Voices among the statues: Conservatory collaborates with Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Sai Srikar Kadiyam

There exists a very true and almost primordial connection between visual art and music. When this connection is fully realized, the outcome can fulfill beauty on a gargantuan scale. On Jan. 26, the Metropolitan Chorale of Kansas City, conducted by UMKC’s Dr. Rebecca Johnson, made this beauty real in the Sculpture Hall at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.

The Sculpture Hall is a quiet room. Its walls are blank and smooth, toned a pale cream. It serves as a connecting passageway separating the European painting and sculpture galleries, as well as the entryway to the contemporary wing.

Its space is sparse, aside from the toned, hardened statues that dot its composition. Francesco  Mosca’s marble creation, “Atalanta  and Meleager with the Calydonian Boar,” towers near the doorway leading to the center foyer.  It is a complex work of tender and vibrant emotions. The lovers are caught with their faces inches away from one another.

The Chorale performed at the base of this statue,. An old rendition was performed, followed by a more contemporary rendition.. In the case of the first piece, “O Magnum Mysterium” (“O Great Mystery”), there’s a clear difference between the 1500s composer Tomas Luis de Victoria’s somber yet hopeful rendition and the 1900s Francis Poulenc’s cynical and ominous approach.

The second work, “Mille Regretz,” (“Million Regrets”) possessed an overtly heavy sense of absolute hopelessness, the lyrics describing a young man’s contemplation of his regrets. This 1400s  piece by Josquin des Prez expresses these feelings with long, low and soft vocalizations while UMKC student Thomas Mark’s rendition plunges directly into the depths of despair beginning with a boisterous exclamation from the choir.

This element defines the deep rage possessed by the young man over his regrets. This feeling is carried through the piece, examining a much more internal sadness so great and insurmountable it is paralyzing.

The final work of the performance was “Ave Maria,” a known piece of choir music, in the hands of the 1800s composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. It is transformed into a rolling and flowing work of audible beauty. Nathan Brown, a  member of the Chorale, composed the second contemporary rendition. His approach involved a more somber consideration of the source material, not focusing on Mary herself but more the hardship that comes before faith.

The piece takes a much more divine approach, but it’s a frail form of divinity –  beautiful, but deeply sorrowful.

What made this performance great was the way the viewer’s eyes could drift from the choir to one of the statues, like the snarling teeth of the Greek Lion or Rodin’s “Adam,” his every muscle caught in a moment of tense chaos twisting his body until it is frozen in his pose. This is musical performance.

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