Classical music meets Renaissance art in the Raphael Court at the V&A

The Victoria & Albert’s newly refurbished Raphael Court – home to one of the most important treasures of Renaissance art in the UK, the Raphael Cartoons –  was the spectacular backdrop for an orchestral performance by the Academy of St Martins in the Fields. The event was filmed, and marks a new type of collaboration between the worlds of classical music, art and film.

The Raphael Court at the V&A was renovated last year to mark the 500th anniversary of Raphael’s death. Now, the seven surviving Raphael Cartoons, which are on permanent loan to the V&A from the Royal Collection, can be viewed in their full magnificence, with more suitable lighting and freshly painted walls. Raphael created these works in 1515-16, and they depict the scenes from the Gospels and the Acts of the Apostles. Each cartoon measures an impressive 5 by 3.5 metres, and they were made by Raphael for a cycle of tapestries commissioned by Pope Leo X to be displayed in the Sistine Chapel.

With these seven cartoons as their backdrop – and inspiration – conductor Oliver Zeffman led the Academy of St Martins in the Fields, accompanied by violinist Viktoria Mullova in a performance of classical music which was filmed not only to record the music, but also to capture footage of the cartoons. Zeffman stated that he chose the music in response to Raphael’s works: “Raphael was a Neo-Platonist, part of a movement that looked back to the Classical world to emulate its clean lines and forms. A similar movement happens in classical music some time later”. The music Zeffman chose focused on the classical and neo-classical eras in music. As such, he included pieces by Mozart and Bach, but also later composers such as Arthur Hoenegger and Estonian Arvo Pärt.

The combination of classical music and art is certainly not a new one, and Zeffman points to the numerous occasions in which music and art have inspired one another. Yet this particular performance has taken on a certain poignancy after a year in which both the museum and live music industry have suffered considerably. Zeffman states, “lots of people have tried to replicate the live experience this past year […] but this tends to be putting cameras in an empty concert hall, and I don’t think that best replicates a live performance. The whole point of this album is to combine great classical music with engaging visual content that is made for the screen.”

A segment of the performance was played on BBC Newsnight last Friday, and this newly released ‘visual album’ can be streamed online.

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