Classical Music

The Fine Arts Chamber Players Put Music to the DMA's Posters, But the Wrong Music

On Saturday, the Fine Arts Chamber Players performed a free-to-the-public concert in the Dallas Museum of Art's Horchow auditorium. The concert, presented as part of the Bancroft Family Concerts series, was billed as a collaborative experience with the museum's current exhibition, Posters of Paris.

Offering a free chamber-music concert alongside this exhibit was a great idea. Many of the posters in the exhibit, including some very famous and recognizable images by Toulouse-Lautrec, are portraits of turn-of-the-century French cabaret singers and musicians. The bawdy cabaret nightlife culture Toulouse-Lautrec and his Parisian counterparts are famous for inhabiting was a hotbed for experimental artistic collaboration between musicians, painters, poets, and performers.

Unfortunately, the Fine Arts Chamber Players missed the mark with their programming choices. They performed music by French composers, but apart from nationality, most of the pieces had little to do with the music Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries would have been involved with in Paris.

The concert began with an obscure bassoon/clarinet duet by a late 18th-century French composer. The piece was well performed, but had absolutely no connection to the exhibit stylistically or historically. It was composed a century before any of the exhibit's artists were alive and painting. Beyond the novelty of hearing a bassoon/clarinet duet, it was the wrong way to open the concert.

Other selections were more closely related to turn-of-the-century Paris historically, including a gorgeous piano/violin Nocturne and Cortège by Lili Boulanger. But even here, it evoked more 19th-century romanticism than early 20th-century cabaret culture.

The highlight of the concert was the group's performance of Martinu's La Revue de Cuisine. Bassoonist Cara Owens did a great job narrating the piece's nonsensical and cheeky plot about kitchen utensils seducing one another into love affairs, and the music was engaging and evocative.

There is almost no historical time period in which art and music were as closely related as turn-of-the-century Paris. Composers like Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Erik Satie were not only contemporaries of Toulouse-Lautrec, they were his friends and drinking buddies. By not performing chamber music by these composers or cabaret songs by Jane Avril, Aristide Bruant or Yvette Guilbert -- singers depicted throughout the exhibit in the artist's posters -- they missed an opportunity to offer their audience an aural taste of the culture the DMA's exhibit so exquisitely highlighted. After taking in the posters, it was a bad dessert after a great meal.