FARGO — With a wave of her wandlike paint brush, former Fargo-Moorhead Symphony Orchestra Director Linda Boyd brings to life a sprawling castle on stage in a recent virtual concert.
A steady tympani beat marches along in the background as evenly spaced musicians play all around her. Boyd blocks in the windows and doors, turrets and roofs, erecting each large stone wall with a flick of her hand.
She follows the orchestra’s cue as they play an arrangement of Russian composer Modest Mussorgsky’s “The Old Castle.”
The special performance that began streaming online April 27 was masterminded as a way to continue the Young People’s Concert, which has been going on for decades as a way of introducing fourth graders each year to the families of instruments.
"So many people will say, 'The first time I ever heard a symphony orchestra was in the fourth grade,'" says Boyd, the longtime executive director for FMSO until her retirement at the end of 2019.
Now focusing on family and her creative pursuits, Boyd was approached by associate conductor for the orchestra, Jane Linde Capistran, to get involved in a new way with the organization.
Using a Mussorgsky composition called “Pictures at an Exhibition,” Capistran devised a concert that would follow an age-old concept combining classical music with the beauty of art.
"She really brings an educator's perspective to it," remarks Boyd about Capistran’s approach to the virtual concert.
With a strict limitation on musician capacity and masked for their protection, the symphony members followed Capistran bar for bar as a camera crew captured the magic last week.
“It really takes this whole village to make a production like that,” Capistran says about the unprecedented and innovative formula for the concert.
Designed to introduce children to the various instruments of the orchestra as they consider which one they might study in their school programs, this year’s theme of paint, create, doodle and draw offered up plenty of interactive elements, including Boyd’s live painting as well as images of paintings by Marjorie Schlossman.
Originally composed for piano in a suite of 10 pieces, “Pictures at an Exhibition” takes inspiration from the pictures of artist, architect and designer Viktor Hartmann.
Many of the pieces have since been lost to time, making it impossible to be sure which pieces Mussorgsky had in mind when he composed the piece — including the old castle.
“I’ve always loved that piece of music, so to have an active role to play that wasn't music was really fun,” Boyd says.
Although she was thrilled at the prospect of doing a live painting, Boyd admits it “had me in a panic at first.”
Originally thinking she would need to speed-paint an entire castle in under five minutes, Boyd went through several test canvases as quickly as possible, which have since been painted over, she says.
However, after learning a little camera magic would help her in the long run, Boyd was able to conceptualize a much more complicated painting, having the background and foundational pieces partially completed going into the concert.
To prepare for her painting performance, Boyd set out to rent a studio inside the creative arts incubator called Aptitude at West Acres Shopping Center that's home to a range of creatives who make and sell work out of their individual studios.
Inside the dedicated art space, Boyd says the studio opens up possibilities and keeps her creative. With artwork ready to be discovered around every corner of the mall, inspiration is never far.
“When I get stuck on a snag, I’ll grab my keys and go out and see, well, how did these other artists do it?” Boyd says.
And when she needs some company at the studio, Boyd enlists the help of her 2-year-old granddaughter, Zoya Ross Gupta, who happily tags along for paint time and art explorations around the mall.
With the symphony inspiring thousands of students through the Young People’s Concert, the larger-than-life experience of experiencing live music isn’t lost this year even though the coronavirus pandemic halted in-person performances.
Foundational memories of watching a real-life symphony orchestra are just as fresh today for the seasoned professionals, too.
“I remember going to hear them (FMSO) at Fargo Central High School back in the day, so I was probably 4 or 5 even,” says Capistran, who grew up with the symphony thanks to her father, Erling Linde, principal flutist in his day.
As for Boyd’s future artistic pursuits, there’s still room for new discoveries in her Aptitude studio.
“I’m excited about being retired and having the luxury of time to just explore things and see where it goes,” Boyd says.
The FMSO Young People’s Concert is supported by the Moorhead Rotary, Kiwanis Club of Fargo, The Learning Bank, Xcel Energy Foundation and Your Classical MPR.
To watch the full concert, visit www.fmsymphony.org/young-peoples-concerts.
This article is part of a content partnership with The Arts Partnership, a nonprofit organization cultivating the arts in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo. For more information, visit http://theartspartnership.net.