Arts & Culture

Rockwell art an inspiration for composer

Music and visual art will intersect at concerts by the Wichita Symphony Orchestra next weekend. The all American music program will feature "Rockwell Reflections" by composer Stella Sung — musical interpretations of five paintings by the iconic American illustrator Norman Rockwell.

Images of the paintings will be projected on large screens as the orchestra plays. The paintings are included in the exhibit "American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell" currently visiting the Wichita Art Museum.

"There is a whole history of styles of music and art that parallel each other — Impressionism, Romanticism, so many 20th century styles," said Mitchell Berman, the symphony's executive director. "Here we have a living example of that, in which music was composed based on five pieces that are part of the visual landscape of our community right now."

Also included on the concert will be Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" and Charles Ives' Symphony No. 2, an entertaining mash-up of early-1900s American hymns, marches and popular songs. Andrew Sewell will conduct.

Sung's "Rockwell Reflections" was composed specifically for the "American Chronicles" exhibit and has been performed by orchestras in Akron, Ohio; Orlando, Fla., and Norfolk, Va. —cities where the touring exhibit has been shown. After Wichita, performances of the piece are scheduled in Sarasota, Fla., and Raleigh, N.C.

Sung, 50, is from Gainesville, Fla., and teaches at the University of Central Florida. Besides music for orchestras, she also experiments with electronic and ambient music and is working to integrate "surround sound" technology into some compositions.

But her "Rockwell Reflections," first played in 2007, is not experimental at all. "The music style is not particularly adventuresome," Sung admitted. "Because it is Rockwell, I had to stay within a certain compositional style. I didn't want to write something that was so abstract that it didn't connect" to the paintings.

The five-movement piece was inspired by five paintings Sung chose from the exhibit's 42 paintings and several dozen original magazine covers featuring Rockwell's illustrations. The images are "Artist Facing a Blank Canvas"; "The Stay at Homes" (of an old man, a young boy and a dog gazing out to sea); "Checkers" (of circus performers playing checkers); the taut, terrifying "Murder in Mississippi"; and "The Peace Corps."

"The paintings that I chose I felt told a story," Sung said — stories amplified by the orchestra's symphonic settings.

"People (at past performances) don't feel the music has intruded or taken away from the paintings," Sung said. "It brings the audience all the way around from hearing to seeing."

Berman hopes that same synergy will better connect listeners to both the Wichita Symphony and the Wichita Art Museum.

"I think we are going to bring people in who maybe have limited exposure to the orchestra," Berman said. "And hopefully people will be intrigued by our concert and want to go see the Rockwell exhibit."

Sung will talk about her music at preconcert lectures and attend both performances. While in Wichita she'll also give a master class at Wichita State University and help the orchestra prepare classroom study aids for youth concerts upcoming April 20-22. The theme of those youth programs is "Rockwell Rocks!" and is centered on Sung's "Rockwell Reflections."

If you go

wichita symphony orchestra

What: Classics concert featuring Stella Sung's "Rockwell Reflections," also Copland, Ives; Andrew Sewell, conductor

Where: Century II Concert Hall, 225 W. Douglas

When: 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. March 14

How much: Tickets are $20-$42, discounts available

For more information, visit www.wso.org or call 316-267-7658.

The exhibit: "American Chronicles: The Art of Norman Rockwell" on view through May 30 at the Wichita Art Museum

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