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Rehearsal with The Old Bridge Orchestra at The Hylton Performing Arts Center. Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition Art by Britt Conley

The Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra Artist in Residence 2021

Artist in Residence with The Old Bridge Orchestra. November 6th, Illustrations of Sound concert at The Hylton Performing Arts Center. Performing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Image behind the orchestra – Great Gate of Kiev by Britt Conley

I was fortunate enough to be asked to work with the The Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra orchestra for their big concert Illustrations of Sound to be performed on November 6th, 2021 at The Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, Virginia.

I was thrilled to have the challenge of doing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. For this intense artistic project, I had to first figure out how to organize and theme the entirety of the twelve works. I decided approach the entirely of the art as illustrations looking at Mussorgsky’s brain as he walks through the exhibition, sketching his musical ideas. These ‘sketches’ personify the forms and shapes in the finished works as thought we are seeing his thought process in the raw. We’ve seen most of the original art that he wrote to, but journeying through his music and ideas seemed far more directly engaging and appropriate for his magnificent efforts.

I don’t normally work in this fashion but it seemed to best exemplify the music and his final product and in its ultimate Ravel arrangement.  Although there are only ten movements in Mussorgsky’s great work, Pictures at an Exhibition, also has the repeating Promenade and the eighth movement is actually split into two very different musical sections. The music demanded visuals for all, thus increasing the amount of visuals to twelve.

The piece begins with The Promenade.  I purposely made this simply a sparse black and white. I wanted it to be a taste refresher between the intensity of the movements.

Mussorgsky’s Promenade from Pictures at an Exhibition, by Britt Conley

The first piece in the 40 plus symphonic work is The Gnome.  Although I have many complicated things to say about the pieces I’ve attempted to distill them into simplified bites of information.

The upper left quadrant is where we first meet our gnome. The various areas of the piece represent the main musical elements. The trumpets are in reds, the strings descend up on our ears.

The Second movement, after a repeat of the promenade is The Old Castle.

The Old Castle from Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. Art by Britt Conley

The work follows the sinuous ribbons of sound that lulls us into the architecture of Mussorgsky’s journey.

This also is followed by a repeat of The Promenade and then the third movement, Tuileries.  I love the twirling uplift of the music in contrast to the continual strident repeating rhythms.

Mussorgsky’s Tuileries (Children’s Quarrel after the Games in Tuileries Gardens) from Pictures at an Exhibition. Art by Britt Conley

The fourth Movement is titled Cattle. I absolutely loved this one.  When I listen to this moment, the Ravel arrangement, I am struck with how the rhythm and gait of the cattle create the allusion that they are emerging out of a morning mist on the horizon.  Just when we think there are many more cattle, Mussorgsky ups the anti and parades them endlessly in an amassing rhythmic gait that never tells you how many there are.  He counters this parade with beautiful crystalline violins that seem to stream above, across the sky, lifting us above the heavy gait.  I illustrated this as the banners, paraded by the cattle themselves. Instead of ox cart they pull and boister these banners of sound.

Mussorgsky’s Cattle from Pictures at an Exhibition. Art by Britt Conley

The 5th movement is Ballet of the Unhatched Chicks.  This one was the most fun to create.  Trying to capture the awkward frenzied running up and down as the chicks were hatching was a challenge.

The 6th Movment is “Samuel” Goldenberg and “Schmuÿle”  with the 7th being Limoges, the Market (The Great News).

The 8th movement is actually in two sections, Catacombs (Roman Tomb) – With the Dead in a Dead Language.

The 9th movement is one of the great lead ups to a climaxing finale in classical music!  The last notes of this movement actually end with the first note of the 10th and final movement of the entire work: The Great Gate of Kiev.

Also, Part of the proceeds from the concert were donated to the brand new 5th grade chorus being creating at the Featherstone Elementary in Prince William County. What a lovely cause to donate to! If you’d like to donate, contact Sheyna Burt at The Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra.

A special thanks to Deja and Sheyna Burt and Musical Director David Kirvin and all of the amazing members of The Old Bridge Chamber Orchestra!


And special thanks to Mark Ormesher, Lead Audio Engineer and Chris Burrell, Production and Facilities Manager at The Hylton Performing Arts Center and to James Davis who worked behind the scenes to cue the art to go with each of the movements, in tandem with the Orchestra.  Everyone’s expertise made everything happen beautifully!


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