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Fonema Consort, Pictures at an Exhibition Preview: 5/1 at Constellation

by Lia Kohl

No Mussorgsky on the menu at Fonema Consort‘s Pictures at an Exhibition this Sunday evening at Constellation. The program promises to be a fresh and exciting take on music inspired by visual art–drawings, video art and paintings–as well as carrying strong political and historical undertones. For a program so clearly circling a single aesthetic concept, the variety of perspectives should allow for a fascinating concert.

Richard Barrett’s fiercely challenging Coïgitum, based on a like-titled painting by surrealist Roberto Matta, explores the subject of social oppression in Pinochet’s Chile. The piece is fittingly unsettling and violent, and a perfect fit for the virtuosic Nina Dante. Dealing more directly with the materiality of drawing, Pablo Chin’s A Rayas y Cuadros is drawn from musical transcriptions of one of Theresa Chong’s constellation-like drawings. The piece is the result of a year-long collaboration between Chong, who is based in New York, and Chin, who says that her art “reminds him of music”. Chong is also a filmmaker, and has created a montage of her drawings especially for this concert called Drawings in Motion

Two world premieres, by Lewis Nielson and Chicago-based, Bethany Younge, deal with photography and video, respectively. Neilson, who has been in Chicago all week working closely with the ensemble, draws the material for his new piece from photographs from the Civil War and leaders of the civil rights movement such as Malcolm X and Patrice Lumumba. A particularly hot topic at the moment, given the recent news about the twenty-dollar bill, Nielson’s text uses poems by Harriet Tubman. Younge’s elemental bodyscape for ensemble, video and audience is a primal conversation between the three entities is just tantalizing enough to sell me on the whole thing.  

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