In the (excellent) issue of The New Yorker Magazine dated January 18, 2021, music critic Alex Ross reports on an experiential encounter with Wagner that was provided by artist David Hockney.
Ross got his hands on an auto route that Hockney had laid out, accompanied by segments from Wagner’s works that Hockney had selected, sequenced, timed and “curated.” The route began at the corner of Las Flores Canyon Road and Pacific Coast Highway (CA-101) in Malibu, and wended its way along Malibu Canyon Road, through the Santa Monica Mountains, onto the vertiginous Piuma Road, past the Malibu Canyon Overlook and back to the point of departure.
Ross reports that serendipity played a large role: experiencing the extraordinary views as the Parsifal prelude began, “the weightless sonorities and blended timbres of the composer’s late style suited the veering, dissolving perspectives of the drive….” And despite the pedestrian nature of the scene of middle-aged men toting surfboards off the beach at the end of the day, thanks to the accompanying Funeral March, “when the sun plunged into the ocean on cue, it was like no other sunset I had seen — the final frame of a live film with an invisible director.”
Hockney is a plastic artist — he creates objects, not events. He has designed sets for theatre, however, including for the Los Angeles Opera’s 1987 production of Tristan. And designing this experience — individually experienced while driving a car in Southern California — Hockney may have touched a unique string in our hearts, made all the more poignant in this hollow period of hiatus from live performance:
“When I [created the route and the soundtrack], I could only take two people in the car. But I did realize it was a kind of performance piece or performance art. It was now. It was only now — when it was over, it was gone. Performance is now, isn’t it? It has to be now.”