Taos Chamber Music Group fills a colorful 'Blank Canvas'

Concert features a program of compositions inspired by visual arts

By Dena Miller
Posted 2/27/19

When you visit the Harwood Museum of Art it's with the intention to immerse yourself in a collection of fine American art. But when you walk into its Arthur Bell Auditorium you don't …

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Taos Chamber Music Group fills a colorful 'Blank Canvas'

Concert features a program of compositions inspired by visual arts


When you visit the Harwood Museum of Art it's with the intention to immerse yourself in a collection of fine American art. But when you walk into its Arthur Bell Auditorium you don't expect to be drawn into a further abundance of the art for which Taos is famed. This weekend your expectations will be dashed.

The Taos Chamber Music Group is the pilot of your surprising journey as it premiers "Blank Canvas" Saturday and Sunday (March 2-3). Both performances begin at 5:30 p.m.

Nancy Laupheimer, director of TCMG, noted the group and the Harwood "have enjoyed a fruitful cross-pollination between [music and] the visual arts." In celebration of TCMG's decades-long relationship as the Harwood's resident chamber music group, "we've designed a program in which the pieces we'll be performing were inspired by iconic artists," including some whose names are intimately associated with Northern New Mexico.

Two movements of Jennifer Higdon's "American Canvas" for flute, cello and piano will be followed by Stephen Paulus' "Seurat: A Sunday at the Grand Jatte" for cello and piano. The first half of the program will conclude with three movements of Bruce Wolosoff's "The Loom" for piano trio.

Glen Roven's "Three Paintings by Agnes Martin" for violin and piano opens the second half, and Claude Debussy's youthful, exuberant "Piano Trio in G Major" concludes the concert. The TCMG performers are Elizabeth Baker, violin; Sally Guenther, cello; Debra Ayers, piano; and Laupheimer on flute.

Expect to be charmed with this delightful multimedia production that illustrates how the many languages of the art community, writ large, find a common voice. Often, one may notice how visual art is described in terms of its movement, or how a musical score finds a kaleidoscope of color in its many notes.

Higdon, a Pulitzer Prize recipient and Grammy winner, took this to heart when she was commissioned by Philadelphia's Dolce Suono Trio to write "American Canvas." In doing so, she looked at the general style of artists she admires - Georgia O'Keeffe, Jackson Pollock, Andrew Wyeth - rather than focus on particular paintings.

In her communications with TCMG, Higdon explained, "Every image painted by O'Keeffe has clean lines and is very articulated. When studying her paintings one gets a sense of the air that surrounds each object, so I've made sure there are moments of breath. To reflect her lifetime philosophy of repeatedly painting certain objects with slightly different framing of color or perspective, I've used a smaller amount of musical material and framed it in different musical contexts."

Rhymically propulsive

Higdon referenced Pollock as more chaotic, and so crafted a rhythmically propulsive, interwoven explosion of lines. Because she considers all elements of equal value in a Pollock painting, "balance of color, shape of gesture, ever-swirling, lots of layers: so are the musical gestures of equal importance here. No one voice stands out, but the entire whole of the movement reflects the energy in sound equivalent to the energy of the image on canvas."

The Seurat movement by Stephen Paulus was recommended for inclusion by TCMG pianist Debra Ayers, who has been an avid proponent of music connected to art. She is a co-founder of the Montage Music Society, an ensemble dedicated to the commission of music based upon that inspiration.

It's evident why Ayers suggested this movement. Best known as a choral and opera composer, Paulus intertwined music, painting and poetry in the masterful piece. It is based upon a poem by Ira Sadoff, which in turn was inspired by the iconic Seurat painting "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte." The common language between the three domains mutually recall a languorous afternoon by the Seine, Laupheimer noted.

"The Loom" became a hands-on collaboration between artist Eric Fischl and composer Wolosoff, who is known for his contemporary mix of modern, classical, jazz and blues genres. "The title refers to intertwining stories that music and art tell," Wolosoff has noted. "Certain paintings ... cause me to spontaneously hear music in my mind. When I came across the beautiful watercolors of Fischl, I immediately felt this inspiration and began sketching out the music that I was hearing," working with the artist to ensure the integrity of their respective works.

Entranced by Agnes Martin

Glen Roven was an American two-time Emmy winning composer, lyricist, conductor and producer who was entranced with the paintings of Agnes Martin. As a frequent art and music critic for the Huffington Post, Roven often referred to her austere yet contemplative style when assessing others' works. "Three Paintings by Agnes Martin" is a testament to the composer's affinity for "Martin's barely yet visible strips of color, both pleasing and constraining, [which] are reflected by the unsettled melody in the violin that can't find resolution within the restricting harmony of the piano," he wrote.

Independent of visual art but highly influenced by the fertile cultural environment of La Belle Epoque, Debussy wrote his one and only piano trio while a student. The charming piece laid the groundwork for the modal harmonies and more fluid structures of his later style, said Laupheimer.

The Taos Chamber Music Group was created by Laupheimer in 1993, after she and a small group of local musicians agreed to perform a concert during a spring arts event. It has since grown into an annual seven-performance season. "We're grateful to the Harwood for providing us a venue, and allowing us to showcase the depth of musical excellence we've been able to bring to Taos," she said.

Tickets are $25, $12 for students, and are available online at until noon on the day of the performance. Names will be on a reservation list at the door if ordered through TCMG. Otherwise, tickets may be purchased at the Harwood, where members will receive a 20 percent discount.

All concerts are general seating. Empty seats will be filled five minutes before the event, so ticket holders are advised to arrive early.

Laupheimer also wishes to note that several area restaurants have partnered with TCMG to round out an evening of world-class entertainment. Doc Martin's, Lambert's, Martyrs Steakhouse and The Gorge Bar and Grill will offer discounts to ticket holders after each show. Contact each restaurant for the particulars.

The Arthur Bell Auditorium at the Harwood Museum of Art is located at 238 Ledoux Street. For more information, call (575) 758-9826, or visit


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