Visions and Voices will spotlight art from World War I

“Gassed” by John Singer Sargent conveys the type of emotional complexity the Visions and Voices showcase titled “Paths of Glory” will seek to convey through other types of World War I art. (Photo courtesy of Visions and Voices)

The Newman Recital Hall will swell with visual art and sounds Tuesday from the Visions and Voices showcase, “Paths of Glory, Visions of Horror: The Music and Art of World War I.”

History professor emerita Elinor Accampo and Strings Department Chair Ralph Kirshbaum will discuss their plans for the event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Treaty of Versailles. They hope to bring together an eclectic showcase of emerging genres and student artists that will inspire audiences to contemplate the conflicting ideas that arose in the wake of World War I.

The production will begin with an introduction by Kirshbaum followed by student performances and short conversations on art pieces selected from this period directed by Accampo. Together, these conversations and performances will take audience members through the glory and horror of the First World War. Talented musicians from the Thornton School of Music will present evocative instrumental movements written by composers entrenched within American culture during the war.

“[The Paths of Glory concert and the following Piatigorsky Festival] are expressions, I would say, of the range of musical emotions that one can generate and capture on this great instrument — on the cello,” Kirshbaum said. “This program is something that’s been on my mind for many, many years … there had been wars and battles and so forth, but not of the nature of the First World War. And so it’s called the Great War for a reason.”

At the end of the First World War, musicians and visual artists all over Europe began to respond to changes they had seen in their countrymen’s ideals. During this period, militant drumbeats flanked the background of artists’ compositions, and jazz seeped its way into many of the pieces that will be performed Tuesday night. To illustrate a period of change, Kirshbaum notes that these composers’ works coexisted in an age of uncertainty not unlike our own.

“The point is that the composers who are being highlighted in this program all had varying degrees of profound reflections on their own lives and their creative being as a result of the First World War,” Kirshbaum said. 

Composer Maurice Ravel and painter-printmaker Otto Dix will be featured in the program. Both pioneers in their field, they knew only that they had to express something of the horrors they had witnessed on the battlefield or on the home front to get an emotional response from their audiences. Yet producing deeply emotional art does not come without risk; Kirshbaum connects this uncertainty to the need for disciplines in the arts today. 

“Is there a place for the arts in our modern society? … I think there’s more need for it now than ever,” Kirshbaum said. “The more that life excludes the beauty and the profundity of the arts, in my estimation, the more sterile that life is, no matter how successful it might be on other levels. And I think it’s that that degree of detachment from what is best and profound in humanity is what leads us to the kind of political upheavals that we’re seeing all over the world now.”

Kirshbaum and Accampo have been planning this program, which serves as a “prelude” to the March 2020 quadrennial Piatigorsky International Cello Festival, since last fall.

“As I taught World War I, I became very aware of the art that was produced before, during and after the war and how it really represented the cultural changes that were going on that in part led to war,” Accampo said. “I am [also] talking about the culture that preceded World War I — that made a lot of people accept violence and much of the age of mechanization … this age of machines and mechanization gave rise to this worship of speed and acceptance of violence. And so I want to raise the question: ‘Are we going through a similar age today with digitalization?’” 

Allan Hon, a doctoral candidate studying violoncello performance, has been preparing a piece by English composer Frank Bridge.

“I study with Andrew Shulman [principal cellist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra and adjunct associate professor at Thornton], and he’s been wanting me to play this piece for a while, and so when [Kirshbaum] talked to him about the possibility of programming it … Andrew thought that this would be a great piece for me to put together,” Hon said. 

Kirshbaum said the evening event is an opportunity for students to take advantage of an interdisciplinary collaboration between the visual and musical arts. The concert also allows visitors a glimpse at the grit and skill Thornton doctorate students have to offer. 

“You have the opportunity … to hear their fellow students play at a very high level,” Kirshbaum said. “What a cello can produce, from the most profound and sonorous notes in the lower register of the instrument to high-soaring, piercing sounds to very dry, rhythmic, percussive sounds — all of those things put together by a great composer create a very unique kind of impression.”

Doors for “Paths of Glory, Visions of Horror” open at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday.