Geneva Anderson digs into art

Artist Janet Cardiff’s “The Forty Part Motet,” a musical sanctuary for the soul, at Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308

Canadian artist Janet Cardiff’s immersive sound installation,“The Forty Part Motet” (2001), is at Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308, which has views of the Marina neighborhood and the Bay. Regarded as Cardiff’s masterwork, and consisting of forty high-fidelity speakers positioned on stands in a large oval configuration throughout the gallery, the piece is a reworking of Tudor composer Thomas Tallis’ famous choral composition “Spem in Alium” (“In No Other is My Hope”). Visitors can walk along the loudspeakers and hear the singers’ individual voices as well as the layered magic of the combined voice. Co-presented by Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and the San Francisco Museum of Modern. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Canadian artist Janet Cardiff’s “The Forty Part Motet” (2001), is at Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308 through January 18, 2016. Regarded as Cardiff’s masterwork, the contemporary artwork is a reworking of Tudor composer Thomas Tallis’ famous choral composition “Spem in Alium” (“In No Other is My Hope”) for a 40-voice choir. Tallis’ piece consists of 40 distinct lines, or parts─one for each voice. Cardiff recorded the piece in the famed Salisbury Cathedral with individual mics on each singer. Her installation consists of 40 high-fidelity speakers positioned on stands in an oval configuration throughout the gallery, enabling viewers to walk up to each loudspeaker and hear an individual singer and then back away to hear the layered magic of several voices together. The piece plays in a continuous loop. Co-presented by Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and the SFMOMA. Photo: Geneva Anderson

There are several spine-tingling moments in the 16th century court composer Thomas Tallis’ devotional choral work “Spem in Alium” which expresses man’s hope and trust in the Lord.  Canadian sound artist Janet Cardiff’s immersive sound installation, “The Forty Part Motet,” quite literally teases them out. Forty speakers on six-foot tall stands are arranged in an oval. Visitors can walk throughout the installation and hear the individual unaccompanied voices─bass, baritone, alto, tenor and child soprano─one part per loudspeaker─ of 40 choir singers, who were recorded in England’s Salisbury Cathedral as well as the melded symphony of choral sounds, altogether creating a transcendent experience.

Last Thursday, installation was unveiled at Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308, making it the space’s inaugural exhibition and first time the installation has been shown in California.  Cardiff’s exquisite layering of the voices creates a profound and intimate experience even within a public space.  I can’t recall the last time I slowed down enough to be still and quiet for any significant length of time.   As I took in the music, the hairs rose on my arms and tears welled.  I stayed for four playings. ( The 14-minute piece is a continuous audio loop, comprised of 11 minutes of singing and a three minute interlude.) With the horror that unfolded in Paris over the weekend and uncertainty about what might follow, and the march of the pending holidays, centering oneself in this immersive musical experience is nurturing and healing.  I can’t wait to go back.

Janet Cardiff, “The Forty Part Motet” (installation view, Gallery 308, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture),2015; co-presented by Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and SFMOMA. Photo: JKA Photography

Janet Cardiff, “The Forty Part Motet” (installation view, Gallery 308, Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture),2015; co-presented by Fort Mason Center for Arts & Culture and SFMOMA. Photo: JKA Photography

Cardiff’s contemporary re-working of this classic was created 14 years ago, in 2001 and the piece has since travelled the world.  Cardiff originally studied photography and print-making before experimenting with sound and moving image.  She grabbed the attention of the art world in the mid-1990s with her site-specific works which explored the sculptural and physical attributes of sound and often had actual physical impacts on the viewers.  Born in Canada, she currently lives in rural British Columbia, and works in collaboration with her husband and partner, George Bures Miller. Cardiff and Miller’s pivotal moment came in 2001, when they represented Canada at the 49th Venice Biennale and won the Biennale’s Premio Prize and Benesse Prize.  Their artwork was “Paradise Institute” which recreated a 16 seat movie theatre and entangled viewers so that they became witnesses to a possible crime playing out on screen and within the audience─an idea that was cutting edge at the time.  The couple’s work has been included top-tier exhibitions and biennales ever since.  Recently, they participated in Soundscapes at London’s National Gallery, the 19th Biennale of Sydney in 2014, and dOCUMENTA (13).

Canadian artist Janet Cardiff in Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308 at the media preview, listening to “The Forty Part Motet,” which is up through January 18, 2016. Cardiff, down to earth and centered, is a huge believer in the emotional power of music. She created “The Forty Part Motet” in 2001 and the piece has since traveled the world. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Canadian artist Janet Cardiff in Fort Mason Center’s new Gallery 308 at the media preview, listening to “The Forty Part Motet,” which is up through January 18, 2016. Cardiff, down to earth and centered, is a huge believer in the emotional power of music. She created “The Forty Part Motet” in 2001 and the piece has since traveled the world. Photo: Geneva Anderson

“The Forty Part Motet’s” appearance in San Francisco marks a pivotal time for its two co-presentors─Fort Mason Center and SFMOMA (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art).  It marks a new beginning for Gallery 308, which is a gorgeous light-filled 4,000 square-foot gallery space with views of the San Francisco Bay and the Marin neighborhood.   The space originally housed Fort Mason’s maritime trade and repair shops and its three-year renovation was undertaken by Jensen Architects, the creators of SFMOMA’s acclaimed roof-top garden.

“Fort Mason Center has been around for 40 years and it’s been viewed as a rental space,” said Mark Tao, CFO, Fort Mason Center.  “We’ve gone through a re-imaging process to put contemporary art at the forefront.  Gallery 308 was once ‘military building 308,’ so we’ve reclaiming something from the past in our name which fits our industrial chic look.  We worked for over two years to bring this work here and we’re very proud.”

Other changes are in the air at Fort Mason Center too.  The San Francisco Art Institute, which currently has campuses in Russian Hill and Dogpatch, is moving to Pier 2 and will start construction there next year.  FLAX art and design store recently opened a 5,000-square-foot store in Building D, after losing their space downtown.

Cardiff’s installation marks the grand finale for SFMOMA’s On the Go programming—the museum’s dynamic off-site art events while its building is closed for expansion construction. (Click here to read about SFMOMA’s 2013 collaboration with the Sonoma County Museum.) The new SFMOMA will open in spring 2016.  Cardiff’s installation is actually on loan from Napa collectors Pamela and Richard Kramlich’s world-renowned holdings of video and media art.  Rudolf Frieling, curator of media arts at SFMOMA was pivotal in orchestrating the loan.

Cardiff’s solo works have long been a part of SFMOMA’s collection and the museum additionally commissioned two audio and video works by Cardiff: Chiaroscuro 1 (1997), made for the exhibition Present Tense: Nine Artists in the Nineties; and The Telephone Call (2001), featured in 010101: Art in Technological Times.

Canadian artist George Bures Miller, Janet Cardiff’s artistic partner and husband, in Gallery 308. “The Forty Part Motet” when installed properly, makes Miller’s spine tingle, even though he’s heard it thousands of times. Photo: Geneva Anderson

Canadian artist George Bures Miller, Janet Cardiff’s artistic partner and husband, in Gallery 308. “The Forty Part Motet” when installed properly, makes Miller’s spine tingle, even though he’s heard it thousands of times. Photo: Geneva Anderson

ARThound chats with Janet Cardiff and George Miller

I had a chance to chat privately with Janet Cardiff just before Thursday’s press preview and with her husband/collaborator George Miller in the gallery while the work was playing.  Here’s our conversation─

You’ve installed this work in so many spaces now, from those that are overtly spiritual to those that much more secular; what is special about this space here in San Francisco, set against the backdrop of the Bay?

Janet Cardiff─What first and foremost matters to me is the acoustics of the space, how the voices sound to me in the space and it works quite nicely here.  The visual is beautiful but the power is in the sound.  I like this space because, when you’re looking out, the music serves as a backdrop, like a filmic score of the city and the water.  I also like the roughness of the space, its rawness that echoes what it used to be.  Because it’s painted white, it’s also very pristine, very contemplative which works with the spirituality of the piece, its whiteness and a light

Is this a spiritual artwork?

Janet Cardiff─Oh yes, Thomas Tallis most definitely wrote this for that purpose with words like “I put all my faith in you, my Lord.”  When he was writing, he was very aware of the voices going up into the cathedrals like angel voices.  It’s inspired me in many ways, on many levels.  I’ve learned so much about absence and presence.  Every single speaker is an individual recording of a singer, so each speaker in the space becomes that person.  The choir was recorded singing together in a room but the singers were spaced apart and every singer had a microphone. So, it does become very anthropomorphic and a virtual representation of those people.  It’s like these people, too, are stopped in time.   This setting brings me right back to PS1, its first showing, with these windows overlooking the city.  I was reminded of the potency of music to move you and of such a brilliant composition from Thomas Tallis which creates such an emotional release for people. Also, the whiteness of the space adds to the spiritual quality of the piece.

Do you have a particular interest in old music?  How was this particular piece brought to your attention?

Janet Cardiff─I was recording in England and one of the singers I was working with gave me a cd of Tallis because she recognized that I liked three-dimensional sound. And that always been an interest of mine, this idea that sound is an invisible media but, at the same time, it affects you emotionally, actually going into your body in a way that something visual can’t.  It’s also fascinating that you also aware of it subconsciously in a sculptural way….I immediately saw this as all around me and became so fascinated with the piece. With a lot of finesse, expertise and hard work and with the help of my husband and my producer in England, we were able to record it with the Salsbury Cathedral choir, who were not all professionals. I wanted to work with children for the soprano voices. We brought in singers from all over England  for a recording session that was very intense.  We had about three hours of recording material and edited it down to the price it is today.  I found it very interesting, from the very beginning, to make this virtual choir of a piece from the 1500’s.  I knew the piece was written in a religious context, like a lot of music then, but I really did not know that it would have the type of effect that it has on people in all these different environments.

What is the best way to describe it? 

Janet Cardiff─Sound is very sculptural for me. I don’t usually make definitions which tend to limit how people might experience the work but this is an installation, a virtual choir. 

As a technician what does it mean to be happy with the sound in this space?

George Miller─I’m pretty happy right now.  Actually, Titus Maderlechner tuned this piece, I’m just a collaborator but I used to set this up before Titus came on.  Every space absorbs the frequencies in a different way so when it moves to a new place, tuning is required to make sure that it feels right, right being appropriate to the piece.  At first, the bass (the lower register voices) weren’t coming through because glass in this space was absorbing the sound and they weren’t getting the presence they needed.  We brought those voices up to fill the space more.  The space also responded to the sopranos and sounded too harsh, so we had to work with that too.

Everyone talks about the Cloisters as “the place” but Janet and Titus set that up and I wasn’t there.  For me this is as good as it gets, the sound is so clear.  I was tearing up and I’ve heard this thousands of times.  For me, it never gets boring and it always gives me a reaction.  If I don’t get that reaction, which is a tingling up and down my spine, then I know I have to make it do that.

Details: The Forty Part Motet by Janet Cardiff runs through January 18, 2016 at Gallery 308, Fort Mason Center, Landmark Building A, 2 Marina Blvd, San Francisco, 94123 (Greens Restaurant is at the other end of this building.)  Hours:  Wednesday-Saturday: noon to 8 PM; Sunday: 11 AM to 5 PM.  Closed: Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day.  Tickets: Admission is free but complimentary tickets are required for entry and can be reserved at  Due to high demand, visitors are advised to reserve tickets well in advance.  A limited number of same-day walk-up tickets will be available to visitors throughout the installation. Follow #40PartMotet for availability. Parking: ample paid parking is available on an hourly basis at Fort Mason Center and payment is via credit card in machine.

November 17, 2015 Posted by | Art, Classical Music, SFMOMA | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Merola Opera Program presents Dominick Argento’s rarely performed opera,“Postcard from Morocco,” this Thursday and Saturday, at Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The Merola Opera Program is presenting Dominick Argento’s rarely performed and strangely surrealistic opera in one act, “Postcard from Morocco,” this Thursday and Saturday at Cowell Theatre, Fort Mason Center, San Francisco.  The cast of seven Merolini features Canadian soprano Aviva Fortunata, tenor AJ Glueckert, baritone Joseph Lattanzi, Canadian soprano Suzanne Ridgen (also a Merola 2011 participant), bass-baritone Matthew Scollin, Canadian mezzo-soprano Carolyn Sproule and tenor Andrew Stenson.  Merola alumnus Mark Morash will conduct the production and renowned stage director Peter Kazaras will direct.

Argento’s Postcard from Morocco is based on A Child’s Garden of Verse by Robert Louis Stevenson and is dreamlike and surreal and unfolds a bit like a mystery.   Not only does it lack a conventional story, there are no “postcards” and it’s not really about Morocco.  The opera had its world premiere on October 14, 1971, at the Cedar Village Theater, Minneapolis, Minnesota. The libretto is by John Donahue.  The performance is a nice tribute to Argento, who turned 85 this year and is one of the country’s most successful and respected opera composers.  It is also a wonderful opera for showcasing the vocal talents of the cast as there are many arias, some even in fictional foreign languages.

The plot focuses on a group of seven strangers who find themselves in a waiting room of a train station on their way to some exotic destination, around 1914.  As the opera begins, the passengers are trying to pass the time by learning a little about each others’ lives.  From there, the production proceeds with telling the different characters’ stories simultaneously as well as exploring a rich dream world.  The passengers ask Mr. Owen, a man with a paint box what he does; before answering they are distracted by a puppet show.   As time passes, the passengers become increasingly suspicious of one another, focusing on their differences rather than commonalities and guarding their baggage, refusing to reveal its contents.  One of the ladies has a cake box in which she says she keeps her lover.  Mr. Owen talks about a magical ship he impagined when he was younger.  They are so focused on their suspicions that they are almost unaware of the puppet master—the Man with a Coronet Case—who appears to live in the train station, who is trying to seduce them into becoming his marionettes.  The passengers rebel against the Man and cause him to lose control over the other characters, except for the Lady with the Hat Box whom he eerily controls at the close of the opera.  The opera has been called existentialist and likened to the plays Samuel Beckett. It has also been compared to Virgil’s Thomson and Gertrude Stein’s Four Saints in Three Acts in that it has no truly discirnable plot and, at the end of the opera, there can be many explanations for what actually transpired because it is so rich in ideas.  Aural shifts and new tunings prepare the audience for different worlds in this modern opera.

“The opera is really about bullying,” says Director Peter Kazaras. “As the story unfolds, we see characters who are jealous and insecure, bullying someone who is steadfast in pursuit of his dream.  Although he is beaten at first, he [the Man with a Paint Box] eventually ‘triumphs’ by virtue of having the most gloriously beautiful and lyrical music in the score.  The opera asks us to examine how much we can ever really hope to know about other people’s hopes and aspirations.”

Postcard is an eclectic mix of forms. There is a selection from Wagner’s Souvenirs de Bayreuth and the opera incorporates cabaret, and operetta. The orchestra is small; a piano, clarinet, saxophone, trombone, violin, viola, bass, a small percussion section, and
classical guitar.

Casting for the July 19 and 21 Postcard from Morocco is as follows:

Lady with a Cake Box Aviva Fortunata

Man with a Paint Box AJ Glueckert

Man with a Shoe Sample Kit Joseph Lattanzi

Lady with a Hand Mirror Suzanne Rigden

Man with a Cornet Case (also a Puppet Maker) Matthew Scollin

Lady with a Hat Box (also a Foreign Singer) Carolyn Sproule

Man with Old Luggage Andrew Stenson

(For complete bios on each 2012 artist, click here.)

More about the Merola Opera Program:  Each summer, San Francisco becomes a place where dreams come true for the young artists in the Merola Opera Program.  Out of hundreds of young hopefuls who audition, approximately 23 singers, five apprentice coaches and one apprentice stage director are chosen to participate in the Program. Merola is dedicated to seeking out the finest young opera talent and helping them develop into professional artists of the highest caliber.  The Merola Opera Program offers training in: musical style and interpretation; role preparation; movement and acting; accompaniment and conducting; languages and diction; and breath work.

Remaining Merola Programming for Summer 2012:

Thursday, July 19, 8 PM
Postcard from Morocco at Cowell Theater
Saturday, July 21, 2:00 PM
Postcard from Morocco at Cowell Theater

Thursday, July 26, 6:30 PM
Pre-class Talk with Steven Blier [Platinum Circle Level members & above]

Thursday, July 26, 7:00-9:00 PM
Steven Blier Master Class [Gold Circle Level members & above]

Thursday, August 2, 8:00 PM
La finta giardiniera at Cowell Theater

Saturday, August 4, 2:00 PM
La finta giardiniera at Cowell Theater

Tuesday, August 7, 7:00-9:00 PM
Martin Katz Master Class [Supporter members & above]

Tuesday, August 7, 9 PM
Sponsor Reception [2012 Sponsors $1,700 & above]

Saturday, August 18, 7:30 PM
Merola Grand Finale

Saturday, August 18, 10:00 PM
Merola Grand Finale Reception

Details: Postcard from Morocco will be performed on Thursday, July 19 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, July 21, 2012 at 2 p.m. at Cowell Theatre at Fort Mason Center, San Francisco.  Run time is 90 minutes with no intermission.  Tickets are $60, $40 and $25 students.  Purchase tickets through the San Francisco Opera Box Office: War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94102, Monday: 10 AM – 5 PM; Tuesday through Friday: 10 AM – 6 PM; (415) 864-3330. Click Here to Purchase Online

Postcards from Morocco is graciously underwritten, in part, by the Bernard Osher Foundation and the Frances K. and Charles D. Field Foundation. Mark Morash is generously sponsored by Miss Ursula Grunfeld and Miss Vivienne E. Miller. Peter Kazaras is generously sponsored by Mike & Rusty Rolland

2012 Merola Artists: Hadleigh Adams (bass-baritone)  Elizabeth Baldwin (soprano), Joshua Baum (tenor), Gordon Bintner (bass-baritone), Casey Candebat (tenor), Seth Mease Carico (bass-baritone), Jennifer Cherest (soprano), Aviva Fortunata (soprano), Francesnco Fraboni (apprentice coach), AJ Glueckert (tenor), Artem Grishaev (apprentice coach), Erin Johnson (mezzo-soprano), Andrew Kroes (bass), Elena Lacheva (apprentice coach), Joseph Lattanzi (tenor), Yi Li (tenor), Sarah Mesko (mezzo soprano), Kevin Miller (apprentice coach), Jacqueline Piccolino (soprano), Suzanne Rigden (soprano),Rose Sawvel (soprano), Matthew Scollin (bass baritone), Caroline Sproule (mezzo soprano), Andrew Stenson (tenor), Chuanyue Wang (tenor), Melina Whittington (soprano), Jennifer Williams (apprentice stage director), Sun Ha Yoon (apprentice coach).  (For complete bios on each 2012 artist, click here.)

July 17, 2012 Posted by | Opera | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment