‘Play’: Classical music, inspired by drawing

Chamber Project STL debuts new work by Christopher Stark Nov. 21

Composer Christopher Stark (Credit: Joe Angeles/WUSTL Photo)Photos by Joe Angeles/WUSTL Photos

Marc Rosenthal has a way with line. Swirling or blunt, rough or refined, in children’s books or New Yorker illustrations — each mark is individual and expressive, as unique to the artist as a thumbprint or handwriting.

Christopher Stark, assistant professor of music in Arts & Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, was inspired by Rosenthal’s work — so inspired that Stark set out to match his friend’s wit and rhythms in his own chosen medium.

A drawing by Marc Rosenthal

The result is “Chamber Études,” a series of five short miniatures for flute, clarinet, French horn and piano. At 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 21, Chamber Project St. Louis will present the world premiere of “Chamber Études” in the Ballroom Theatre of Washington University’s 560 Music Center.

The program, titled “Play,” also will feature Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Quintet in Eb Major, K 452, and Francis Poulenc’s Sextet for Winds and Piano. Tickets (including refreshments) are $15, or $5 for students.

Stark and Rosenthal first collaborated in 2013, when the composer created several short pieces based on Rosenthal’s drawings. “We enjoyed this project so much that we decided to reverse the process,” Stark said. This time, “I’ll compose the music first, and he’ll create the accompanying illustrations.”

Because Rosenthal’s illustrations are often humorous, “I wanted to write light and fun pieces that showcase different and strange sounds,” Stark said. For example, piano parts are played using a keyboard sampler that can mimic percussion instruments and create other unexpected effects.

“This lighthearted approach is inspired by the great jokester composers of the past,” Stark said, pointing to Mozart and Haydn. “It is a deliberate attempt to work against the modern notion that composers must be tormented to be serious.”

Stark also noted that Saturday’s premiere returns the creative ball to Rosenthal’s court. “ ‘Chamber Études’ is the first step in the process,” he said. “Tune in later to see the final result!”

Chamber Project STL is presented with support from the Department of Music in Arts & Sciences; the Regional Arts Commission; and the Missouri Arts Council. The 560 Music Center is located at 560 Trinity Ave., in University City. Tickets are available online and at the door.

For more information, call 314-935-5566 or email daniels@wustl.edu.

“Rosenthal Miniatures” (2014), Starks’ previous collaboration with illustrator Marc Rosenthal.
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