Behind the Scenes, Getty Center

Travertine Improv

Master musicians spontaneously transform wood and stone into avant-garde sound

Spontaneous drumming on travertine, a reunion and duet of two long-lost friends, a migratory cellist—this was my Friday evening. I became part of a sea of music-hungry humans wandering to guess an itinerant musician’s next move.

Avant-garde Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger showed up at the Getty Center to give pop-up performances at various locations around the site last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Without an announced start time or even location, the visitors in the right place at the right time were certainly surprised—and delighted.

To say it was a musical recital isn’t quite right, as Reijseger “played” the cello by drumming it, scraping it across the floor, climbing into trees, screaming into walls, laughing with children in the crowd, pounding on travertine, and wandering around the site seemingly guided by playful intuition and friendly musical spirits.

I also witnessed a special reunion straight from the world of a fantastical musical. Midway through his Friday evening performance, Reijseger wandered up into a tree in the Museum Courtyard. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a man drumming on the travertine, slapping a different note out of each block. As if pulled by a magnet, Reijseger joined him in a lively demonstration of creative spontaneity, which drew resounding applause and cheers from the crowd. I was fortunate to capture a few moments of their duet on video.

The mystery man was Daniel Licht, musician and composer of, among other things, the haunting music for the show Dexter. He had worked with Reijseger in Holland over 20 years ago and hadn’t seen him since! Based in Los Angeles, Licht got a heads-up from Reijseger that he’d be at the Getty Center in the days leading up to his talk with filmmaker Werner Herzog, who features Reijseger’s music in his video installation Hearsay of the Soul.

“I’ve always tried to see what kinds of sounds I can make in any environment I’m in,” Dan told me. “I thought I would sneak up with him and join the performance.”

It was such a pleasure to witness compelling music, a surprising reunion, and, as a final treat, a cotton-candy sunset over Los Angeles as Reijseger played his last notes.

Colorful sunset over the Getty Center, Los Angeles / August 5, 2013

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      It’s been 125 years since Van Gogh’s death, today we celebrate his life’s work.


      5 Ways to See Van Gogh’s Irises

      Through observations, visitor conversations, and some sneaky eavesdropping, we’ve compiled the top 5 ways people enjoy this painting.

      1. In a Crowd
        One of the most obvious ways that people see the painting is in a crowd. The gallery is almost always filled, and you might have to wait before you can get up close. The anticipation builds as you start in the back row, and slowly move until you are close enough to see the brushstrokes of Van Gogh’s thick paint.

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      3. Alone
        If you arrive right at 10 a.m. when the museum opens, the quiet gallery provides a perfect backdrop to really examine the painting. Solitude and seclusion gives the gallery a sense of intimacy. 

      4. Multiple Times
        Repeat visits can give rise to multiple interpretations. Is it a melancholy or joyous painting? Expressive or depressive? 

      5. Internationally
        Visitors from all across the world viewed this famous Van Gogh. In just one hour you can hear multiple languages—French, Italian, Chinese, Korean, German, and more. Irises seems to rise above cultural boundaries—a Dutch painting inspired by Japanese ukiyo-e prints—to strike an emotional resonance amongst all viewers. 

      What is your favorite lens to view Van Gogh’s work through? 

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