When music and photos ‘dance,’ nature sings


Natural Showcase / 11.23.19 / Thalia Mara Hall / 7:30 pm

Sunlight winks from behind a craggy mountainside, bathes a desert flower in showy warmth, or blasts a canyon in spotlight glory. All the while, a symphonic swell puts sound to the sights for an effect best described as stunning, squared.

That’s “Natural Showcase” for you, Mississippi Symphony Orchestra’s Bravo II concert that, in collaboration with Westwater Arts, weds magnificent music with equally magnificent imagery from the American West and Southwest.

In this concert, “Canyonlands” explores landscapes of the desert Southwest to the tune of Bach, Fauré, Diamond and Elgar, while “Rodeo!” trots out lively scenes from small town rodeos to — you guessed it — Copland’s “Rodeo.”

Nicholas Bardonnay, Westwater Arts photographer/multimedia artist

Three big screens behind the orchestra become a triptych canvas for a live “dance” of images— panoramic and single — that step hand in hand with the music. It’s photochoreography, and while “I’m not throwing dancers in the air, like in the ballet,” says Nicholas Bardonnay, Westwater Arts photographer/multimedia artist, the art form is akin to a dance in many ways. The images’ meaning, pacing, feel — all are cued to what’s going on with the music.

The music’s emotional depth in “Canyonlands” imparts “this kind of epic and mysterious and just, inspirational quality,” Bardonnay says, to scenes from seven national parks that are vast and intimate, arid and lush. On the flip side, “Rodeo!” combines fun and lively movements with others that pay broad, sweeping tribute to the Western landscape, lifestyle and heritage. A few might even elicit a chuckle or two. “It’s nice to liven it up in the concert hall.”

MSO’s “Natural Showcase” concert also includes Benjamin Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes” from the opera “Peter Grimes,” and “River Rouge Transfiguration” by Missy Mazzoli.

Nature’s pull is a strong one for Bardonnay, who was on a cycling trip in the Mojave Desert with his wife and colleague, Zena, for this phone interview.

The concert’s twin showcase of nature and classical music also highlights a range of photography expertise. Landscapes in “Canyonlands” often required a tripod, and waiting for the right combination of light, shadow and subject. “You’re definitely tipping your hat a little bit to the weather gods and hoping that they will help you.”

The pace was faster and more mobile at amateur, pickup rodeos, where local and regional ranchers came to strut their stuff. Bardonnay was able to go behind the scenes — in the chutes, and up close with cowboys and cowgirls — to capture the action, and also the atmosphere, Hispanic heritage and family fun.

Nowadays, nearly everyone has a camera on their cell phone, ready at hand. “Surprisingly, you can do a lot with those,” Bardonnay says, and while he doesn’t use one for photographic productions, he turns to it more often than his regular arsenal of cameras for snapshots and documentation in the field. Ease of use is the main reason, he says but it’s also that old adage, “The best camera that you can have is the one that you have with you.” If something in front of you inspires you, a cell phone camera can catch it quickly.

Other concerns weigh in, too. On this desert bike expedition, for instance, “I’d rather carry more water than a camera,” he says with a chuckle.

With so many different types of photography and shooting styles, “It’s really important for people to gravitate toward what brings them joy,” Bardonnay says. Focusing on these projects does it for him. “To me, that brings a lot of joy, to get enveloped in an idea or in a concept and run with it, and see where it goes — especially when I know I have great music that’s going to be paired with it eventually.”


11.23.19 / Thalia Mara Hall / 7:30 pm / Jackson, MS

Tickets $27 & up: buy here >

students/children (ages 4-18) $5 

BENJAMIN BRITTEN: Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes

CANYONLANDS VISUAL CONCERTO BY WESTWATER ARTS: Johann Sebastian Bach: Air from Orchestral Suite No. 3 Gabriel Fauré: Pavane David Diamond: Adagio from Rounds for String Orchestra Edward Elgar: Sospiri, Op. 70 Nicholas Bardonnay, Photographer & Multimedia Artist

MISSY MAZZOLI: River Rouge Transfiguration

RODEO! VISUAL CONCERTO BY WESTWATER ARTS: Aaron Copland: Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo

  • Buckaroo Holiday

  • Corral Nocturne

  • Saturday Night Waltz

  • Hoedown

Nicholas Bardonnay, Photographer & Multimedia Artist

Concert sponsored by: Selby and Richard McRae Foundation

Meyer & Genevieve Falk Endowment Fund For Culture and Arts of the Community Foundation For Mississippi

Clarion Ledger