So the binary goes: Music is a thing that happens. Concerts begin and end and are essentially unrepeatable; their quality is entropic. Art, however, hangs there mercilessly, in a gallery, waiting to be experienced. So it was a curious thing when five concerts materialized inside the Museum of Modern Art on Wednesday, harmony and dissonance moving spectrally through the galleries, attracting puzzled spectators and drawing through multiple galleries a small devoted army of John Zorn fans—who, in celebration of his 60th birthday, were there to see five of his works performed deliberately against the sculptures and paintings he admires.
At 12:30 p.m. harpist Carol Emanuel and vibist Kenny Wollesen performed Zorn’s Gnostic Preludes in a room dreamily appointed by Monet’s Water Lilies. This performance of the Preludes was subtracted Bill Frissell’s guitar, and the absence made them watery. They were strictly composed, the most melodic of the performances, yet they had an open and weightless quality, near absorbent. Museum attendees not there for the performance would graze it, their conversation babbling gently against the crystalline scales. In his Water Lilies Monet imagined and reimagined his garden pond in Giverny, incorporating into his paintings over a period of years washes of cloud, innumerable variations of green. They are massive and overwhelmingly formless, a document of some liminal stage of seeing, before the brain establishes shapes.
In the Paul Klee room the artworks are, scale-wise, comparatively modest; there is little sense of playing against the monumental when among Klee’s small, frenzied canvases, where Chris Otto and Dave Fulmer performed Zorn’s Apophthegms for Two Violins. The individual pieces were hurried and percussive, almost indecipherable—clustered notes diving at you from a silence. It had the mosaic quality of Klee’s work, ascending and descending ideas, differently colored implications of a structure. [...]