Art is backdrop for new Berkeley Symphony video performances

This week, two of Berkeley’s foremost arts organizations, the Berkeley Symphony and the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), team up for a generative collaboration celebrating the synergy between music and art. 

The collaboration is on view in the second episode of REAL Berkeley, a four-episode virtual film series that launched in March. The episode will showcase exhibits and artwork from BAMPFA, including Rosie Lee Tomkins: A Retrospective and Edie Fake’s Affordable Housing for Trans Elders, alongside chamber works by Jessie Montgomery, Florence Price, Michael Daugherty, and Olivier Messiaen. 

BAMPFA Director Julie Rodrigues Widholm curated the episode, saying that bringing together two of Berkeley’s dedicated arts organizations has been a way to “nurture the cultural ecosystem that makes Berkeley such a special place.” She says that the pandemic has shown arts organizations the importance of collaboration and mutual support. 

“This pandemic has provided a powerful reminder of the importance of collaboration in sustaining a healthy arts economy,” says Widholm.


In the performances, which were filmed on location, musicians from Berkeley Symphony play a selection of chamber music with art as the backdrop. Widholm chose a work from African American composer Florence Price, the String Quartet in G Major, to accompany BAMPFA’s retrospective of the artist Rosie Lee Tompkins. 

Credit: Reneff-Olsson Productions

“Price expanded the American musical vernacular by elegantly combining the language of her classical training with modern references inspired by African American spirituals and blues,” says Widholm. “In a similar vein, Tompkins is credited with helping to expand the recognition of African American quiltmaking beyond the world of textiles, establishing these traditional forms as a vital part of the American art historical canon.” 

Widholm also paired a showcase of “BAMPFA’s most prized work of art, our new building,” designed by architecture firm Diller Scofidio + Renfro, with French composer Olivier Messiaen’s Appel Interstellaire for solo horn. In addition, she chose to bring together BAMPFA’s large-scale mural by the artist Edie Fake with Jessie Montgomery’s Strum for string quartet. Widholm hopes audiences find inspiration in this interdisciplinary performance as the community begins to open up again. 

“I hope music lovers might discover something about the ideas behind the visual art on view at BAMPFA, and that visual art lovers might discover a new appreciation for the ideas and inspiration behind the music,” she says. “More broadly, I hope that all arts enthusiasts will take this as an opportunity to find inspiration and optimism after a difficult year, as we all look forward to the return of a thriving local arts scene once the pandemic recedes.”

Berkeley Symphony presents REAL Berkeley, episode 2: Edgy Art. Premiere on Sunday, May 23 at 4 p.m. PDT on YouTube. Available for viewing after the premiere. Free. 

Also happening this week: 

PUBLIC ART Come to downtown Berkeley to the corner of Allston and Shattuck while you still can to check out Berkeley-based artist Suzi Garner’s video installation titled Why Aren’t We There Yet? The work showcases the “talents, vision, and wisdom of residents of the I-80 interchange near Shellmound and Ashby.” On display until Friday, May 21. Best viewed after 8 p.m. 

RESIDENT RAPTORS Kids and families can join a conversation with Sean Peterson and Lynn Schofield, the caretakers of the UC Berkeley Falcon webcam. Learn about falcons and other neighborhood raptors. Saturday, May 22. 2:30-3:15 p.m. 

AAPI SAFETY In a time when the AAPI community has been faced with race-based harassment, finding ways to protect ourselves is crucial. In this 90-minute class, IMPACT Bay Area will teach you strategies that can be helpful in the face of harassment, including role play against a mock assailant. Saturday, May 22. 10-11:30 a.m.