For the Thursday night patrons at the McNay’s Monet to Matisse: A Century of French Moderns exhibition, the synergy between the art and the music, by Nathan Felix’s choir From Those Who Follow The Echoes (FTWFTE), provided a true sensory overload.
The art museum is one of several unconventional performance venues at which the “street choir,” as Felix refers to it, has shared their craft, which included the debut of Felix’s original composition and choreographed movement. Audience members Thursday became a veritable part of the choir as they toured the gallery, displaying their choral virtuosity amidst the Picassos and Monet’s water lilies.
The choir, often a group of up to 40 people, was diminished to a more transportable number of 22. Their voices caressed and careened under the lead of conductor Luis Corpus, drawing museum patrons into the exhibition hall, where they would find not just a choir, but a moving entity of sound and choreography, drama, and instrumental interplay.
While the previous two performances by the choir were sans strings or percussive elements, this time there were two violins, a guitar, a bass drum, and a vibraphone, the latter played by Kelly Merka Nelson, who also belted an exquisite soprano through it all.
In the performance, voices rang out from distinct spaces in the gallery and the patrons sought the source, finding a woman in an elegant dress at a careful distance from the other returning soprano in yearning reply. An Italian aria in duet kept a wall of sound pulsing through the people, still milling about as the two singers merged at last to a firm embrace.
The experience as a whole was defined by the exquisite execution and flow of the ensemble, floating onto nonexistent stages, creating new ones just by the formation of bodies in a curve of some kind.
Throughout, the singing voices came about crying, “Even though you love me, I will never see you…” and the eloquence of passion shook the room for those who truly listened. Some held their books at their breast, others didn’t look at the performers at all. The women in the ensemble outnumbered the men 4:1, so a natural lifting occurred but with just enough grounding so you didn’t really fly away.
The words printed on the exhibit walls of Breton – “The artist should not be satisfied to play the part of a mirror.” – and Monet – “Light is the most important person in the picture.” – filled the air as the choir reflected the still beauty of the works of art around them, yet brought them out to shine in a new way, a new light.
As the guitarist strummed his last gentle chord, and the applause rang through the crowd, it was clear from the vibration in the room that we – the audience – will come to expect such demanding artistic expressions, for therein we can embrace the true depth of our imagination running wild.