World renowned abstract expressionist artist Mark Rothko in Jazz

  • 2016-06-02
  • Michael Mustillo

The critically acclaimed world premiere performance of the creative audiovisual project Rothko in Jazz, featuring the Maris Briezkalns Quintet, first took place at the John F. Kennedy Centre for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC, in 2015.
The much anticipated Latvian premiere performance, a wide-ranging musical homage to Rothko’s paintings, which saw a synergy of paintings and music, took place in May 2016 at a sold out, riveting concert at Riga’s opulent Splendid Theatre, was definitely worth the 13 month wait.

Mark Rothko stated that art is an adventure into an unknown world, which can only be explored by those willing to take the risks.

The Maris Briezkalns Quintet took the risk, and produced a work that is a musical triumph. Rothko in Jazz saw a concert performance that uplighted the spirit with creative musical and visual energy.
The work is inspired by the enigmatic colour field paintings of Latvian-born American artist Mark Rothko, an abstract expressionist, who is regarded as one of the preeminent artists of his generation. During an artistic career spanning five decades, Rothko created a new and impassioned form of abstract painting, with his signature motifs of soft, rectangular forms floating on a stained field of colour.

Rothko’s work was heavily influenced by mythology and philosophy, and he was assertive in his claims that his art was filled with emotional content and new forms of expression, and brimmed with a sense of spirituality and ideas.
Ten of Latvia’s renowned composers, Lolita Ritmanis, Eriks Esenvalds, Arturs Maskats, Rihards Dubra, Peteris Vasks, Jekabs Jancevskis, Vilnis Smidbergs, Jekabs Nimanis, Georgs Pelecis, and Raimonds Pauls, created music that served to accompany 10 iconic Rothko works. The paintings were projected onto a large screen on the stage and created a striking visual effect; the music formed an equal artistic partnership, embodying a synergetic creative energy.

The musical compositions were given titles such as “Love’s Theme” by Esenvalds, inspired by Rothko’s 1948 painting CR #391; “Yellow-and-Red” by Maskats, inspired by Rothko’s 1954 painting CR #516; “Autumnal” by Vasks, inspired by Rothko’s 1954 painting CR #513; and “Swing of Dvinsk” by Pauls, inspired by Rothko’s 1968 painting 1291.68.
The project was fully supported by Rothko’s children Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko.
The idea for the project originated with the Maris Briezkalns Quintet. It was the quintet’s members who arranged the musical works. The Maris Briezkalns Quintet has performed in some of the world’s leading jazz and music festivals, and renowned jazz stages around the world.

Briezkalns, the quintet’s charismatic drummer, is a driving force on the Baltic jazz scene. Briezkalns runs two of Riga’s annual iconic Jazz events, the Riga Jazz Stage, and the renowned Rigas Ritmi Festival, which will take place in Riga from June 29 to July 2.

“Rothko in Jazz aimed to reflect the mood created in the works of Mark Rothko, which the artist himself said portrayed the status of the soul. All of the artworks featured in this project have been created between 1945 and 1969, the late stage of Mark Rothko’s creations, abstract expressionism,” Briezkalns informed The Baltic Times.

Briezkalns stated that he has a close affinity to Rothko’s paintings as they have a close relationship to music.
“There is no distraction in Rothko’s paintings. It’s just colours, and music is also about colours,” said Briezkalns. “We viewed in total 50 Rothko paintings, and we chose 10 which we felt best could be expressed in music. First there were the paintings and then the composer’s music. The musical material of Rothko in Jazz, like Rothko’s paintings, is a sense that invites the audience, letting them witness something hidden, invisible to the eye. Mark Rothko is among the artistic geniuses of the 20th century — his roots stem from Latvia, from Dvinsk (present-day Daugavpils) where he spent part of his childhood.”

“This is an excellent way of presenting Rothko’s artwork to people — not only by showing the paintings, but also through the musical texture. It is well known that Rothko himself was influenced by music,” Farida Zaletilo, Exhibition Curator at the Mark Rothko Art Centre in Daugavpils, also stated.
The Mark Rothko Art Centre is located in Arsenal building of Daugavpils Fortress. It is the only fortress in Eastern Europe, which dates from the first half of the 19th century, that has remained virtually unchanged up to the present day. It has, along with the Mark Rothko Art Centre, become a symbol of the city of Daugavpils.
The Mark Rothko Art Centre presently has a unique collection of six original Rothko paintings, which are on loan from the Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko collection.
A new exhibition of Rothko’s artwork opened on April 24, 2016 during the celebrations of the Art Centre’s third year of operations.

“The created exhibition of Rothko’s original artwork is the only long term, permanent, and retrospective exhibition in Europe featuring Mark Rothko’s works from all of his periods,” said Tatjana Cernova of the Mark Rothko Art Centre.
“The new exhibition of Rothko’s works also offers a retrospective of never-before-exhibited in Latvia works of the distinguished master from the collection of his children Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko.”
“By tradition, this exhibition features one painting from the master’s realistic period, two works from his surrealist period, one piece of work from the period of his transition to so called classic Rothko-style art, and two works from his classical period.”

Visitors to the Daugavpils Mark Rothko Art Centre are able view not only the only exhibition of the art of Mark Rothko in Eastern Europe, but also learn about the artist’s life and his artistic journey through an interactive digital exhibition.
Since the Mark Rothko Art Centre opened in 2013 interest in the work of Rothko has remained high.
“We see people from different regions and cities of Latvia, and foreign tourists from abroad visit the Art Centre to see Rothko’s iconic paintings,” said Cernova.