Posts for:  May 2011

Mona Lisa’s New Reason to Smile

The captivating art of Micah Chambers-Goldberg

When my daughters were little, we loved reading together. We read all sorts of books — about clueless Papa Bears, and skunks who learned to eat their dinners. Our favorite books were not just entertaining, but powerful works of art which Mom could appreciate, and didn’t mind reading over and over.

The same is true of music. Like a great children’s book, a great children’s concert has the power to move everyone in the audience, whether young or old. One such concert, which I urge you to see the next time it comes around, is called “Who Stole the Mona Lisa?”

Produced by Astral Artists as part of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts, the April 9 show at the Perelman Theater featured several of Astral’s young musicians dressed in their own cheerful caps, T-shirts, and jeans. The stellar musical team included violinist Kristin Lee, cellist Clancy Newman, bassoonist Natalia Rose Vrbsky, trumpeter Stanford Thompson, clarinetist Benito Meza, and pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine.

During Martinu’s deftly played La Revue de Cuisine, a troupe of young actors/dancers, portraying pieces of cutlery and an art thief, cavorted alongside the musicians. For Poulenc’s The Story of Babar, the engaging storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston read aloud Jean deBrunhoff’s classic tale to the sensitive accompaniment of Poulenc’s incidental piano music, played by Alexandre Moutouzkine.

Everyone familiar with the story knows that Babar’s mother is killed by a “wicked hunter” early on in the book. As Ms. Alston intoned, “In the great forest a little elephant is born,” a 3-year-old in the audience, anticipating the worst, called out, “Uh-oh. UH-OH.” Talk about audience participation!

A young audience member, inspired to dance after the performance. (Photo, courtesy Steve Cohen.)

But the stunning fireworks, the part that left kids entranced and adults in awe, came at the end of the program. This was the animated video production, shown on a huge screen above the stage, entitled “Who Stole the Mona Lisa?”

Conceived by Astral’s artistic director Julian Rodescu, and created by the visual artist Micah Chambers-Goldberg, this wordless animated film is set to Alexandre Moutouzkine’s transcription of Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. The score was played live, with flawless timing and brilliance, by Moutouzkine himself. The film, a stylish fantasy reminiscent of Edward Gorey, contains moments of humor, whimsy, and wonder that are fresh and surprising. (The Cubist depiction of Picasso, with his nose to the left of his eyes, and one eye lower than the other, got plenty of laughs.) The story line loosely follows an actual historical incident, when the Mona Lisa was stolen from the Louvre, but, as in all good stories, returned home again.

I can’t remember an instance when music so enhanced a piece of visual art, and vice versa.

I think Astral Artists is on to something new that is both engaging and meaningful. The kid in me can’t wait to see and hear what they come up with next.