually engage a new generation of concertgoers. On Friday, May 4, the orchestra and Music Director Christopher Warren-Green present “Bolero Comes Alive,” featuring the classic Ravel score set to new video animation, commissioned by the orchestra, from New York-based artist Matthew Weinstein (above, bottom right). The program is part of the orchestra’s KnightSounds series, funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which offers “multi-sensory” concert experiences.
Bolero seems an appropriate choice for a video collaboration. Ravel, Warren-Green notes, “was fascinated with the sounds of factories and machinery,” something Weinstein attributes to the composer’s contemporary milieu. “Many artists in that time period were thinking about this sort of man vs. machine, or man with machine utopia vs. dystopia idea,” Weinstein says. For the video, Weinstein begins with images of gears and a conveyer belt. We follow a female fish (top left in image above), a stock character that is the focus of many of Weinstein’s other films, through a variety of different environments. (See video preview below.) “As she experiences these different environments she becomes more and more destructive,” Weinstein says, “until the end where she sort of burns the whole thing down.”
Weinstein sees this incendiary climax in terms of the classic postmodern struggle between man and machine where ultimate judgments of the morality of technology are left up in the air. It’s a debate that Weinstein, as a video artist, says he can relate to. “When it works there’s nothing more beautiful than the fact that this machine can be told how to make this imagery, but most of the time I spend tearing my hair out,” he says. “I think there’s an ambiguity for all of us.”
Apart from “Bolero Comes Alive,” other multi-disciplinary programs in the Charlotte Symphony’s KnightSounds series—presented at the sleeker Knight Theater rather than the orchestra’s other home, the Blumenthal Performing Arts Center—have included a night of music by Tchaikovsky, with actors reimagining episodes from the composer’s life. “Tango and Tapas” paired music by De Falla and other Latino composers with Tango dance performances. One of the keys to KnightSounds is the atmosphere. “When people arrive they’re offered a glass of wine and some finger food,” Warren-Green says. “It’s very relaxed and casual. Then after the concert there’s always some kind of party on the program’s theme.” The Levine Center for the Arts complex, which includes the Knight Theater sits, Mint Museum, and Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, allows a variety of venues for such after-show soirées.
In conjunction with “Bolero Comes Alive,” the Mint Museum will showcase several of Weinstein’s paintings, along with “Chariots of the Gods,” one of his previous videos featuring the voice of Natasha Richardson. It’s all in the name of increased access. “It’s drawing a lot more people into the theater who have not been to the symphony before,” Warren-Green says. “And many are crossing over to the Blumenthal. Our ticket sales are up 32% this season.”
Weinstein and Warren-Green have not yet explored the possibility of further collaborations, but Weinstein is looking forward to his next project involving classical music. “This is my first commission and I’ve really enjoyed it, it’s been quite inspiring,” he says. “It would be inspiring, too, to work with a young, living classical composer to develop something from the ground up.”