Da Vinci's sketches come to life during Sounds of Sight at Jacksonville University

February 28, 2024

On March 7, 2024, Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches will come to life in Jacksonville University’s Terry Concert Hall during Sounds of Sight. The Jacksonville University Camerata and Choirs, along with the Don Thompson Chorale and Florida State College of Jacksonville Chorale, will combine to present Jocelyn Hagen’s "The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci."

Sounds of Sight is free to the public with doors opening at 7:00 p.m. "The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci" features mesmerizing projections of the late artist’s work accompanying Hagen’s lush and transcendent score. 

The program also includes "CATcerto" by another famous artist. Though perhaps lacking some of Da Vinci’s gravitas, internet star cat Nora rose to fame for her piano playing skills. Nora’s owner discovered her love of playing the piano and began filming her, sharing her videos on the internet. Lithuanian composer Mindaugas Piečaitis stitched her performances together into a four-minute piano concerto with orchestral accompaniment. Though Nora has recently passed, she will perform with the Camerata through the magic of film. 

Also featured in the concert is "Kyrie," by Argentinean composer Santiago Veros, who will be in the audience for the performance. This is the first movement of Veros’s "Mass of Eternal Unity" which he will release one movement per year over the next decade. This marks the first year of the project and the work’s world premiere. 

In addition to its unique themes, the concert presents a special intergenerational collaboration. The Choral Union is an ensemble of majors and nonmajors, faculty, staff, community members and parents, ranging from 18 to retirement. The Don Thompson Chorale also includes a wide range of singers, while the University Singers, RiverTones, and FSCJ Chorale skew towards Gen-Z. 

Ahead of the March 7 concert, Dr. Julian Bryson, JU’s Director of Choral Activities revealed a few insights about the pieces he and Director of Orchestral Activities Dr. Marguerite Richardson chose for this concert. 

What was the inspiration for Sounds of Sight? 

The idea of bringing Leonardo da Vinci’s artistic vision into the sonic world. 

How did you discover Hagen’s The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci

I came across the piece because of one of our alums who is singing with the Choral Society of Pensacola. She recommended it and I fell in love with the piece. So we decided to schedule it for this concert. 

Have you ever conducted a multimedia performance like this previously? 

This is a brand-new technology. One of the aspects that makes this musically fulfilling is that Da Vinci doesn’t use a click track. Generally at least the conductor, if not the orchestra, has a click track that is like a metronome, so that the performers stay in time with what’s on screen. 

The way this piece works, there is an operator of a tempo slider, who can adjust the tempo of the animations to speed up, slow down, pause, skip ahead.  It’s seamless, so the audience never knows a change is happening, but miraculously, the animations stay in time with the music. 

How rare is a female composer in the music world?  

One point of clarity: female composers are not rare.  Performances of female composers are unfortunately rare. They haven’t always been encouraged or promoted. For example, Fannie Mendelson Hensel published under her brother Felix’s name. 

So in the modern world, there are more women who are composing and there are more women who are being performed, but the ratio is way off from where it needs to be.  

Not every major orchestra in America is doing this piece, and I don’t know why. It’s interesting that this piece isn’t being done in more places, because it deserves to be heard. 

Talk a bit about "CATcerto" – and Nora the piano-playing cat. 

The cat is officially the pianist for the concerto. It’s a video recording, because unfortunately, Nora the Piano Cat just exhausted her ninth life.  It doesn’t feature the virtuosity of “Ravel’s Concerto for the Left Hand”, but it’s an endearing theme. It’s something that you can hum along to. 

Is there anyone you would like to acknowledge in helping bring this concert to fruition? 

I want to give a shout out to Dr. Marguerite Richardson for preparing the orchestra and helping to put the performance together. Her advice and preparation have been essential to the success of this project.  I also want to recognize the two guest conductors: Adam Hooper, who leads the Don Thompson Chorale, and Thomas Shapard of the Florida State College at Jacksonville Chorale. 

The Sounds of Sight concert begins at 7:30 p.m. A full house is expected, so guests are encouraged to arrive early. 

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