Maria Elena Gonzalez’s Skowhegan Birch #1, #2, and #3 sculptures, inspired by the markings of birch trees, were musical artworks begging to be activated. As a visual artist interested in experimental sound and composition, González sought the expertise of trained composers and musicians to help bring her works to life. Her Tree Talk exhibition at the Mills College Art Museum (2019) offered the perfect opportunity. Widely known for its experimental music program with trailblazing faculty and alumni, including John Cage, Pauline Oliveros, Guillermo Galindo, and others, González identified and secured collaborations with two composers in the graduate music program, John Ivers and Marc Zollinger. Their dynamic interpretations of González’s work built upon the school’s widely recognized history of artistic experimentation and collaboration. 

Additionally, in a closing program for the exhibition, González, Ivers, and Zollinger each played the Skowhegan Birch works using the player piano, or pianola, succinctly bridging nature, art, and music to further the dialogues of the project.

Tree Talk: Variations on Impression with John Ivers and the Dirt & Copper Ensemble, February 6, 2019 Composer/Conductor: John Ivers. Performers: Tony Gennaro, percussion; Julie Herndon, harmonium/electronics; John Ivers, clarinets; Michelle Lee, flutes; Matt Robidoux, guitar; Golnaz Shariatzadeh, violin.
Tree Talk: Variations on Impression with Marc Zolinger and the Illuminated Grey Ensemble, February 6, 2019 Composer/Conductor: Marc Zollinger. Performers: Curt Brown, electronics; Golnaz Shariatzadeh, violin; Mitch Stahlmann, flute; Rodolfo Cordova-Lebron, vocals; Tim Russell, percussion; Tony Gennaro, percussion; Lee Hodel, upright bass; Jake Parker Scott, alto saxophone.
Tree Talk: Player Piano Recital, March 6, 2019. Performers (in order of appearance): María Elena González, Skowhegan Birch #1; John Ivers, Skowhegan Birch #2, Marc Zollinger, Skowhegan Birch #3.

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