Barnes to perform inside 'Greenpoint' for Lincoln Calling

· 5 min read

Barnes to perform inside ‘Greenpoint’ for Lincoln Calling

Paul Barnes
Paul Barnes

Paul Barnes, Marguerite Scribante Professor of Piano in the Glenn Korff School of Music, will perform a special program of composer Philip Glass’ works inside “Greenpoint,” a sculpture by Richard Serra on the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s City Campus, at noon May 1. The performance is free and open to the public.

The performance pays tribute to the creative relationship between Glass and Serra, who died March 26. It will kick off the Lincoln Calling music and arts festival, presented by the Lincoln Arts Council. Glass once worked as an assistant for Serra after the two befriended each other in Paris in the early 1960s. Glass and violinist Tim Fain played a concert inside the installation “Richard Serra: Equal” in New York City in 2015. Barnes has worked with Glass for 29 years, including two commissions and several transcriptions and recordings of his work.

The idea for the project in Lincoln came from Darren Keen, a stage manager and adviser for Lincoln Calling, who is producing the event.

Paul Barnes stands inside the Richard Serra sculpture, “Greenpoint,” where he will perform a program of works by Philip Glass on May 1 to kick off Lincoln Calling.
Paul Barnes stands inside the Richard Serra sculpture “Greenpoint,” where he will perform a program of works by Philip Glass on May 1 to kick off Lincoln Calling.

“I am a longtime fan of Richard Serra, and I have always wanted to throw a guerilla concert inside the ‘Greenpoint’ sculpture,” Keen said. “When Serra died, and I was doing some work for Lincoln Calling, it simply manifested in my mind. Removing my ego from it and getting Paul to perform instead of me playing my silly dance music seemed like an appropriate, beautiful tribute that connects lots of dots for fans and also the art itself.”

Barnes was, at first, unsure.

“When he asked me, I said, ‘Oh, that’s insane. There’s no way this could work,’” he said. “But then again, I think about all the weird places that I’ve played in. I remember we shipped a grand piano into the Capitol Rotunda, and the acoustics there are insane. They wanted to do it because Philip Glass had such an important relationship with Richard Serra. And it made sense for me because of my relationship with Glass. I’m always interested in bringing Glass’ music to different communities, and the Lincoln Calling audience is a very different group that’s probably not going to show up in Kimball Recital Hall or the Lied Center. It’s a way of reaching a different community, and I’m always interested in creating a more inclusive performance community and introducing them to music they would otherwise not be able to hear.”

Serra’s “Greenpoint,” south of Mueller Tower, is a key landmark on campus and one of 33 outdoor sculptures from the collection of Sheldon Museum of Art installed across the university’s City and East campuses.

According to an article on the sculpture following the artist’s death, Serra and George Neubert, then-director of Sheldon, chose the site of the sculpture, a hub in the network of walkways between Mueller Tower and Love Library, to encourage interplay with existing structures and interaction with pedestrians. The work was dedicated Dec. 11, 1992.

“Greenpoint” is composed of a pair of three-inch-thick Cor-Ten steel walls, each measuring 19 feet by 16 feet and weighing 40,000 pounds. The concave vertical walls face one another, creating an interior space for the viewer to experience in addition to the work’s exterior.

Barnes’ half-hour program will include the Epilogue from Monsters of Grace; Trilogy Sonata for Piano: II. Act 3, Conclusion from Satyagraha; Orphée Suite: IV Orphée and the Princess; Etude No. 16; and Trilogy Sonata for Piano: III. Dance (From Act 2, Scene 2 of Akhnaten).

“I’m very excited about the five pieces that I selected, and they will resonate interestingly in that space,” Barnes said. “It’s bringing back such great memories. The Dance from Akhnaten was my very first transcription of Glass’ music. I play it so much better now than 20 years ago.”

One unknown for Barnes and the organizers is what the acoustics will be inside the sculpture when he starts playing the piano.

“I have no clue what it’s going to sound like when that piano gets delivered,” he said. “It’s funny, when I was heading over to the Nebraska Young Artist Awards lunch with all my piano winners, we went inside the sculpture, and I told them about this project. I belted out a Greek Orthodox hymn, and, oh my god, the sound was just swimming everywhere.”

Morgan Cowell and Great Plains Piano are donating the Petrof piano that will be used for the event. Liana Sandin and the Pearle Francis Finigan Foundation are sponsoring moving the instrument from Omaha to Lincoln that morning for the event.

“We thought visually it would be great to have the piano lid off because we’re going to have drones shooting down,” Barnes said. “But the sound might be insane, or maybe not. Maybe it will just go straight up and out into the universe. We just don’t know. We’ll decide that morning after the piano is delivered.”

Barnes hopes audiences will appreciate the unique experience of hearing this program inside the Serra sculpture.

“What I would love for them to experience is the fascinating convergence between the utter majesty of Serra’s work and its mammoth proportions, and the rawness of the metal material,” Barnes said. “And then they would be able to see the connection between Philip’s unique musical language having that same static depth — a beautiful, moving mass of sound. I want it to be a unique experience in a very unique space.”

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