WILLIAMSTOWN >> A goddess will consort with laundresses; art and music will mix, and music will lead to dinner. Look and listen for a "salad" of pleasures.
The Four Nations Ensemble will perform the concert – the first in a series of three at the Clark Art Institute – Saturday night in the Clark's iconic Impressionist Gallery. The combination of art and music, says Andrew Appel, the ensemble's harpsichordist, offers "a sense of entitlement to pleasure — that whatever pleasures there are, you just take them and enjoy them." That, he says, is the philosophy behind the French baroque music his group will play.
The program is keyed to two paintings by François Boucher in the Clark's collection: "Vulcan Presenting Arms to Venus for Adonis" and "Laundresses in a Landscape." The concert carries the theme "goddess and laundress."
Despite the Impressionist concert setting, Boucher (1703-1770) and the composers — Couperin, Rebel, Lambert, Clérambault and Guillemain — come from 18th-century France. Sensuous pleasure is what links painter and composers, Appel says. In the laundress painting, he says, "everything about the landscape is one incredible salad of dark summer green, and there are aspects of the music we're playing that are so tasty and so rich that they represent in music what Boucher's brush can put on a canvas."
The 6 p.m. program is preceded by an explanatory talk at 5:30 and followed by a French country dinner (separately priced; reservation deadline is today) at 7:30. The preconcert speakers will be Appel and the Clark's interim senior curator, Kathleen Morris.
The gallery will be set up with chairs for about 150 listeners. Although the Boucher paintings are displayed in a different gallery, images of them will be available and concertgoers will be encouraged to view the originals before the concert or during intermission.
The core Four Nations Ensemble consists of soprano Pascale Beaudin, two violins, cello and harpsichord. They will be joined Saturday by Grammy Award-winning tenor Aaron Sheehan and viola da gambist Josh Lee.
Now 25 years old, the ensemble takes its name from The College of Four Nations, created by Louis XIV and Mazarin to show the glory of Paris and Versailles in the 17th and 18th centuries. The four nations, as recognized by the French crown, were France, Spain, Austria and Savoy.
Concerts showing the relationship between painting and music are fairly common. Appel, who lives nearby in Craryville, N.Y., has given numerous programs in both museums and schools. He mentions the New York Historical Society, with its Hudson River paintings and Audubon drawings, and the Detroit Institute of Arts among previous venues.
In the Chatham, N.Y., schools 10 years ago, he created a program of arts festivals to illustrate social studies themes. Though he is no longer involved, the program goes on today.
In a telephone conversation, Appel said he has always loved the Clark, and with the recent expansion "it's much more lovable now" – an international destination, in fact. Being surrounded by visual beauty in a museum setting like the Clark, he said, opens an audience "to any communication, any beautiful communication, that's going to come their way."
And though the Impressionists came after Boucher, Renoir, whose paintings are featured in the gallery, was strongly influenced by Boucher, Appel said. A further connection in the program: Couperin played the organ at Boucher's parents' wedding.
The speakers, Appel said, will point out deeper connections between art on the walls and art from musical instruments. For example, he said, French interest in the mythological gods (Vulcan, etc.) led to deification of composers of the time.
The second program in the series, on June 18, will be "The Nude – Sacred and Erotic," timed to a Clark exhibit of European nudes from the Prado. Paintings by Titian, Guercino, Zurbaran and Veronese will be complemented with music by Monteverdi, Strozzi, Rameau, Purcell, Bach and Byrd. A third program, on a Spanish theme, is planned for early October.
Appel credits an anonymous patron with making the series possible. Working with colleagues from the Clark has made the opportunity even brighter, he said. "When you tell any musician that they are going to give a concert in an art museum, looking at art, they are so inspired and thrilled" that – well, the harpsichordist said, they can't resist.
What: An Evening of Baroque Music — works by Couperin, Clérambault, Rebel, Lambert, Guillemain, Rameau — inspired by art from the Clark collection (followed by family-style French country supper — separate admission)
Who: Four Nations Ensemble
When: 6 p.m. Saturday (pre-concert discussion at 5:30; supper at 7:30)
Where: Impressionist Gallery, Clark Art Institute, 225 South St., Williamstown
Tickets: concert — $20 adults; free — children under 12 and students with valid ID. supper (reservation deadline is today) — $45 adults; $40 members: $15 children under 12