Jennifer Strernick (vln.), Erin Araujo (vla.), and Eric Grata (vc.) performing Nocturnes in the Rotunda of the University Art Gallery. Photo credit: Emily O’Donnell.
Saturday, February 15, 2014 was a snowy day in Pittsburgh, just like seemingly every other day this past winter. The snow was falling hard enough in the morning that I wondered whether the celebration of Galileo’s 450th birthday would have to be cancelled, but the front passed through and the skies cleared up, so that afternoon I made my way over to Pitt’s University Art Gallery to meet the trio and go over a few final places in Nocturnes. Honestly though, there wasn’t much for me to do until people showed up. And show up they did, over a hundred or so representing many different sectors of the University and community.
UAG curator Isabelle Chartier, the driving force behind the whole event, introduced all the participants who had gathered in the front gallery where Aaron Henderson’s video montage played. Professor Paolo Palmieri, from the Department of History and Philosophy of Science gave a brief talk on Galileo, highlighting Galileo’s interest and skill in art and music as well as his contributions to astronomy.
After Dr. Palmieri’s talk, attendees were invited into the Rotunda to view Michael Morrill’s Linea Terminale paintings as the the string trio (Jennifer Sternick, violin; Erin Araujo, viola; and Eric Grata, cello) premiered Nocturnes, twelve miniatures to frame each of Michael’s twelve paintings. My hope was that people would turn toward the painting, but I think it’s very difficult to turn away from seeing a chamber ensemble do its thing. I tried to set a good example myself though, moving through the circle of paintings, studying each one for about the space of one nocturne.
From my entirely biased perspective, I think Linea Terminale and Nocturnes worked well together. Something I’ve been thinking about a lot recently is how music can alter our perception of the passage of time. When I set a text for vocal music, I’m doing nothing so much as slowing down the pace at which the text is declaimed, allowing the words to unfold more clearly, often repeating words or phrases to focus our attention. “Setting” Michael’s paintings to music was a similar sort of thing—an effort to help focus our awareness and maybe slow down time a little.
I’m so happy to have been a part of the Celebration of Galileo’s 450th Birthday. It was a very positive and successful event! I’m particularly grateful for all the hard work Isabelle Chartier did to make the event happen and to Michael for his enthusiasm and support for Nocturnes.