Monday, May 7, 2012: ‘Wrap Music’

Opus Osm

The route to the cupola of St Salvator, where The Berg Orchestra will premiere a new work by Slavomír Hořínka

‘Wrap Music’ through a Church Attic

You’re trying to run up a steep, narrow wooden staircase with no handrails. The stairs twist and turn, doubling back on themselves as you clamber up, higher and higher.

At some 40 metres above the ground you reach the top. You walk a narrow wooden plank over dusty, plaster dunes which help form the vaulted ceiling below. You reach up and put your hand on each low, wooden beam as you pass beneath it, so you won’t bonk your head and fall off the edge into the dirt and dust.

Dust that could well be over 400 years old.

At the end of the plank you finally walk into the brilliant light. You’re standing right under the dome of the Gothic-Baroque Kostel Nejsvětějšího Salvátora, in the cupola of the Jesuit Church of St Salvator, across the street from the Charles Bridge. You look up to the light pouring in through the clear, leaded windows. When you see the two pigeons perched on the plaster filament above you, you’re finally sure this isn’t a nightmare; it’s only the venue for the next site-specific concert by The Berg Orchestra.

Fortunately, the audience won’t be expected to follow this route for the concert Wed, May 9.

Opus Osm

The view from the cupola looking down to the floor; a portion of the art piece is visible on the left.

Instead, the musicians and choir, The Tiburtina Ensemble, will enter the back of the church, back down, way down, on the ground floor, singing, playing, advancing slowly to the altar in front of the audience, which will be seated comfortably in the conventional church pews. Then The Tiburtina Ensemble will move up to the first floor balcony encircling the audience below; and musicians toting their flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn, and percussion paraphernalia will continue through that dusty attic all the way up to the cupola, so that all the music flows down and around the listeners.

Composer Slavomír Hořínka envisioned this “wrap music” for his world-premiere Magnificat, music that literally moves around and enfolds the audience. “When I compose I want to work with something deeply personal,” Mr Hořínka tells Opus Osm. Since a composition can take half to three-quarters of a year to complete, “When I compose, I want to work on something I can contemplate. This is a kind of prayer,” he says. However, he adds, even though he wants to share his personal view, “Everybody can listen in whatever way he likes. There’s no manual for it.”

The young Czech composer says he tried to make the simplest possible work from a plainsong chant, including the “processional” for the Tiburtina choir, which will walk as they sing – something opera singers can’t do.

Mr Hořínka was pleased to collaborate with long-time friend (and his daughter’s god-mother) Magdalena Bartáková, a visual artist who has created an unusual paper hanging for the concert. It’s a white, wing-like object which she has titled “Woman Dressed in Sunlight,” part of the Apocalypse text from Catholic liturgy. The concert and the artwork honor the Virgin Mary, which for the Catholic church occurs during the entire month of May.

Although most of the 7-person crew working to raise the approximately 6×10 metre, 15 kg art piece up towards the dome refer to it as the wing, “It’s not a wing,” Mrs Bartáková insists; “it’s a landscape.” It’s composed of three to 30 layers of thin white opaque paper plastered together with wallpaper paste. Abstract images of landscapes projected onto the piece “connect earth with heaven or the sky,” the artist explains.

The piece hangs so that the setting sun illuminates the layers. Since the sun doesn’t make its daily entrance (or exit) until 7:45 pm this Wednesday, that’s when the concert starts.

Whether you think the art is a wing or a landscape, whether you think the music is a prayer or something else, the effect of the contemporary works set in the Baroque atmosphere is sure to be monumental – and memorable. You can watch the massive “Woman Dressed in Sunlight” being raised to the cupola, in the video below. The music is not by The Berg Orchestra, but a quartet rehearsing for that day’s concert. — oo

– Mary Matz

Photo Credits: Miroslav Setnička

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