The concept at the center of Visiones y Música, the upcoming season-opening Masterworks program by the South Carolina Philharmonic, is called “symphonic photochoreography.” Put simply, while the orchestra performs, an array of dazzling, colorful and evocative photographs will appear on a massive screen above them, the visual changes made in time with the actual performance.
The program, created specifically for Hispanic Heritage Month, was designed by Philharmonic Music Director Morihiko Nakahara to pay tribute to Latin American-themed compositions. As the Philharmonic performs Silvestre Revueltas’ sweeping score from the 1939 film La noche de los mayas, Aaron Copland’s lively, playful El Salón México and José Pablo Moncayo’s epic, brass-heavy Huapango, guest artist and photographer Nicholas Bardonnay will use multiple digital projectors to show about 800 photographs.
The pictures, collected in themed pieces called Pre-Columbia (for Revueltas’ piece) and Mágico (for the Copland and Moncayo pieces) were all taken by Bardonnay during a year-long stay in Mexico; the audience will see everything from ancient ruins to breathtaking landscapes to intimate portraits to villages and cityscapes.
“It’s essentially the blending of very large-scale projected imagery on thematic basis with the live symphonic music,” explains Bardonnay, whose company, Westwater Arts, has specialized in symphonic photochoreography for decades. “We have a large screen above the orchestra, and I’m controlling multiple digital projectors during the concert itself, live cueing hundreds of image transitions based upon the timing, the mood and the character of the music.”
Westwater Arts has about 15 collections of photos on hand and a list of pieces for orchestras to choose from. Nakahara says that the Pre-Columbia and Mágico collections worked for a couple of reasons.
“We try to do something that has a multimedia element in one of our Masterworks performances,” Nakahara offers, “and they have so many different themes. They use the screen as a canvas, projecting different images in a live presentation to go with the music.”
And the Mexico-themed photos were a perfect match for a longstanding goal.
“We’ve always wanted to do a full-blown show devoted to the rich Músical heritage of Mexico and South America,” Nakahara says. “This all came together a great way to kick off the season, to celebrate the very dramatic stylings of music from Mexico, and now we have the added element of the visuals to go with the music.”
Nakahara says that the hardest part of getting this performance together was choosing which pieces on the Westwater Arts list to perform, because he’s a fan of them all.
“Even if you haven’t heard these pieces, they’re very catchy and fun,” he posits.
While there’s certainly a cultural outreach aspect to what the Visiones y Música, program, there’s a commercial one, as well. In order to bring people to their performances, orchestras sometimes have to add a visual element to interest younger audiences.
“Nowadays, the big popular thing for orchestras, usually ones with a bigger budget than ours, is showing a film, like Star Wars or a Harry Potter film, with the orchestra providing the soundtrack,” Nakahara explains. “We’re using the beauty of these photos to be synced-up with a particular piece of music to enhance the listening experience.”
Bardonnay will rehearse with the Philharmonic twice before the Visiones y Música performance. On the surface, it doesn’t seem like quite enough time to sync up 800 photos to three different pieces of classical music. But even though there will be a lot going on, Bardonnay says that experience comes in handy as he prepares for a concert, and Westwater Arts has worked with about 190 orchestras around the world.
“This isn’t my first rodeo,” the visual specialist says with a laugh. “We have two rehearsals with the orchestra to really narrow down the tempos that work for the orchestra and myself, and that’s enough. You’re following the gestures of the maestro, and you’re focused on what you’re doing, because it comes down to milliseconds. I’ve lived with the music so much that I’ve basically memorized the music, so I’m cueing along as the music progresses, creating as much of a seamless experience for the audience as possible. It creates something that neither art form can produce on its own.”
What: South Carolina Philharmonic: Visiones y Música
Where: Koger Center, 1051 Greene St.
When: Saturday, Oct. 12, 7:30 p.m.
Info: 803-251-2222, kogercenterforthearts.com