Bach X Reimagined is making classical music cool

Bach X Reimagined is making classical music cool

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While NGV Fridays are known for their appeal to broad audiences, you arts aficionados will have somewhere to indulge that pseudo-philosophical side of yourselves every Friday from now until April 5.

Thanks to the concurrence of the Escher x nendo: Between Two Worlds exhibition at NGV International and the Bach X Reimagined performances in the Gallery Kitchen, you’ll be able to explore what the music of arguably history’s most influential western musician, Johann Bach, sounds and, in a sense, looks like through contemporary and past lenses.

Let us explain, because there’s a lot going on: Between Two Worlds will run every day and on Friday nights at NGV International. The show presents 150 prints and drawings of 20th century Dutch graphic artist, Maurits Cornelis Escher (whose repetitive tessellations were inspired by Bach’s repetitive musical themes), in a space designed by Oki Sato, head of Japanese design studio, nendo. 

On this occasion the Bach X Reimagined installation is in the spotlight, a string of musical performances interpreting Bach through various styles. It’s the product of local creative collaboration group, anon. We spoke to its co-founders, Nicole Tj and Thomas Lo, who said they had 18 musicians split into four groups ready to rotate playing on Fridays over the next four months. 

Tj said anon. wanted to mirror musically what the Escher exhibition had to offer visually. It’s a cross-medium gig, with Bach as the common thread.  Add to that an Aussie-centric lineup of electronic musicians performing in the garden and it’s tough to see how one could leave under-stimulated.

But Tj said there was also a temporal dimension anon. would be playing with. On the prospect of collaborating with the NGV, she said, “what we found exciting was that nendo put the contemporary spin on Escher.” So, too, she said, her and her gang of musos would do with Bach. “We want our work to be accessible and relatable … we want to know it’s making sense to the receiver.”

To accentuate their modern twist, anon. recruited sound designer Marty Hicks, whose specially commissioned soundscape will play as interludes between each Friday’s three performances. Tj explained Hicks took a musical motif from Bach and used it as the basis of his piece. “It’s based on fragments of Bach in a modern and soundscape-y way,” she said.

Lo said he and Tj studied music together at Melbourne University, diverged into architecture and marketing, respectively, then joined forces, seeing the benefits of multidisciplinary collaboration. They have a few core principles, including keeping music at the centre of their collaborations and rejuvenating classical music by making it more accessible and contemporary. The latter was the topic of the TED talk they were invited to give in Washington two years ago.

“The inaccessibility of classical music is about the lack of exposure or engagement,” Tj believes. “The question is: how can we create an experience that’s engaging to those without classical music experience and training?”

Despite the short time they had to pull Bach X Reimagined together, Tj said the opening night was a success. Impressive given the ostensible incongruousness between NGV Fridays’ largely young market and classical music. And that’s precisely the gap anon. wants to bridge.

By Jacob Nazroo