While the pandemic has seen many musicians kissing impromptu concerts from their bedrooms, others, it seems, have picked up an easel and paintbrush. Now, a three-day British chamber music festival aims to show how musicians, from pianists like Stephen Hough and Roger Vignoles to cellists like Nathaniel Boyd and Moray Welsh, are also talented artists. Title on Fermata Festival, four live concerts will take place in conjunction with a visual art exhibition, and the good news for Australians who can’t make it to London at the moment is that the paintings are all for sale online.
Yuri Kalnits and Julia Morneweg
It’s the idea of London-based violinist of Moscow origin Yuri Kalnits and London cellist Julia Morneweg who lead ChamberMusicBox, a collective of British and European artists promoting concerts across the UK. The festival will be part of Kensington and Chelsea Art Week 2021 and the exhibition of 100 works of art created by classical musicians during the lockdown was curated by gallery owner and arts consultant Alan Kluckow.
“As the dark winter days dragged on, more and more artwork made its way onto Julia and my social media,” says Kalnits, whose award-winning Weinberg cycle was recently reviewed by Spotlight. “We felt that these works deserved more than ‘likes’ on Facebook and Instagram – they deserved their own dedicated exhibition, alongside the artists’ most powerful inspiration: music. “
Kalnits and Morneweg started off with a list of a dozen musical artists, with more names added following a scream on Twitter. After Kluckow joined, they decided to pitch the idea. “Alan sent the project proposal to a few of his contacts in the classical music industry and the word spread very quickly,” says Morneweg. “Before we knew it, our inboxes were filled with emails from musicians sending us their amazing works. I suddenly felt rather inadequate after achieving a little more during the lockdown than learning a lot of new repertoire and producing a bunch of YouTube videos! “
Stephen Hough’s Toccata (Glossy house painting on canvas, 36 x 48 inches)
A scan of the exhibition website reveals the remarkable quality of the works on offer and Kluckow was genuinely surprised at the wide variety of styles and media, from abstract to academic realism and with many in between. “There are a lot of people whose work wouldn’t look out of place in a mall,” he says. “Among those are some who, surprisingly enough, only started painting because of the pandemic and the time spent during lockdowns.”
For some musicians it seems that painting goes hand in hand with playing. For others it is a relaxing pastime, while for one or two it is clearly in the blood. Despite his reputation as a great mathematician, it turns out that for the pianist and Spotlight 2016 Artist of the Year Stephen Hough, painting is a relatively recent thing. “About fifteen years ago, I bought my first tubes of acrylic paint, my first stretched canvases, my first knives and brushes,” he says. “I would like to spend more time painting than I do, but I tend to only be able to take an hour here and there. One day…”
Former principal cellist of the London Symphony Orchestra, Moray Welsh grew up in Edinburgh with a rich tradition of artistic movements such as the Scottish Colourists. “In my teenage years, I spent hours at the RSA Summer Exhibition, fascinated by the Labor Day that takes place there, and although I didn’t have time to pursue my interest in a practical way – because of my cello studies – it has always been a latent passion, waiting behind the scenes to be explored at a later date, ”he recalls. “But I didn’t really start painting until much later in life (other than being a ‘vacation’ painter!) The painting acts as a foil for playing the cello and a refuge from the turbulent outside world that surrounds us. As an activity in which you can totally immerse yourself without time parameters, nor the demands of an audience, I find it very rewarding.
At Nathaniel Boyd’s Fields of gold (Oil on canvas, 20x25cm)
As a member of Australia’s most famous artistic dynasty, British cellist Nathaniel Boyd (the youngest son of Jamie Boyd and grandson of Arthur Boyd) was born with painting steeped in his DNA. “My father was very generous in accepting that I join him on outdoors painting trips from a young age and allowing myself to use (which I now realize is extremely expensive) paints and canvases! ” he tells. “I always had the idea somewhere deep inside that art would be a big part of my life, practically speaking, but training as a classical musician is all-consuming and it wasn’t until later in my twenties that I started to devote more time to my art.
Today Boyd paints and carves as often as possible. “There is something very special about being in nature and painting the landscape at this particular time, with all of the environmental changes that come with it,” he says. “It’s not at all different from musical performance in this regard. Having said that, I also enjoy working in the studio.
As for the paintings themselves, the Fermata artists are an eclectic bunch with works including non-figurative abstract works like those by Hough, pastoral watercolors by Roger Vignoles, and the portrait of North Irish mezzo-soprano Carolyn. Dobbin – check out her acrylic of Australian soprano Helena Dix as Ariadne.
“I have an abstract soul when it comes to painting – the shapes, the textures and most of all the color,” says Hough who invited Kluckow to choose a pair of recent large works using glossy house paint. “My heart beats faster when I squeeze a ball of cadmium red from the tube, to see it glow in the light, its smell, smears and smears. Painting is one of the most sensual things I do. I feel it like an erotic electric surge.
“I like the idea that paintings exist if only you can find them, so there is a quest to find the elements that could combine into a satisfying whole,” says Welsh, who exhibits a series of five still lifes. “Usually, a subject bubbles up in my mind for a while before it comes in some form or form that I feel I can explore. Contrary to what many people say, I do not find the two activities at all similar, in practical terms, as they seem to use quite different aspects of consciousness, but at the same time the emphasis on the subtlety of the the expression is analogous. “
Welsh Moray Before and after
“I like images that tell a story or ask the viewer a question,” he explains, referring to his painting. Before and after. “It’s a little visual pun. The “Before” was actually the painting of the subject in the foreground, and the canvas drawing in the background (which usually precedes the painting) was painted after that – in other words, there was no drawing to paint when I started to paint the photo, only a blank canvas behind the oranges. So the preparatory drawing actually became the “After”! “
Despite a busy career as a cellist with the Albion Quartet, Boyd is accomplished enough to exhibit professionally with works to be found on his website, nathanielboyd.com). “I started approaching galleries a few years ago now and am currently exhibiting at Redhill Gallery in Brisbane and Gallery on Sturt in Ballarat,” he says. “For this exhibition, I chose a series of outdoors paintings of the beautiful countryside around which I live in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. With the very strong musical bond in this Festival, it seems appropriate to me to include what for me are artistic performances.
Carolyn Dobbin’s Ariane, soprano Helena Dix (Acrylic on canvas, 40 x 50cm)
The Fermata Festival kicks off on June 25 with a sextet concert by Richard Strauss and Tchaikovsky. Meanwhile, around 100 works will be featured in the live exhibition at St Cuthbert’s Church in Earl’s Court and more on the festival website. All works of art have been appraised by the artists themselves and are offered for sale on a first come, first served basis and are available for international shipping.
As the evening concerts had to be planned from the earliest stages of the exhibition preparation, only violinist Maria Fiore Mazzarini, who performed on the opening night, is also an artist. However, the free Saturday afternoon concert will exclusively feature musicians whose work is part of the exhibit. “We invite members of the public of all ages to paint and draw to music if they wish,” says Kalnits.
Discover the concerts and works of art of the Fermata Festival for sale here