The Death and Rebirth of Hope: Musical Interpretations of Simon Toparovsky
Sat, January 16, 2021 7:45 PM, EST
After a successful collaboration in the summer of 2020, award-winning jazz pianist Ben Rosenblum returns with a full program of music inspired by the works of acclaimed visual artist Simon Toparovsky. In four brand new compositions and additional free improvisation, Rosenblum tackles some of Toparovsky's most evocative installations, including the torso of Prometheus, the hidden Hortus garden, the busts of John and Mary and the sprawling and chaotic depiction of punishment, Castigo. As a complete work, Rosenblum's musical cycle explores and shares common threads in their work; the resilience of the human spirit in the face of great adversity, and the hopefulness and beauty one might find embedded in painful experiences. Rosenblum's performance of the program is captured and directed by filmmaker Kevin Chiu, alongside commentary by both Rosenblum and Toparovsky about this series of works and their musical counterparts.
"The Death and Rebirth of Hope" is the first Symposium Docuseries Feature presented by Musaics of the Bay. The Symposium Docuseries is a long-form, high-definition documentary-style video featuring some of the notable interdisciplinary collaborations showcased through the Stay-at-Home Symposium. For more information, visit www.musaics.org/aboutthesymposium.
John and Mary
La Fogliata (Improvised Addendum)
Performed and composed by pianist Ben Rosenblum
PROGRAM NOTES (By Ben Rosenblum)
Toparovsky’s evocative torso of Prometheus depicts a body eaten and torn, set against a stark white backdrop that captures the asymmetrical and angular shadows cast by the sculpture. Spare and deeply textured, the work seems to disintegrate from thick folds into jagged edges as the figure progresses upwards. Toparovsky’s composition poignantly recalls the myth of Prometheus eaten by vultures every evening as punishment for stealing fire from the gods. I tried to capture the austere, disquieted serenity of the setting, before diving into the more tortured psyche of Prometheus. Within this dissonant landscape are hints of resolution, memories of a more beautiful past.
Toparovsky’s secluded garden of sculpted plants invites the viewer to peer through a window into a hidden landscape. The simple hedge framing obscures a complex collection of succulents and stones. This juxtaposition inspired me to write a three-part Brazilian choro form, with two minor sections capturing the subdued energy of the setting and environment, and the third major section revealing the joy of the enclosed, almost magical world within.
Toparovsky’s mixed media installation powerfully reflects on the theme of punishment, capturing the body horror of torture with a macabre absurdity. This musical movement is the longest of the four, as I try to span the landscape of the various figures and found objects represented. The piece begins with a theme inspired by a pierced deer plaintively looking up at the rest of the installation, and it continues to a chaotic Afro-Cuban/swing section with long improvised melodies over a shifting array of chord progressions. At the climactic moment, the reflective theme returns for a brief moment before the piece’s conclusion.
John and Mary:
The final composed movement is based on Toparovsky’s busts of John and Mary. Their facial expressions so perfectly capture the complexity of life after the Biblical resurrection - partly at peace, partly pained and longing. The ballad I composed for this movement has a dual inspiration as a memorial for a beloved family member who passed during the composition process. Her name was also Mary, and this sculpture reminded me of her.
La Fogliata (Improvised Addendum):
During the composition process, I saw a recently completed Toparovsky work that inspired me to add a freely improvised addition to the four composed pieces. The foggy, grey landscape in the background is a beautifully mysterious complement to the image of the sculpture in the foreground. For this free improvisation I chose to create a steady pulse to serve as the backdrop, with melodies to capture the slender body featured in the painting.
ABOUT BEN ROSENBLUM:
Award-winning jazz pianist, composer and accordionist Ben Rosenblum has been described as “mature beyond his years,” (Jon Neudorf, Sea of Tranquility), and as an “impressive talent” (C. Michael Bailey, All About Jazz), who “caresses [the music] with the reverence it merits” (Bob Doerschuk, Downbeat Magazine). Ben is based primarily in New York City, and is a graduate of the Columbia-Juilliard program (in 2016). His original music combines his extensive knowledge of the history of jazz with a free-wheeling, modern melodic sensibility and powerful narrative approach to the piano. His profound passion for jazz, swing and world music genres finds expression in his unique fusion of harmonic and rhythmic elements from a wide array of sources, and gives rise to a signature compositional sound and style at once iconoclastic and deeply rooted in such figures as Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly. Ben's first priority in his composition and in his playing is always narrative – to tell a compelling story with his music, while reaching the hearts of his audience, connecting on an emotional, an intellectual and a spiritual level.
ABOUT SIMON TOPAROVSKY:
Simon Toparovsky was born in Philadelphia in 1951. After attending the California College of Arts and Crafts and the University of California, Berkeley, he apprenticed to hand bookbinders in the U.S. and England. In 1976 he was invited to head the new apprenticeship program at the Center for Book Arts in New York. While living and teaching there he created a body of artworks, one-of-a-kind books, that are recognized for their craftsmanship, innovation with materials and for pushing the conceptual boundaries of the field. These works are included in many public collections. His Tikal Codex was acquired by the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum of the Smithsonian Institution and awarded the special designation “first book as art for the permanent collection.”
ABOUT MUSAICS OF THE BAY:
Musaics of the Bay unites musicians and artists from the Bay Area and beyond in unique creative collaborations we call “musical mosaics,” meant to enrich the local community and the cultural world at large. We believe musical partnership has a transformative and life-enriching power. By pairing performers and living composers of all ages and backgrounds with visual artists, poets, sculptors, filmmakers and more, our series invigorates local and national cultural life by inspiring new works of music and art. Our chamber music performances spark the imagination of artists and audiences, adding a new dimension to the traditional listener experience. Fostering young talent is an essential part of our work. The Stay-at-Home Symposium features Mentor Partnerships where student artists work closely with established artists over the period of a few months, with the goal of creating compelling new work.
On our “stage,” performers present world premieres in weekly broadcasts, visual artists create new work based on community submissions, and classical, jazz and world music instrumentalists improvise and curate new programs responding to the art. You’ll find a virtual exhibition of community art and the musical creations it informed in our Viewing Room. The Bay Area is one of the epicenters of visual and creative arts in the US; by featuring these remarkable emerging and established local talents as well as international artists, we inspire the creation of important new works that we’ll take to the stage when live performances return. Join us for exciting and synergetic collaborations across disciplines, delighting performers, artists, composers, and our audiences alike.