Among the audience waiting for the world premiere of Bill Banfield’s Eighth Symphony on Friday night will be Rigoletto Lopez, 23, the recent UW-Madison grad who was asked to put visuals to Banfield’s music. .
Lopez, who completed her bachelor’s degree in communication arts last May, was asked to create a video collage to accompany the performance of the symphony, titled “Here I Stand,” as first performed by the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra. OMD Composer-in-Residence Banfield wrote ‘Here I Stand’ to celebrate the life of brilliant musician, actor, athlete and blacklisted activist Paul Robeson.
“It was such an exciting project to be a part of, to share this story,” Lopez said. “The visual aspect (is meant to) give more context to the emotion of the piece that is already there, and just add it.”
Friday’s OMD concert will feature many premieres, not just the premiere of ‘Here I Stand’. This is the OMD’s first performance at its primary residence, the Overture Center’s Capitol Theatre, since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. And along with Banfield’s Symphony No. 8, the professional 30-piece orchestra will perform “Sinfonia” by Patrice Rushen – the Grammy Awards’ first female musical director and first African-American producer, who will be performing.
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Friday’s concert also includes Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, the only concerto Beethoven completed for more than one soloist, featuring three of Madison’s most acclaimed musicians: violinist Suzanne Beia, cellist Karl Lavine and pianist Christopher Taylor.
It was Banfield’s idea to add a visual element to the three movements of “Here I Stand,” said Joe Loehnis, CEO of the chamber orchestra, which also produces the popular Concerts on the Square every summer.
“When we were talking with Dr. Banfield about this project, he mentioned that our collective ways of consuming media/entertainment are changing and that this project is a mix of ‘soundscapes’ and ‘visual landscapes’…to introduce the first, “Loehnis said in an email.
“I personally can’t say if this is an industry trend, but I appreciate the work we’ve created and believe it will have a huge impact on our audience.”
Robeson isn’t a household name to Lopez’s generation, so the young filmmaker discovered the 20th-century artist while digging through historic photo and film archives for footage to be part of the OMD performance. .
Born in 1898, the son of a former slave, Robeson wrote in 12 sports and was named valedictorian at Rutgers University before going to law school at Columbia University; he later became an acclaimed actor and singer and a Shakespearean star on Broadway. But Robeson’s social justice work and outspoken political views caught the eye of infamous U.S. Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin, and after Robeson’s U.S. passport was revoked, his international performance career faltered. Robeson died in 1976.
Lopez was chosen to work on the visuals for “Here I Stand” after OMD contacted UW-Madison to find someone who could collaborate with the orchestra. Aaron Greer, an associate professor in the Department of Communication Arts, immediately thought of Lopez, a former student in his audio production class.
“I knew Rigoletto had experience reading music, playing music, working with musicians,” Greer said. “I thought it would be valuable and useful to work on a project with a composer and a conductor, to create a work specifically for a symphony – that (Lopez) would be respectful of that, that it wouldn’t just be like doing a music video.”
“Really, Rigoletto’s job wasn’t to provide a history lesson or a straightforward timeline, but a bit more context, visual information, clues and clues – about who Robeson was, what was his work, what his life was, how important it was in terms of his activism,” Greer said. “It’s all already in the music; he just had to amplify that with the images.
Lopez, who also earned a certificate in Digital Media Studies and Digital Cinema Production from UW-Madison, now works part-time for the university’s School of Education and is looking for more of movies. Because of the pandemic, he spent his last year online, “which was very strange,” he said.
The WCO project was a great way to use her visual storytelling skills and “get out of the educational realm into the professional realm,” Lopez said. As for his work for Banfield’s Symphony No. 8, “we keep calling it a ‘film’ or an ‘accompaniment’. I call it a collaborative project, more than anything.
Banfield is the OMD’s Composer-in-Residence until May 2024. A former classmate of OMD Music Director Andrew Sewell in graduate school, Banfield is a retired professor from Berklee College of Music whose work has been performed by the National, Detroit, Atlanta, Dallas, Richmond, Akron, Toledo, San Diego and Sacramento Symphonies, among others. At Berklee, Banfield served as founding director of the Center for Africana Studies, and he previously served as arts and culture correspondent for “The Tavis Smiley Show” on public radio.
The OMD will perform more of Banfield’s music over the next two years, Sewell said in July, when Banfield’s residency was announced.
“We’re trying to focus on Bill’s American voice,” Sewell said, “and see where that takes us.”