An Audience with the Trees (2005) presents a ‘performance’ of Vivaldi’s Menagerie, a concerto for violin and strings that I wrote for the Orchestra of St John’s in 2003. The music of the concerto reworks melodic material from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. An Audience with the Trees takes electronic samples of birdsong, recorded in rural Oxford, and distributes them across the range of each instrumental part from Vivaldi’s Menagerie (solo violin, first violin, second violin, viola, cello, bass), using a unique bird-call for each part. Thus, each of these six ‘birds’ gives a ‘performance’ of one of the individual parts of the violin concerto.

The installation ‘reverses’ a process of representation that underwrites live performances of Vivaldi’s famous concertos. Instead of string players imitating the songs of birds in order to create a musical performance, visitors walking past the birdboxes hanging on the trees hear an avian ensemble imitating the melodic parts of an existing piece of music for string sextet. An Audience with the Trees seeks to ‘return’ Vivaldi’s Four Seasons to nature and resolve its mimetic aspeirations. After all, why make a violin sound like a bird? The absence of the solo violin (to be found nearby, at a separate location) from the accompanying ensemble expands this general theme of ontological restitution as the bird-soloist seeks to return to the unity of the flock-ensemble. Finally, through its present site at the foot of raked seating, the installation makes a parody of the concert experience, particularly the acts of sitting still, facing a single direction, listening to music.

copyright © N.G. Brown 2005