Andy Warhol turned Marilyn Monroe's face and the Campbell's soup can into art, becoming as famous as the icons he depicted. Leonard Bernstein, as a composer and conductor, spread his gifts among the concert hall, Broadway and silver screen. Philip Glass creates kaleidoscopic music that floats through opera houses, movie scores and even the soundtrack of the video game “Grand Theft Auto IV.”
The Charlotte Symphony brings them together this weekend, in multimedia concerts that unite the orchestra, the Mint Museums – now presenting a Warhol show – Central Piedmont Community College and Davidson College. To produce it, the orchestra even drew in marketing students and an event-planning class at CPCC.
“It was a way to build a communal project from a little seed of inspiration,” says the Charlotte Symphony's Alan Yamamoto, who will conduct.
While the orchestra plays Glass' pulsing Symphony No. 3, a video built from Warhol's art – mainly the “Sunset Portfolio” in the Mint show – will unfold on a screen above the stage. When the orchestra moves on to a suite from “On the Waterfront,” Bernstein's score for the 1954 movie about New York dockworkers, a montage of scenes from the film will play out silently, linking the music to the drama that inspired it.
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The idea to meld Warhol's sunsets and Glass' symphony began with Yamamoto. He saw a kinship between Glass, now 71, and the late Warhol.
“These guys picked up on what would be popularly embraced,” Yamamoto says.
By recognizing that familiar images could gain new fascination from his treatment of them, Warhol made an impact far beyond the art world, notes Charles Mo, the Mint's director of fine arts. And Glass, using traditional harmonies in hypnotic new ways, has reached beyond classical-music audiences, adds the Charlotte Symphony's Meg Freeman Whalen, who helped mastermind this weekend's concerts. Glass has written soundtracks for movies including “The Hours” and “Notes From a Scandal,” and he based a symphony on themes by David Bowie.
Yamamoto sees a link even in the two men's art. Each has begun from simple building blocks: short musical motifs in Glass' case, dramatic images in Warhol's. They create their artworks by repeating those motifs – altering them so that their impact evolves before audiences' eyes and ears.
Warhol created more than 600 versions of his sunset image, Yamamoto notes. In Glass' Symphony No. 3, for 19 string players, a few themes became the foundation of a four-movement, 25-minute symphony. To combine the two in the concert hall, Colorado video artist Hobart Bell has made a handful of Warhol's sunsets appear, exchange and move around the screen in sync with the texture and structure of Glass' music.
For “On the Waterfront,” the film classic starring Marlon Brando as a tortured longshoreman, Bernstein used tinges of jazz to evoke its setting in 1950s New York, Yamamoto notes. From the pensive French horn solo at the opening to the explosive music that accompanies the scenes of violence, Bernstein's music echoes the power of the black-and-white cinematography.
The founder of CPCC's film department, George Cochran, has created a montage that links the music to the situations and characters that inspired it. The orchestra drew in CPCC students, too. Those in a marketing class competed to design the program booklet. An event-planning class put together a preconcert reception for several hundred students who will attend in connection with music and film classes. Classes at Davidson, site of Saturday's concert, have also explored the music.
But the goal isn't just didactic. Especially in the case of Glass – who has influenced or worked with the likes of David Byrne, Paul Simon, and Aphex Twins – the orchestra thinks it can draw in students who may not gravitate toward typical symphonic fare.
“We hope,” Yamamoto said, “that this music will grab these young adults.”