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Visual Artists Help Tell Musical Stories at the Richmond Symphony



Audio and visual are in bed again, and it’s the Richmond Symphony that did the seducing.

Last fall, music director Steven Smith chose storytelling as the theme for the symphony’s 2016-’17 season, with an eye toward taking advantage of the city’s thriving art culture. Local artists were asked to help tell musical stories through visual depictions.

“Richmond has a strong visual arts scene,” says Scott Dodson, the symphony’s director of advancement and patron communications. “We saw working with area artists as a great way to relate to the Richmond community, tell our story and reach new audiences.”

Using standard research tools of those new audiences — Instagram and Google — to identify artists, it also did some old-school digging by checking out murals, local galleries and artists who worked with local businesses. Eventually the symphony narrowed the selection to eight artists based on their work and how well it would fit the Altria Masterworks series.

They chose artists Alex Beck, Chris Milk Hulburt, Bizhan Khodabandeh, Georgiy Kuznetsov, Kate Magee, Duncan Robertson, Tim Skirven and Justin Tran, and asked each to create a different piece for the coming series.

Hector Berlioz’s “Romeo and Juliet,” a work about passion, impulsiveness and the exaggerated emotions of teenagers, was assigned to Khodabandeh, an artist active in comics, illustration and graphic design when he’s not teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture.

“My goal was to figure out a way to combine imagery from the play with imagery referencing a performance by a symphony,” he says. “That’s why I chose to replace the rapier swords’ blades with instrument bows. Love’s struggle in the middle of violent conflict is central to the piece.”

The artists’ creations will be used in print and digital advertising, in addition to being hung as prints in the lobby of the Dominion Arts Center.

The end game will be auctioning off the signed and framed work at the Richmond Symphony’s Legacy of Music event in March at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, with all proceeds going toward funding the symphony’s community engagement, artistic and education initiatives

“Music has a unique power of suggestion to us all,” Smith says. “The connection to visual images in our brains is something that seems to be hardwired in some way, leading us to bring together visual memories or imaginative scenes when prompted by music. Whether it’s loud or soft, fast or slow, richly orchestral or featuring smaller groups of instruments, music’s emotional effect brings to life our visual imagination.”


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