That curious neurological condition known as musical synaesthesia, or hearing in colour, is more widespread that you might think. Russian composer Alexander Scriabine didn't so much suffer from it, as revel in it.
It's implicitly accepted in opera, as when David Hockney is allowed to paint the stage, and it's the design principle on which all rock concerts are based (coloured lights reinforcing the effect of the music). The pianist Hélène Grimaud tells me that every piece she plays has its own colour, which she sees vividly in her mind's eye, but word has yet to filter through to classical concert managers, whose players traditionally perform in an unvarying light.
So it's nice to find the Navarra String Quartet celebrating Haydn's anniversary with a performance of his Seven Last Words accompanied by a series of vast projected paintings by the Australian artist Jamie Boyd. The violinist Xander van Vliet had the idea: "When I was very young," he says, "I was taken to a concert where an artist was painting live during the performance, and I was intrigued, as the art forms seemed to feed off each other. We've played this work by Haydn a lot, and the seven pieces are so different in character and colour that they cry out for this treatment. Jamie instantly saw the point of the idea, and with us putting our ideas in, but giving him complete artistic freedom, the thing just grew." He's used raw pigment rather than paint, for the most powerful impact, and created seven giant paintings reminiscent of Gauguin and Chagall. Should work well.
Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester 31 May (www.rncm.ac.co.uk)Reuse content