Notes on the Program  |  May 9 & 11, 2014


Pictures at an Exhibition (The Original by Modest Mussorgsky)

Modest Mussorgsky (left); Victor Hartman (right)

Modest Mussorgsky (left); Victor Hartman (right)

Mussorgsky produced his "Pictures at an Exhibition" to perpetuate the memory of a friend artist and architect Victor Hartmann. Mussorgsky was an ardent Russian nationalist, but he was far more interested in folk art than in the grandiose ornamental designs of the aristocracy. Or, as Tchaikovsky put it, “He likes what is coarse, unpolished and ugly.”

Modest Mussorgsky devoted himself to seeking truth in art by crafting a natural style without classical artifice. When Hartmann died in 1874, aged only 39, Mussorgsky was devastated. The following year saw a memorial exhibit of 400 Hartmann works, including sketches, watercolors and costume designs. Mussorgsky was deeply moved. Seized with inspiration, he quickly reacted to the exhibition by writing a suite of ten piano pieces dedicated to the Hartmann. Mussorgsky based his musical material on drawings and water colors by Hartmann produced mostly during the artist's travels abroad. Locales include Poland, France and Italy; the final movement depicts an architectural design for the capital city of Ukraine.

Mussorgsky links the suite's movements in a way that depicts the viewer's own progress through the exhibition. Two "Promenade" movements stand as portals to the suite's main sections. Their regular pace and irregular meter depicts the act of walking. Three untitled interludes present shorter statements of this theme, varying the mood, color and key in each to suggest reflection on a work just seen or anticipation of a new work glimpsed. Over two dozen composers were seized by a compulsion to orchestrate it the most famous is by Maurice Ravel.

Yaron Gottfried

Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky, Arranged by Julian Yu

 Julian Yu, born in Beijing in 1957 and now living in Australia, is one of a few composers active in the West and Asia, having studied with Yuasa Joji and Henze. He is known for producing mysterious sounds while building up thin textures, but his particular feature is the way he uses percussion.

The characteristics of Yu’s ‘Pictures at an Exhibition’ can be divided in two. First, there is the detailed use of musical color found only in chamber music. This method, reminiscent of Webern’s arrangements of Bach, menaces the listener from the first ‘Promenade’. The echo effects often used in the first half of the suite and the decorative cluster sounds give the whole work a penetrating effect.

Next, the frequent use of musical elements of Yu’s native China. On consideration, these elements harmonise very naturally because the main theme of the original is pentatonic. Yu often uses the metal percussion instruments (such as vibraphone, glockenspiel, bells and celesta) to give a humorous Chinese flavour to the work. And, speaking of humour, amusingly, ’immodest Julian Yu’ is written at the top of the score, incorporating Mussorgsky’s first name.


Pictures at an Exhibition by Yaron Gottfried, after Modest Mussorgsky

Yaron Gottfried, Composer / Pianist

Yaron Gottfried, Composer / Pianist

This remake brings a contemporary interpretation to the timeless masterpiece by Mussorgsky. Presented as complete suite of 12 movements arranged, orchestrated and recomposed for Jazz trio (Piano, Bass, Drums) and Orchestra, Jazz at an Exhibition will introduce this eternal piece to a whole new audience. The melodies and themes of Mussorgsky’s original version are dressed in new colors and inspire new forms for the jazz trio to improvise. Each movement is approached differently while being transformed into a live, authentic encounter between classical and jazz, between written material and improvisation; the overall mood of each picture, as well as the naturalism approach of Mussorgsky, is very much kept alive.