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Monday, April 19, 2021

‘Let’s Create: A Visual History of American Classical Music’

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Proposals like these have the support of a growing number of art historians and curators. They are being widely celebrated by some serious art critics, who believe that its full contribution can be made to the art history of the United States.

Mr. Fegor, 34, credits his father, Walter R. Fegor, a distinguished art historian, and Ms. Sill for that support. The elder Mr. Fegor is a Professor Emeritus of Art History at Hofstra University, and the younger Mr. Fegor is a Professor of Art History at Bienen School of Music at Northwestern University.

“My parents are both particularly knowledgeable about music composition,” said Mr. Fegor. “They are in total agreement with me on the concept of the visual in music composition. It is a peculiarly American phenomenon.”

A year or so ago, a project was begun to explore these ideas further, with a view to the creation of a book on the subject. An art historian, Angela Walsen-Coleman, came on board with financial support. So did one of the creators of the critical language that became known as the postmodern.

Working in the following order, artists — members of H. I. Newhouse, R. B. Forsythe, the Light National Symphony Orchestra, and dozens of other institutions — composed more than 60 works of music. Based on reviews from music critics, they were cross-referenced by a team of archivists. Their thoughts became part of a more general examination of how the visual elements of music can be integrated into the tradition of American classical music, of which they are the constituent elements.

The new way of looking at the art-music relationship developed inescapably when artist John Corey chose to use, as a central part of his work for the Rolling Stones’ “Tumbling Dice” video, the logo of a Bergdorf Goodman that was still visible on the store’s exterior. With that video, the art and the music, in an increasingly original and clearly expressive way, burst into the universal media of the mass media, for the first time in the history of the American arts.

When invited to do the film at the Cannes Film Festival in France, Mr. Fegor, who lives in Switzerland, arrived with the artwork in a box filled with its own materials. In the very beginning he assembled “a team” to look at it. “They met at a coffee shop in Tribeca, and suddenly each member of the team found himself in the middle of an orchestral work that he never could have predicted,” said Mr. Fegor. The task then became to execute this initial idea and expand it into what would become the story of his book.

The process took years, but when the archivists reached the end of the line, they did not have all the information they sought. By then the “Let’s Create” group of participants had reached the point where they decided to reproduce the artwork — the first derivative of the idea.

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