So, I have been asked to do a painting by one of the Music teachers at school. I am honoured of course. But I am also quite nervous.
The image she has given me is a little bit Mozart. Now, don’t get me wrong. Mozart is one of my all-time
favourite composers. Saying you don’t like Mozart is a bit like saying you don’t like cheese. Pointless and ignorant. Unless you are lactose intolerant. It is just that I am just a bit more Bernstein than Mozart.
Now, before you start. I am no expert on music. I have a passing knowledge, but I am wondering how I can allay my fears of engaging with this painting. This pretty painting. This neat painting. This clean painting. With its deep blue skies and fluffy sky, cropped green grass next to clean white rocks and a turquoise gently rippling sea. This image feels a little bit Mozart. And not the Mozart of Requiem Mass or even Don Giovanni. I am talking Magic Flute, arias and harmony, floating notes with only the merest hint of threat.
My work tends to have an ominous presence. The sense that something foreboding has just, or is about to, happen. Even my portraits of kids and babies miss the lightness that Mozart can invoke. But when it comes to my seascapes, I am definitely on the dark side. Light is fleeting, clouds imply impending storms and seas are dark. There is motion and mood, gesture and accident. Just a little bit more Bernstein than Mozart.
I know Bernstein for two pieces. West Side Story of course. This, I believe to be a work of genius and a thing I could listen to forever and ever. And Mass. This piece I saw accidentally when in London at the National Theatre. It cost me ten pounds to get in and was the most mind-blowing classical concerts I had ever seen. For those of you who don’t know it, and who are truly missing out, this piece is about the death of belief and resurrection of faith But it is brutal and visceral, gestural, loud, aggressive, looming, uncomfortable. Videos are shown in the background of key world events from the 50’s through to the present day. At its peak, after several minutes of building sound and numerous choirs joining in a repetitive chant with the effect of both numbing you in meditation and simultaneously stimulating you into action, the audience begins to jump to its feet and join the cacophony. It is so all-encompassing that it was all I could do to stop myself jumping up to join the protest to when I realised that this was another choir, dotted amongst us. My point about Bernstein is that his power lies in the unfinished nature of his work. In the gesture, in the incidentals, in the spaces and rests, in the way he exploits the happy accident. None of these are by accident of course, but come from pushing each moment of process to destruction and beyond and by sometimes pulling it back.
The Leonard Bernstein Office describes it thus:
‘Though MASS challenges divine authority, exposing its contradictions and questioning religion's relevance to contemporary life, it ultimately serves as a reaffirmation of faith and hope for universal peace.’
I am no Bernstein. I am no Mozart either. Ultimately, they have more in common than one might imagine. And me? I guess I am still at the challenging stage. Is it time to embrace the peace? I’ll try to capture a little bit of Mozart. But I expect Bernstein won’t stay out entirely.