ArtsAlive.ca – Persuading Presence
image:Tour the Collection With guest curator Scott McKowen

Tour the Collection
With guest curator Scott McKowen

Music

Music is the most purely abstract of the performing arts, and music posters offer the graphic designer unlimited opportunity for conceptual exploration.
image:Canadian Opera Company 25th Anniversary Season * heloise and abelard * fidelio image:Rigoletto image:adventure in contemporary music: the national arts centre orchestra wth a musical computer and "sackbutt" image:MISSA GAIA Paul Winter Consort image:A Tonal departure image:A Tonal departure image:Canada's National Arts Centre Orchestra Pinchas Zukerman Music Director United States and Mexico Tour 2003 A Performance and Education Tour image:NATIONAL ARTS CENTRE ORCHESTRA dyrygent TREVOR PINNOCK solista LOUIS LORTIE fortepian image:1973 Les amis du mai et Les amis de Versailles presentent Orchestre du Centre national des Arts du Canada

I was reminded of this when I saw a series of Canadian Opera Company (COC) posters from the early years of the NAC. Most 40 year-old posters have a “vintage” feel and these are no exception, but it’s refreshing to see pure design used with such authority. The 1975 COC 25th anniversary poster is pure geometry. The red line running through the 1969 poster for Rigoletto and Die Fledermaus might be the profile of a singer (is that a nose and an open mouth?), but the overall effect of the stripes is a psychedelic study in fluid dynamics.

Mario Bernardi conducted the National Arts Centre Orchestra in a 1972 concert entitled Adventure in Contemporary Music and featured a musical computer and “Sackbutt”, the electronic musical instrument invented by Hugh Le Caine (1914-1977). The poster for the event suggests the experimental nature of the project. The illustration is a geometric optical illusion, but the real surprise is this single-colour design is printed by a blueprint machine. Perhaps there was a limited printing budget. According to the poster information, tickets for the concert cost fifty cents!

The Ottawa Choral Society joined forces with the American jazz ensemble, The Paul Winter Consort, for a 1985 “Earth Mass”. The event included wolf howls, whale cries and the roar of the ocean. The poster juxtaposes scale and point of view, with a wolf howling at the sky, and a photo of the earth from outer space to challenge our perceptions of the natural environment.

A clever pair of posters the 1994 and 1995 editions of A Tonal Departure poked fun at the stereotype of contemporary music being “difficult” by stretching a photograph of an elderly couple – one extremely horizontally, the other extremely vertically. This couple perhaps does not represent the demographic you might first associate with this music, but the posters are funny because the idea makes a connection between visual and aural “distortion.” The message seems to be that these concerts will stretch your brain a little.

I was asked to create a poster for the NAC Orchestra’s 2003 tour to the United States and Mexico. Since Pinchas Zukerman, NACO’s music director, conductor and soloist, is one of the world’s most famous violinists, it seemed appropriate for the poster to include some reference to a fiddle. I created a ripped paper collage from a 1940s road map (stretching from Canada to Mexico), a newspaper review of a Zukerman performance, mastheads of newspapers from the cities on the tour, and a real maple leaf. The strings are from the score of a Mozart violin concerto which Zukerman played on the tour.

A 1995 poster for NACO performances in Warsaw, and a 1973 poster for performances at Versailles are typical of posters created by concert presenters in Europe and Asia for their local audiences. Typographic layouts (in Italian, German, or Japanese) are often imprinted over the existing frame or border of a municipal theatre or concert society. These posters are not necessarily examples of great design, but they certainly make impressive souvenirs from the orchestra’s travels around the world.