For Met cu­ra­tor, per­for­mances are ex­hibits, too

The Washington Post Sunday - - MUSEUMS - BY ANNE MIDGETTE anne.midgette@wash­

In 2011, Li­mor Tomer, a cu­ra­tor and pro­ducer of avant-garde mu­si­cal events in New York, took over the Con­certs and Lec­tures se­ries at the Metropoli­tanArt. For 41 sea­sons un­der her pre­de­ces­sor, Hilde Li­mond­jian, the Met’s mu­sic of­fer­ings had fo­cused on well-re­garded soloists and cham­ber en­sem­bles. Tomer came in with dif­fer­ent ideas, gleaned from a ca­reer spent cu­rat­ing events every­where from the Brook­lyn Academy of Mu­sic and the Whit­ney to WNYC ra­dio to ex­per­i­men­tal spa­ces in Lower Man­hat­tan—not to men­tion a de­gree from Juil­liard and a 10-year ca­reer as a solo pi­anist.

Work­ing with an an­nual bud­get of about $3.9 mil­lion, Tomer, 53, pro­duces 45 to 60 per­for­mances a year plus 30 to 60 lec­tures and talks. Much of the work she presents is orig­i­nal. “What I’ve found works for me as a cu­ra­tor is to start with the artists,” she says. At the Met, this means spend­ing hours walk­ing through the gal­leries and col­lec­tions with a va­ri­ety of per­form­ers and cre­ators. This may re­sult in a piece played on an in­stru­ment from the mu­si­cal in­stru­ments col­lec­tion, such as the work Glenn Kot che, the drum­mer fort he bandWil co, wrote for a 19th-cen­tury stone har­mon­i­con. Or it may yield the video opera “La Ce­lestina,” which the col­lab­o­ra­tive Er­rat­ica de­vel­oped over more than three years for the Vélez Blanco Pa­tio, en­gag­ing the sculp­tures as char­ac­ters in a so­phis­ti­cated sound-and-light show.

One com­ing large-scale col­lab­o­ra­tion is “The Colorado River Project,” a film with live ac­com­pa­ni­ment, with mu­sic by John Luther Adams, Glenn Kotche, Wil­liam Brit­telle and Shara Wor­den, fea­tur­ing per­for­mances by Kotche, the cel­list Jef­frey Ziegler and the vo­cal en­sem­ble Room­ful of Teeth, ex­plor­ing the ecol­ogy and his­tory of the Colorado River Basin. The show will run in May 2016.

“My en­tire ca­reer was on the mar­gin of the mar­gin,” Tomer says. “Now I’m in a po­si­tion to open the door. But not ev­ery­one’s ready to walk through.”

Tomer’s com­ments, from a con­ver­sa­tion at the Met last month, have been con­densed and edited.

My first ques­tion when I got here was, “Why does the Met need a con­cert se­ries ?” My con­clu­sion was there is an op­por­tu­nity here, and the only thing we have to be is the Met. Then I started to try to fig­ure out what that meant.

I don’t have a se­ries that I have to fill, like boxes to check. I don’t have to fill this se­ries of eight cham­ber mu­sic con­certs and one new­mu­sic con­cert. More and more, we work with artists to put per­for­mances into gal­leries that be­have like ex­hi­bi­tions, not like con­certs. It’s not even about “You have to let peo­ple know that it’s go­ing to be at 8 o’clock on Tues­day, and you have to give them enough time to buy the ticket.” It’s just go­ing to be up, and you will come dur­ing this six-week pe­riod.

In the sum­mer, with “The Re­turn” [by the di­rec­tor and de­signer Reid Far­ring­ton], we did a theater piece that was in 26 episodes, each episode was 46 min­utes, and it would run dur­ing mu­seum hours all day. We had three pairs of per­form­ers. At any given mo­ment, one pair was per­form­ing, the fe­male was the do­cent and the male was play­ing Adam; one pair was run­ning the tech­nol­ogy for the pair that was per­form­ing; and one pair was rest­ing .[“The Re­turn” cen­tered on Tul­lio Lom­bardo’s sculp­ture of Adam; in the work, the statue comes to life on a com­puter screen and talks to the do cent and the au­di­ence .]

The way this is dif­fer­ent from per­for­mance art is more tac­ti­cal than philo­soph­i­cal. It’s about pro­duc­tion val­ues and the level of the ac­tors and the di­rec­tion and the dra­maturgy and the light­ing and the sound, which is where a lot of mu­se­ums, as they get into per­for­mance, just don’t have the built-in ex­per­tise.

[As an artist,] if you’re not flex­i­ble, it’s not go­ing to work. The sin­gle big­gest con­tribut­ing fac­tor to the suc­cess of [“The Re­turn,”] which was un­be­liev­ably com­plex and fraught, is that [Far­ring­ton] knew when to put up a fuss and when not to. We needed to drill a hole in the floor of a Met gallery, to run cable to the back stage, and we ac­tu­ally got the Met to agree. [But] he had a vi­sion of the six-foot screens be­ing ori­ented a cer­tain way, and they had to be ori­ented a dif­fer­ent way. For 21/2 years, we thought it was go­ing to look like this, and sud­denly it’s not go­ing to look like that. And he just got it, and he ad­justed to what it was go­ing to have to be. On the other hand, there were a cou­ple of points when he dug his heels in, and now in hind­sight I see how right he was. My ad­vice to artists, if they ever ask, I say be nice and know when to dig in and when not to.

We’ re still do­ing a fair amount of what I would call straight clas­si­cal mu­sic. It’s just in a com­pletely dif­fer­ent, spe­cific Met con­text. Even when I’m work­ing with the Chiara String Quar­tet [this year’s en­sem­ble in res­i­dence], ev­ery pro­gram was be­la­bored: Does it tie in with [any­thing ], andi fit ties in with noth­ing, how is it go­ing to be dif­fer­ent from the con­cert you’re go­ing to give next sea­son at [Alice] Tully [Hall]?

When I came, one of the spa­ces that was chal­leng­ing was the bal­cony bar, which tra­di­tion­ally had sort of back­ground clas­si­cal mu­sic. So I in­stalled the Ethel string quar­tet. And when they’re on tour, they cu­rate, they bring peo­ple in. It’s ev­ery Fri­day and Satur­day, 5 to 8, in the bal­cony bar, 52 weeks a year. And it is a pro­gram space. It’s not a restau­rant with back­ground mu­sic. This is not a con­cert hall, but it does not have to be de­graded. It can have in­tegrity.


Li­mor Tomer brings a va­ri­ety of ex­pe­ri­ences in the avant-garde mu­sic world to her work as head of the Con­certs and Lec­tures se­ries at the Metropoli­tan Mu­seum of Art in New York. “My en­tire ca­reer was on the mar­gin of the mar­gin,” Tomer says. “Now I’m in a po­si­tion to open the door.”

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