Tuesday Tunes: A Playlist for William Baziotes

Taking inspiration from the major theme of music in Ten Americans: After Paul Klee, we paired 11 staff members with 11 works from the exhibition and asked them to create a playlist in response to their individual artwork. Liza Strelka, Manager of Exhibitions, created her playlist in response to William Baziotes’s “Pierrot.”

William Baziotes, Pierrot, 1947, Oil on canvas, 42 1/8 x 36 in. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, Ailsa Mellon Bruce Fund, 1984 © Estate of William Baziotes

“The clown is a romantic and classical image. The artist doesn’t want to reveal his feelings directly so he presents himself in disguise. His clothes and gestures are gay and beautiful, his face is sad.”

Pierrot illustrates William Baziotes’s belief that the traditional motif of the clown embodies similar experiences and struggles of the artist. The Pierrot is a playful yet tragic figure whose makeup-covered exterior entertains while the heart and soul of the person underneath searches for his place within society. Visual artists of the early to mid-20th century, such as Baziotes, Klee, Picasso, and Rouault, found the motif of the Pierrot rich artistic exploration.

The influence of the Pierrot wasn’t just contained to visual art. I first chose David Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes, not only because the staccato rhythm of the song evokes the teetering of the figure’s oblong head and the jumbled limb movements but also because the famous music video for the song features Bowie as a Pierrot. From there, I selected songs that echo the painting’s cool color palette and melancholic, searching subject matter by artists who also play with persona and/or mood, whether in their performance or their songwriting. Across all musical genres, there are artists grappling with their place in the world and falling victim to heartbreak, and yet they continue to perform and entertain us.

Liza Strelka, Manager of Exhibitions

Feeling inspired? Create your own playlist based around works in the exhibition and send it to us at communications@phillipscollection.org and we may feature it on our blog and social media.

Violinist Tessa Lark on Her Career and Upcoming Phillips Music Performance

The following is an excerpt from David Rohde’s interview with Tessa Lark, originally published in DC Metro Theater Arts.

Tessa Lark. Photo: Mitch Weiss

David Rohde: I know you’re from Kentucky, but specifically where? Since you went to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, were you from the Cincinnati area or further away?

Tessa Lark: I’m from just south of Lexington – Richmond, Kentucky. It was a two-hour drive to Cincinnati when I started participating in that program. I started going there when I was 11 years old. The Starling program is what the pre-college program is called in Cincinnati. It happened every Saturday, so it would pretty much eat up my weekend. I would go up there and have a Saturday morning private lesson, music theory classes, eurhythmics classes, string orchestra rehearsal, and some chamber music as well.

Going back before that, when did you start playing the violin?

I started when I was six years old, and I started with the Suzuki method.

Did you love playing the violin from the beginning, or is that a misperception?

No, not at all. I have adored music my whole life. I played mandolin two years before I played the violin, and my father plays banjo, so I was always intrigued by what he was doing with his friends. And I had a toy keyboard when I was really young, and I would pick out tunes that I was hearing on the radio. My parents noticed my interest in music from a very young age. So the violin was my toy, in essence. I just loved playing it and I loved practicing.

When you went up to Cincinnati those weekends, was the entire day spent on, quote-unquote, classical music, or did you have a chance to branch out from there?

Yeah, there’s no quote-unquote about it; it was strictly classical. My teacher there, Kurt Sassmannshaus, is wonderful about teaching his students about the business of classical music too. And he has been a supporter of my playing bluegrass music in recent years, so that’s very wonderful. But his expertise, and amazing wisdom was in the classical realm. So that Saturday was devoted entirely to classical music.

Tessa Lark. Photo: Lauren Desberg

You have a very “speaking” or narrative voice across the entire violin. Some violinists, you can tell, they just don’t care down there on the G string as much, they can’t wait to get up to the high notes.

In my early teens, I took three weeks of cello, which was a lot of fun. To this day, the E string [the highest string] is not my favorite string on the violin!

But it seems to equal everything out and help tell stories. Did your teacher contribute to that?

My favoring the low registers of the violin, I think that’s just my own taste. But you can look up some of his teachings online at violinmasterclass.com. He made this website long before YouTube was as popular as it is, so it was really revolutionary. It has a lot of quick videos on different techniques and aspects of violin playing. Mr. Sassmannshaus is unbelievably clear and succinct with his methods. He would tell me to do something or practice something in a certain way, I would do it, and I would see the results. When I got to conservatory I noticed that a lot of students didn’t actually know how to practice. They were very talented and they got to where they were from that talent, but I had a teacher who really helped me figure out how to be efficient all across the board.

The Starling program offered countless performance opportunities. That might be the most amazing gift that he gave me as a young person. I had a lot of time on stage with my nerves in front of an audience. You can practice as much as you want to in your own room, but you really have to get on the stage to learn how to deal with stage fright.


Phillips Music features Tessa Lark in concert with pianist Roman Rabinovich this Sunday, December 10.

Salute to Phillips Musicians in the Armed Forces

military bands post_archival program

(left) Dec 6, 1942 program from the Music Department permanent archives (right) Feb 21, 1943 program from the Music Department permanent archives

In honor of Veteran’s Day this week, the Phillips celebrates military musicians serving in the Army Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps Bands. Nearly 100 performances were held in the Phillips’s Music Room between 1939 and 1945, making Sunday Concerts the longest continually-running series in Washington, DC.

Of the many fine military musicians performing at the Phillips, GRAMMY-winning American pianist Earl Wild (1915–2010) was one. Wild is renowned as one of the greatest pianists and all-around musicians in history, and one Harold Schonberg called Wild a “super-virtuoso in the Horowitz class.”

We are proud to boast several Phillips Camerata musicians who presently serve in the US Marine Corps Band, including violinist Karen Johnson and cellist Charlie Powers. On our 75th season anniversary, we honor the legacy of Armed Services musicians in two concerts during our 2015/2016 season, featuring Navy Sea Chanters and the USMCB string ensemble.

Caroline Mousset, Director of Music