Saturday, December 12, 2015

Listening to Chagall

I went to Paris for a working day-trip earlier this week and saw this extraordinary exhibition. Many, many thanks to the ever-fabulous Mikhail Rudy for showing me round it himself. The article is in today's Independent (Radar's Observations section)...

Chagall's Commedia dell'arte, 1958, from the Frankfurt Alte Oper. (c)ADAGP-Paris2015

Paris has faced dark times in recent weeks, but an antidote to the tense atmosphere following the 13 November attacks has materialised in a perhaps unexpected quarter. Marc Chagall: Le triomphe de la Musique (The Triumph of Music) is the first exhibition that the Philharmonie, the citys new, state-of-the-art concert hall, has initiated and produced. To walk into it is to be enveloped in a high-spirited celebration of colour, sound, dance and what its musical director, the Russian pianist Mikhail Rudy, terms "art total" ("complete art work").

Almost more an installation than a conventional exhibition, it brings together for the first time Chagalls designs for theatre, ballet and opera, including The Firebird, Daphnis et Chloe, The Magic Flute, a little-known ballet by Leonid Massine called Aleko, and, from the 1920s, the Moscow State Yiddish Theatre. Theres a special focus, too, on the ceiling panels that the artist painted for the French capital's Opéra Garnier, his magnificent canvas Commedia dell'arte from Frankfurt's Alte Oper, and designs for the two giant panels that hang in the Metropolitan Opera House, New York, from one of which the exhibition title is taken.

Fragile sketches for some of the projects are enjoying rare public display; and a film created by Rudy with the Google Cultural Institute views the Opéra Garnier ceiling in high definition close-up, revealing details effectively invisible in the theatre: the minutiae of brushstrokes within floral bouquets, characterful expressions on the faces of stylised figures and the fading in and out of clear, brilliant colours all accompanied by extracts from the 14 pieces of music that Chagall names as the images' inspiration. Eventually one seems almost to be hearing the painting itself.

Rudy, now 61, was a young musician of 23 seeking political asylum from the USSR in France when he first met Chagall. He was asked to perform in a concert marking the artists 90th birthday, and thereafter saw Chagall frequently during the last seven years of his life. "He always had a twinkle in his eye," he says. And he used to say that the best things in life were the Bible, Mozart and love.

Recently, Rudy devised an animation of the Opéra Garnier ceiling panels, The Sound of Colours, which is screened together with live piano music to match the images a project that Rudy says came about after the artist's grand-daughter, Meret Meyer, saw a similar work he had created of Kandinsky images synchronised with Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition and asked if he would do something similar for her grandfather's works. "I would never have dare touch them otherwise," says Rudy. In collaboration with the Philharmonie, this proved the starting point for Rudy to begin making his long-held dream of the exhibition a reality at last.

This show, and its companion exhibition Marc Chagall: Les Sources de la Musique (currently in Roubaix) will go to Montreal in 2017; next year part will be displayed at the Chagall Museum in Nice.

For Paris the timing may be coincidence, but could scarcely have been better. It's more than a feast for eyes and ears: the artists sense of joy proves a marvel for the rejuvenation of the spirit.