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Ardenuir - The Stone in the Sword, a wonderful collaboration between musician father and artist daughter, was presented in the Virginia Somerville Sutton Theatre at Well-Spring Retirement Community Friday night. Composer/pianist Dr. Vincent van Gelder and his 17-year-old daughter Natalie van Gelder offered this 45-minute story in a multi-media presentation. Ardenuir was written by Natalie, who also painted the thirty-nine artworks that depict scenes from the story. Music composed and performed by Dad provided essential drama and mood.
The presentation was the world premiere of the work, which itself was somewhat based on the previous collaboration of the duo, Guardians of Iceland: Eylin's Journey. A summary of the plot of Ardenuir (found on the Facebook event page): "Ardenuir is a story that follows three heroes; Calyx, Varian, and Zaira, as they journey on a quest to restore magic to the world. Their hope lies in the power of an ancient sword once wielded by the founder of the city Ardenuir; now lost to the ages. The heroes must learn to work together to save their homes and push back against the dark forces that are creeping across their lands."
Imagine Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition with a slide presentation of the artworks that inspired the composition, plus a plot that links all the paintings together. In this case, the plot is along the lines of Lord of the Rings in terms of the journey to recover a sacred, powerful object (in this story, a crystal in the sword). In addition to the artworks, there were a handful of slides with verbiage that helped the viewer/listener understand the plot.
Van Gelder's art is a winning combination of graphic novel art and phantasmagoria. Her process is drawing "on a highly sensitive drawing tablet (over 8000 pressure sensitivity points on the pen) so she can zoom to work on small detail." Brilliant, colorful, and evocative, each artwork captures an important event in the story. The title of each of the thirty-nine pictures was listed in the program. A sampling: "Map of the Realm," "Lingering Shadows," "The Ancient Dragon," "A Golden Castle." Each artwork is representational but incorporates fantasy elements. I was impressed by the artist's ability to portray a wide range of moods including action, repose, and suspense.
Program music (or programmatic music: "a type of instrumental art music that attempts to render an extra-musical narrative musically" -Wikipedia) has long attracted composers. In addition to Mussorgsky mentioned above, other works include Vivaldi's Four Seasons, Beethoven's Symphony No. 6 ("Pastorale"), and Berlioz's Symphonie fantastique.
Van Gelder's music, which the pianist performed without a score, was a marvelous mix of styles. It was certainly eclectic: from folk-like, frolicking music that depicts the market, to dramatic outbursts that take place in some battle scenes; from lyrical, romantic music that accompanies pictures of far-off lands to dreamy impressionistic cascades showing sea scenes. Recurring motives woven into the score provide some overall structure to the piece.
Van Gelder states that his work is inspired by composers such as "Liszt, Grieg, Rachmaninov, and Prokofiev." Indeed, I could hear the brilliance of Liszt, the folk influence of Grieg, the hyper-romanticism of Rachmaninoff, and the quirkiness of Prokofiev, all in the context of what van Gelder calls "film-style piano music."
Van Gelder's playing brought the artwork alive. He is a powerful performer, and his virtuosic chops were often employed in impressive rapid octaves, shimmering cascades of scales, and occasional glissandos. His lyric playing is admirable as well, with some lovely tunes emanating from the middle of a rich texture.
The good-sized audience was obviously taken with both the art and the music, and rewarded both father and daughter with a well-deserved standing ovation. It certainly was a memorable evening of a creative multi-media event.