Adam Johnson and "Four Artists"
Sometimes inspiration comes in short bursts. Adam Johnson's Four Artists was written in just 2 weeks and was inspired by the colourful lives of four visual artists from the 20th century: American icon Jackson Pollock, Berlin artist George Grosz, British artist Dora Carrington, and Turner Prize nominee Tracey Emin.
As a conceptual piece, Four Artists seeks to transform art and the artist's personality into music. This marriage of music + art interested us, because why shouldn't the different creative disciplines inform each other? The opening of the first movement, Jackson Pollock, is an aural "splattering" of notes upon a calm, serene canvas. The lower three instruments play quiet tranquillo sul tasto voicings, while the first violin erupts in a spiccato vigoroso line. Tracy Emin's movement, the one we perform online, displays the growing spunk and fortitude of this celebrated member of the "Young British Artists" and her rise as a media sensation. Starting out with pizzicato playing in the quartet, the movement jumps time signatures and builds to a crescendo that ends in a flourish. Four Artists shows how music can become a representation of what visual artists try to express. And as four musicians within the quartet, we also bring our interpretation into the mix.
Adam is a conductor, composer and pianist living in London. He is Artistic Director of the Northern Lights Symphony Orchestra. He studied composition under Anthony Gilbert at the Royal Northern College of Music.
Adam Johnson Q&A
A lot of the time it was essential to get the music or sounds out of my cluttered head! As a child composer I had no technique and my knowledge of the technical brilliance of Bartok, Stravinsky or Messiaen would be a revelation when I won a scholarship to study with Prof. Anthony Gilbert at The Royal Northern College of Music. I quickly realized that a regular composition "practise" method was not in my system and I could only work well when the music came to me - usually in a noisy night club, surrounded by the clamor of a weekend rave!
This is my 4th Quartet and I wrote it very quickly. However the same obstacles presented themselves. I was constantly aware of texture (usually by thinking of 3 not 4 players), and allowing the space of pitch-register to resonate over each tone. Another release in this piece is not confining the work to expectation, but a natural and organic motivic progression throughout the strictly structured harmony.
As each movement is dedicated to Four Artists (Jackson Pollock, George Grosz, Dora Carrington, Tracey Emin) one difficulty was to balance mirroring their style musically as well as an abstract comment on their vision.
In the case of the middle movements (Grosz and Carrington) it was inspired by the events in their personal lives, and the outer movements (Pollock and Emin) in honour of their place in society at the time in which they lived.
The artists I have chosen commented artistically on reflection and relation to immediate modern life, which is precisely what I aim to achieve in the musical language of my work.