Presenting The Vexations

For 27 years, PCM presented our signature concert series Mansions & Music (M&M), featuring talented faculty performing in intimate and architecturally significant venues. In June 2020, following the shutdown of our campus, we introduced Musical Interludes, a virtual adaption of M&M. Our hope is that these programs serve as a bridge between pre- and post-Covid-19 concerts.

Our third Musical Interlude, inspired by the novel The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks, premiered on Sunday, February 28. Through performances recorded by PCM faculty Dr. Nic Gerpe and Dr. Kathryn Eames, and narration by actress and PCM Board Member Jane Kaczmarek, the program offers a glimpse into Satie’s world, with vignettes drawn from passages in the novel and Satie scholarship.

Immediately following the premiere, Dr. Gerpe, Dr. Eames, and Ms. Kaczmarek, as well as PCM’s Director of Marketing and Communications Matt Bookman, who co-directs and edits our Musical Interludes, discussed their unique roles in creating the program. Listeners (and PCM!) were both surprised and delighted to have an unexpected guest: Caitlin Horrocks, the author of The Vexations. Ms. Horrocks graciously shared insights and answered questions from our audience about her novel and its characters. (To listen to Ms. Horrocks in the Meet and Greet, click here.)

Using the novel as inspiration to select the program repertoire, Dr. Gerpe shared that, “this book was really fascinating to me, because it’s about Satie, but, in a way, it reads like a Venn Diagram of Satie’s life because there are so many different perspectives looking at him… [to me] the program needed to include not just Satie but composers who both influenced his writing and style, and, who he in turn influenced.”

Man in a face maks plays piano in a dark room

Dr. Gerpe selected well-recognized pieces by Satie (Gnossienne No. 1 and Gymnopedie No. 1) and Debussy (Pagodes and Cakewalk), as well as a sampler of what may be Satie’s more eccentric pieces, complete with unusual titles and whimsical commentary (Bureaucratic Sonatina and Dried Embryos), and pieces by his group of protégés, Les Six.

The Vexations concert film also included actress Ms. Kaczmarek, a longtime adult student and board member at PCM. Through her narration as Satie’s sister, Louise, Ms. Kaczmarek highlighted Satie’s various friendships and relationships in between the performances. As she read the novel, Ms. Kaczmarek commented how “Louise does not enjoy any of the support – financially or emotionally – that her brother Erik does. And yet, she’s not really bitter about it… Her circumstances are so poignant, they’re heartbreaking. It’s so beautiful, but in trying to think about how Louise is worked into this book, she’s very utilitarian. Which is I think what women were at that time.”

Preparing for a virtual program like this in the middle of a pandemic comes with an entirely new set of challenges, both with production, which includes social distancing and sanitization protocols and test screenings, and with how the performers prepare for the recording.

Woman with face mask plays piano in a dark room

Dr. Eames shared how during the pandemic, there hasn’t been, what she refers to, the typical seasoning process. There isn’t the ability “to grab a couple colleagues when I’m at work and say I need to run through this, I need to get nervous in front of you. Nic and I would do that very often when we were in the halls at PCM. To not have that seasoning process was a bit of a challenge, but I just had to approach my practicing in a different way and, a little more consciously, think about how I’m memorizing and how I’m preparing for the recording.”

She also shared how in a recording session, “there’s this urge to get every detail just right. To be able to let go of little things and just think about the big picture is challenging in any recording session.”

Following the shoot, the audio is mastered and the video footage is color graded in order to achieve the desired aesthetic and consistent sound throughout the recording. Once the footage is treated, the editing process begins.

16 faces each in a different box. A zoom meeting.

During the Meet and Greet, Mr. Bookman discussed how and why we arrived at the “dark and moody” feel and tone and more general “cinematic approach” in comparison to our previous Musical Interludes. He also shared a couple of key references that were considered when arriving at the artistic direction of the project, including Thorton Wilder’s Our Town and a scene from the film Inside Llewyn Davis.

“Mansions and Music, our signature series for the past 27 years, provided a wonderful opportunity to connect our supporters with our faculty and musician friends. And while we miss the intimacy of the live performances, Musical Interludes has provided a means to sustain those connections. These programs are an expression of gratitude to our supporters and the community at large,” says Executive Director Stephen McCurry.

We look forward to presenting our next Musical Interlude, inspired by Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto, in late spring 2021. Stay tuned for more details. Click here to visit our Youtube page to view previous Musical Interludes.