When Charlotte Chamber Music's First Tuesday series began its new incarnation at the Bechtler Museum of Modern Art, the big question was: After 16 years of free concerts, would people still show up when they had to pay?
They did. One hundred and one people came out at lunchtime Tuesday for "Surrealism in Music and Art," the season's first program, the museum said. While that was smaller than the typical turnout in the concerts' original form, it still meant that the museum staff -- and one or two of the musicians -- had to swing into action bringing extra chairs from the storeroom. The afternoon concert drew 188, filling the fourth-floor gallery that served as the concert hall. (Photo: Fred Braziel.)
Whatever you call the museum's taking charge of the series -- a merger? a takeover? -- the concerts have a different mission now. For their first decade and a half, they gave the gift of music, as the saying goes, in the form of free concerts each month. The new goal: expand audiences' minds through the combination of music and art.
Art works from the Bechtler collection are paired with the musical selections, and someone discusses their relationship before the musicians launch into each piece. When the concert's over, the audience can explore the galleries. The interdisciplinary experience comes with a price tag: $5 at lunchtime, $20 at the late-afternoon performance, for those who aren't Bechtler members.
On Tuesday, the Bechtler Ensemble, a mix-and-match group of Charlotte musicians, performed music by composers whose works had kinships to the surrealists or to the artist currently in the Bechtler spotlight, Alberto Giacometti. The links were described by the tag-team speaking duo of Ben Roe, Charlotte Chamber Music's artistic director, and Bechtler vice president Christopher Lawing.
They likened the sudden shifts of mood and style in Francis Poulenc's Cello Sonata to the collisions of seemingly incongruous visual elements in surrealist art. They set a wall sconce that harks back to ancient sculpture alongside Erik Satie's serene Gymnopedie No. 1, which also has classical inspiration.
So the concert offered food for thought. While the gallery had its drawbacks -- such as reverberant acoustics that sometimes made Stravinsky's rowdy "The Soldier's Tale" overbearing -- it served better than the downstairs lobby, where the museum first tried doing concerts. There wasn't nearly as much competition from air-conditioning hiss. The occasional noise that drifted up from downstairs wasn't as distracting as the street noise used to be.
Can the art-and-music combination hold up over the months and years? That will be the challenge. Linking art from the Bechtler's modern niche with a steady diet of chamber music won't be easy. The organizers will need all their ingenuity to keep it eye- and ear-opening. Otherwise, the concerts' new mission won't last as long as the first one.