An evening of art-inspired music suffers from lack of visual element

Tue Mar 26, 2024 at 1:15 pm
Violinist Dan Flanagan performed an evening of music inspired by paintings from his own collection Monday night at Weill Recital Hall. Photo: Chris Lee

Violinist Dan Flanagan collects both paintings and new pieces of music. During the 2020 pandemic concert cancellations, he put the two together, commissioning violin compositions and having each composer use one of his paintings as inspiration. The result is over two dozen new works, including some by his own hand, two albums, and a concert tour.

Called “The Bow and the Brush,” Flanagan brought this show to Weill Recital Hall Monday night. He was accompanied, in a way, by an audience heavy with friends—as he acknowledged from the stage—and several composers of the 19 pieces he played. This made for a convivial party atmosphere but not necessarily a successful concert.

As a project, Flanagan has brought to life a lot of finely made music, but the volume of the program meant that pieces in a similar vein—i.e. tonal and on a range between impressionistic and expressionistic—grew into an undifferentiated mass. 

The end result was frustrating not because it was poorly done but because there were so many good elements that wdindlt cohere, undermining rather than bolstering one another. 

Flanagan played with a robust and vibrant sound, and, after some glitchy intonation on the opening The Collection by Shinji Eshima, his technique was assured, if showing some  flagging energy under the weight of the music.

Duration was a real problem. These were almost all short pieces in which the composer worked through a personal expression in sound. On a more compact program, they would have had better definition, but with so many pieces, things like Flanagan’s own An Animated Street in Autumn felt overlong and wore out their welcome. 

Photo: Chris Lee

Only a few of the works were true miniatures, and those were the best. Splits from Edmund Campion, The Only Way Through is Slow by Libby Larsen, and Jessica Mays’ And miles to go… stood out for their focus on a discrete musical idea, intelligent exploration of it, and willingness to end when they were finished.

Another inexplicable factor, for an event based on paintings, was that there was no visual element other than red or blue gels on some of the lights. There were color reproductions in the program, not worth much in the low concert lighting. Contemporary technology is such that it is easy to project images on stage, and one longed to be able to see the images alongside Flanagan, and more immediately connect sight with sound.

Instead, Flanagan added his own introductions before each piece. These were personable—he was talking to friends—but did a poor job of describing the paintings. He also rambled, talked about his travel plans on the tour, and both misquoted and misapprehended Robert Frost’s famous poem “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” The introductions added to the length of the concert, which took over an hour for the first half and nearly an hour for the second.

Flanagan’s LeGato au Chocolat, named after his cat Gato, was last. A bricolage of quotes from Bach, John Williams, Bernard Herrmann, Tchaikovsky, and others, it also included Flanagan meowing along with the music and pretending to cough up a hairball. The crowd went wild.

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