"Strings On Holiday" - 12 inch diameter format on pressed wood, acrylic paint. From an original sketch completed in 1986, currently in the artist's collection. For a time this painting was featured in an art show at Mountain View Station, one of the branches of the US Postal Service at Mesa, Arizona.
I posted a picture of the original sketch for this finished painting in the blog-post entitled "Strings, Dreams and Orchestral Visions" published on 11/21/2013 (still available in the archives). In that post I indicated the story behind this rather imaginative set of images. Previously I did not believe that I could fully or adequately illustrate the visual content of my dreams, but completing the first sketch and then the final painting convinced me that the subject was within grasp. This entire scene was set out before my eyes in a vivid dream sequence which stayed with me for hours, days and weeks after first viewing. The main subject which dominated this imaginary landscape was a floating violin or cello which seemed to slowly advance across a wide agricultural field and then to just hover in front of my vantage point. The instrument seemed to glow with a white light infused from within, emitting musical notes all the way along the richly colored fields below, some notes also hovering above the ground, others disappearing beneath the field, and still others remaining partially submerged like scythes or farm implements skimming the surface. The sky above seemed to suggest a mixture of both daytime brilliance and night-time wonder. What seemed to be a farmhouse in the distance also looked like a music stand from which more notes were emanating and joining the chorus in successive waves. To the left stood an enormous red-branched tree with a fine display of sinewy extremities. In the left distance what appeared to be a striped orange and brown mountain also seemed to become part of the foliage of the red tree, suggesting a colorful bonnet or regal canopy of fantastic size and character. Surprisingly I do not remember hearing any explicit forms of music in the midst of this dream, yet there was dynamic motion, color and possibly just the mysterious sound of a solo violin. At this time (1986) I was working full time as a letter carrier for the US Postal Service and had not played a musical instrument since 1965. In 2000 some friends gave me a beautiful vintage Scandalli accordion which transformed the way I thought about music. Then I joined You Tube in 2009 and began to post some videos of accordion music including some improvisational pieces and folk and classical standards. In some respects I think that the dream of the floating violin and the imaginary landscape helped to re-ignite my passion for seeing and hearing the wondrous beauty of acoustic music. Despite my initial reluctance to try to capture this dream via visual Art, I found that the image came quickly and fairly easily once the process had begun. Correspondingly, the practice and study of music also came along so naturally with the gift of an accordion. It seems that we are only away for a short time and then we are ready to explore anew our musical or artistic roots. Once those notes are planted in the ground, we have only to look up to see the full picture.
Usery Mountain Recreational Park, just north of McKellips Road in Mesa, Arizona. The unique coloration of these mountains may have inspired some of the images seen in my original dream. The finished painting suggests the various stripes of tan and brown, transformed into the brown and orange pattern in the imaginary scene.
The original three inch diameter sketch on artist's paper, composed just after I experienced that unusual dream of the floating violin and imaginary landscape. I used color pens and tried to work quickly in order to fully capture the essence of the scene. The colors differ somewhat from the final painting but remain true to the spirit of the original vision.
A Musical Family
Over the years I have enjoyed the great recordings made by Felix Slatkin (1915-1963), a remarkable conductor, arranger, and superbly talented violinist. Slatkin was especially active throughout the 1940's, 50's and early 60's in orchestral performance and the making of many recordings. In the 1940's Slatkin served as concertmaster of the 20th Century Fox Studio Orchestra, later becoming the conductor of the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra (the summer name for the LA Philharmonic). He also was appointed as the conductor for the Concert Arts Orchestra, and became widely known as Frank Sinatra's concertmaster and conductor on Capitol Records, the legendary and highly popular LP label. Liberty Records issued a series of well-received albums under the title "The Fantastic Strings of Felix Slatkin." In 1958 the distinguished conductor received a Grammy Award for a recording of Offenbach's "Gaite Parisienne." In 1962 another Grammy nomination was issued for "The Fantastic Strings" album entitled "Hoedown."
A Distinguished Career in Music
Slatkin studied violin with Efrem Zimbalist and conducting with Fritz Reiner at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia. Leonard Slatkin, one of Felix's two sons, has served as Music Director of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Conductor Laureate of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, and Music Director of the National Symphony Orchestra. Frederick Zlotkin (original Russian spelling), Felix's second son, has served as cellist for the New York Philharmonic, Principal Cellist for the New York City Ballet, and cellist for the Lyric Piano Quartet.
Fred Zlotkin's Interview, Memories & Reflections
Fred Zlotkin offers some intriguing insights into the family background and early years together. The Zlotkin/ Slatkin ancestry is Russian Jewish from part of the Russian Empire now known as Ukraine. Grandfather Chaim Peretz Zlotkin (Felix's father) became the first to arrive in the United States, settling with relatives in St. Louis in 1913. Eleanor Aller, Fred's mother, was a gifted cellist. Fred also reflects upon his father's "fabulous sense of humor." Tragically, Felix Slatkin passed away at the early age of 47, a great loss for his family and also for the world of Classical and popular music.
Legendary Recordings and a Special Favorite
From 1958-1963 Felix Slatkin made many recordings for the Capitol label and also for the Liberty Premier Series. One of these great LP albums is entitled "Season's Greetings: The Fantastic Strings of Felix Slatkin," issued in 1961 on the Liberty label, later issued via cassette tape through Capitol (although in abbreviated form). Slatkin's orchestral approach toward Christmas carols and Holiday favorites offers strikingly refreshing arrangements. The liner notes state that the assembled string orchestra is comprised of 90 players, quite a large number. I love the sound of this magnificent string orchestra, a rather stunning recording given the full symphonic treatment for each individual selection. Each song is arranged and conducted in a highly imaginative manner, offering numerous orchestral highlights and superlative dimensions of atmosphere. In the liner notes to the LP, there appears a simple but evocatively true statement. "This album will endure long after the tree and ornaments are taken down."
A Colorful & Vivid Dream
Many years ago I awoke from a particularly vivid dream which I simply could not forget. Yet I did not think I could capture the full effect of this vision through drawing or painting or any other medium. In an attempt to graphically duplicate some of the dream's elements, I went into my studio and began to sketch on an artist's pad, trying to re-draw the forms and shapes and colors which I had so vividly seen just a few moments before. This sketch is represented here in a size closely representing the original 3" diameter pen & ink drawing.
An Atmospheric Landscape of Unusual Design
In my dream I visualized a brightly painted string instrument (violin, viola or cello) loftily sailing or silently floating above a large expanse of agrarian fields, allowing momentary musical notes to emanate from the instrument, each note gently descending into the cultivated soil below. Some of the notes disappeared entirely beneath the rust/ green fields while others almost seemed to become half-planted farm implements or scythes suited for agricultural harvest. There was a farmhouse in the distance which almost became a wooden music stand in my imaginative perception. A tree in the foreground appeared to be bright red instead of the usual earth colors we usually associate with the forest or hedges of greenery. The mountains in the left distance modeled a most unusual striped effect, exhibiting variations of orange and brown and almost seeming to become the feathered branches of the red tree in the foreground. The sky above breathed with a majesty of Prussian blue and a thousand small particles of ethereal light. From this elementary sketch I painted a more finished design in a 12" format via acrylic paint, a piece which now hangs on my living room wall. Both the original sketch and finished product come as close as I could have imagined in the capture and illustration of a vividly colorful dream.
Strings & Orchestral Sounds
This sketch reminds me of the evocative power of both the string orchestra and the symphonic orchestra, sounds which I have come to cherish ever since my first exposure to music in the 1950's. The string orchestra especially captivates my musical imagination in works such as Edvard Grieg's "Holberg Suite" Op. 40, Antonin Dvorak's "Serenade for Strings in E major" Op. 22, and Edward Elgar's "Serenade for Strings in E minor" Op. 20. All three of these marvelous compositions are performed by the Rotterdam Chamber Orchestra directed by Conrad van Alphen on Telarc. I also have the "Complete Music for String Orchestra" by Edvard Grieg featuring the Norwegian Chamber Orchestra led by Terje Tonnesen on BIS. Another superlative recording is entitled "Leroy Anderson: Sleigh Ride & Other Holiday Favorites" featuring the BBC Concert Orchestra conducted by Leonard Slatkin on Naxos. Anderson's "Suite of Carols for String Orchestra (1955)" radiates a positive and enchanting glow which I never tire of, no matter how often I listen. There is great charm in Anderson's inventive style as can be heard in "Sleigh Ride," "Horse & Buggy," "Suite of Carols for Brass Choir," "A Christmas Festival," "The Golden Years," "Suite of Carols for Woodwinds," "Angels in Our Fields," "Bugler's Holiday," and several other holiday favorites. Such music becomes indelibly woven into the inner textures of our cultural character, producing notes which gently fall to earth from stringed instruments, offering a rich and bountiful harvest for future ages.