In 2009, a 17-year-old emigrated from the country of Georgia to the state of Georgia. That 17-year-old is now Emory alumnus Nikoloz Kevkhisvili (13C), who wrote and directed a film that the Emory Wind Ensemble accompanied live for its debut concert of the 2017-18 season.
The Ensemble debuted its 2017-18 season Oct. 20, serving up a ravishing performance of works from musical masterminds Andrea Gabrieli, Leonard Bernstein and Emory’s Director of Performance Studies Richard Prior, who composed the score for Kevkhisvili’s short film, “In Her Image.” The film, directed and written by Kevkhisvili, premiered last Friday at the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts with live accompaniment by the Ensemble.
At Emory, Kevkhisvili found a place to cultivate his love of movies, graduating with a bachelor’s in film studies with a concentration in film and media management. After spending his years at Emory gaining experience in the film industry and writing and directing a short film, “Saerto Ena,” he decided to return to his roots and make a sci-fi thriller that explores virtual reality and artificial intelligence against the backdrop of his home country. Although “In Her Image” takes place in Tbilisi, Georgia, Kevkhishvili turned to Prior to compose the film score and Ensemble Conductor Paul Bhasin, to conduct the Ensemble for the score’s recording, which made its debut at the concert.
And then, for the much-anticipated part of the spectacle: the grand premiere of Kevkhishvili’s film, “In Her Image.”
The stage lights dimmed and the Ensemble’s music stands’ lights brightened as the 20-minute film began to run on a screen hovering over the musicians. As the conductor, Bhasin had a personal monitor screen that displayed film cues alongside the on-screen visuals to help him guide the Ensemble during the performance.
The film itself focuses on the journey of a Georgian mother determined to find her son, who is trapped within the confines of virtual reality. Subsequently, the film’s score capitalized on the film’s recurring themes of maternal love in the face of adversity and authenticity versus artificiality by using instruments in innovative ways. For instance, a foreboding, enigmatic harp trickled into the opening titles, dispensing an air of disorientation and mystery among the audience. In another scene, the audience both saw and heard the unnerving scrape of someone plucking the strings inside a piano, which added to the ethereal elements that frequented the film. Later in the film, I could’ve sworn I detected a bit of cowbell, a rustic touch that appropriately conveyed feelings of entrapment and coercion, given the nature of the scene.
As the film weaved in and out of the “real world,” subtle cues from the score helped to determine the goings-on in a film so complex, otherworldly and reminiscent of other sci-fi films like “Inception” or “The Matrix.” Yet, “In Her Image” truly captured my attention with its plot twists and fantastic visuals which, when coupled with the music, measured up to a refined, well-made film that garnered much applause and incited my desire for a second viewing.
Earlier in the evening, the Ensemble started with Malcolm Arnold’s “Four Scottish Dances (1957).” Composed of four dance movements, the piece offered the audience a taste of different musical flavors, varying from a heavy, ceremonious march to a heavenly, lilting tune. Much of the music appropriately evoked impressions of Scotland and its cultural landscape, incorporating hauntingly beautiful solos from instruments such as the harp and the bassoon. The fourth and final movement wrapped up the piece with a vigorous performance of the ensemble at full force and another literal bang that left my ears waiting, ready for more.
After a brief maneuvering of musicians, Bhasin introduced the next piece, Gabrieli’s “Aria Della Battaglia (1567),” as the “progenitor of all polyphonic music as we hear it today,” noting its revolutionary use of independent melodies played simultaneously. The gorgeous interweaving lines of complicated harmonies bounced off the echo-friendly walls of Emerson Concert Hall. Any true lover and aficionado of 16th century Venetian music would’ve appreciated the Ensemble’s dignified yet delicate rendition of Gabrieli’s opus.
Next on the program came my personal favorite, Bernstein’s heralded and musically diverse Suite from “Mass (1971).” Five brass soloists from the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra graced the stage with heartwarming performances in front of the Ensemble. The eclectic array of instruments, sheer grandiosity and heavy use of percussion awakened the audience from their comfortable stupor. The emotional journey that the audience embarked on was moving to the point that the final chord elicited two emphatic “bravo”s from somewhere to the left of me.
After the film, the Ensemble wrapped up the concert with Dan Welcher’s “Zion,” a movement inspired by Zion National Park in Utah. A slideshow of breathtaking photos of the Utah landscape throughout the seasons accompanied the music, matching perfectly the beauty and majesty of the mountains, canyons and rivers with the adventurous, earth-shaking melodies of the Ensemble.
Filled with tremendous musical talents, radical pieces and an out-of-this-world film, the Wind Ensemble concert blew me away and justly received a standing ovation.
Correction 11/4/17: A previous version of this article stated that director Nikoloz Kevkhisvili (13C) enrolled in the College in order to “escape military conflict in Georgia”, when in fact he enrolled a year after the cessation of conflict. As well, Kevkhisvili both wrote and directed the short film “Saerto Ena.” The article has been updated to reflect both facts.