Music • Art • Community
Come be a part of it all!

Pictures at an Exhibition celebrates a brand new commissioned and production of Mussorgsky’s suite by Jason Nett. This wonderful piece encompasses the mission of the Vancouver Island Symphony: a one-of-a-kind immersive experience, showcasing our musicians, visual artists, and our community.

Pictures is a musical work in 10 movements, by Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky. Each one of the movements represents a drawing or artwork. Originally composed in 1874 for solo piano, this composition became better known in orchestral form, particularly as arranged by French composer Maurice Ravel in 1922.

Mussorgsky composed Pictures as a memorial to his friend, the Russian artist Viktor Hartmann, who died in 1873 at age 39. Shortly after Hartmann’s death, Mussorgsky visited a retrospective exhibit of Hartmann’s works: his sketches, stage designs, and architectural studies. Mussorgsky wanted to capture the experience in music. At the time Mussorgsky’s death in 1881, the piece had not been performed nor published. It was his friend Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov who cleaned up the manuscript and brought it to print in 1886. “It’s important to note the fact that Mussorgsky originally wrote Pictures for piano,” explains Mark Beaty, Principal Double Bass, VIS. “Jason Nett worked exclusively from Mussorgsky’s original piano part to create this version for 12 instruments. It was a challenging request from us at the VIS because it is not a “typical” ensemble he was asked to write for. Our goal was to use this creation not only for our April concerts, but also for our education shows to have a small ensemble that highlighted as many of the instruments of the orchestra as possible, while still being nimble enough to take on tour.”

“The performance of Pictures in April is both an end and a beginning” Beaty continues. “It is the culmination of an 18-month project that we developed during the early days of the pandemic to address the fact that we couldn’t perform for our regular audience in the same way, and we couldn’t visit our grade 4 students or have them come visit us at the Port Theatre as we had done previously for our Education Concerts. The project entailed commissioning a new arrangement of “Pictures,” working with Opus 59 Films to capture a beautiful performance on film, creating 12 filmed educational interviews with musicians from Pictures, and finally a live production of the piece.”

Mussorgsky certainly was a controversial character, raising the age-old question – can you separate the art from the artist? “I acknowledge both the troubling aspects of his life as well as the beauty and magnificence of his art,” Beaty reflects. “What I love about Pictures is that the music itself is the product of Mussorgsky being inspired by another artist, Victor Hartmann, and now we have artists 150 years later that are creating both visual arts, film, and musical performance as inspired by Mussorgsky’s work. This is the beautiful cycle of inspiration given to us by art and music.”

And what about the artwork to inspire our modern-day concert? The VIS had 115 submissions from children and adults hoping to have their art chosen as one of the “10” for the performance. The majority were acrylic works; the next most popular medium was digital photography. The selected pieces will be on display at the Nanaimo North VIRL branch from April 1- 21, 2022 and in the Modern Café during the run. They will also be projected on stage during the concert.

Mark speaks for many of the VIS musicians when he talks about returning to the Port Theatre stage. “To be honest, it is both wonderful and challenging. Playing with masks is surprisingly awkward, and I’ve realized that all the social connections backstage and outside the hall that we used to have are also a part of making the music happen together on stage. The connection between having played a piece really well, and the instant reaction from an audience that acknowledges that everyone in the room has been changed -even momentarily- by what they experienced together is so powerful. I would say that most musicians are ecstatic to be back on stage, but also trying to figure out how to get comfortable again.”

Mark shared that his music career started on cello. He was fortunate to have some private lessons at an early age, but a lot of his development and opportunities to progress came from excellent teachers in the Vancouver Public School system. “I switched to bass when I was 16, went to UVic, then UBC, and got to do an incredible year of study at the National Arts University in Havana, Cuba! My non-orchestral passion is definitely playing Cuban salsa.” Mark says with a smile.

Pictures at an Exhibition is also just the beginning for the VIS. They will be taking the April show and developing it further into a touring education show that they hope to perform for grade 4 students up and down the island. Students next fall will hear a slightly different performance that allows them a bit more time to get “inside” the music and get to know each instrument and each musician a little better.

Music • Art • Community – come and be a part of it all!

Article written by Christine McAuley
Photo of Mark by Heydemann Photography

April 23, 2022, 5:00pm & 7:30pm at the Port Theatre