Frank Horvat explained how he uses music to illustrate issues in the world.
Darkness can evoke feelings of unrest and intimidation for some. For composer and pianist Frank Horvat, it is a source of inspiration.
Horvat’s performance last Saturday at Jacobs Music on Chestnut Street was part of the tail-end of his 60-plus city Green Keys tour across Canada and the United States, which will conclude in Boston this Saturday.
In an intimate, second floor room of the piano shop, Horvat performed his original composition, “Earth Hour” – a continuous, hour-long, piano piece, composed and performed in, as well as inspired by, the dark.
The environment and environmental issues not only provided key inspiration to Horvat for this piece and others, but among other social issues, have been a major influence throughout his career.
“I have a firm belief that the more ways within our society that we use the arts, or various forms of communication to bring light to these really important issues, the more we’re setting the right tone of where we want to take this movement of taking care of the planet,” Horvat said.
“With all due respect to politicians and science they can tell us what needs to be done – the facts and statistics, but human nature tells us that if issues aren’t presented in an artistic, creative way, [the message] often doesn’t translate.”
His Philadelphia performance featured pieces from his newest album, “A Little Dark Music.” Much of “Earth Hour” was somber and serious and not only because of its lack of lighting. Horvat said the piece allows for an introspective mood.
Throughout the performance he provided the context for each of the songs he performed – a description of the event, idea or cause that inspired it. He also includes similar descriptions in the liners of each of his CDs.
“When I play and record these pieces, I’m dealing with an abstract art form. They’re inspired by the environment, poverty, things that are somewhat abstract ideas,” Horvat said. “They are instrumental, so I try to convey the emotion of the story and translate that into the mood of the music. I provide a story or the sentiment behind the piece, so people listen to it and know where I’m coming from … I talk about composition a lot, so the audience knows where I’m coming from mood-wise, and they know what I’m after.”
That’s not to say the entire concert was dark and serious. The first half of the concert included several short pieces, which Horvat described as being inspired by everyday things.
The first piece performed was written about an incident in the France versus Italy game in the 2006 World Cup, when the French player Zinedine Zidane was ejected from the game for headbutting one of the Italian players. Horvat said the incident inspired him to write a piece that encompassed the notion that “we all do things in life that we regret.”
Smitha Mysore, a graduate community and regional planning student at Temple’s Ambler Campus, came to the concert after attending a symposium at PennDesign in Center City. Though she said the display, which featured many maps and 2-D images lacked an audible quality, Mysore said she still enjoyed the symposium.
“I remembered this event, and it was the perfect segue because I needed to feel more alive, so I decided to walk over and hear some music,” Mysore said. “The performance was wonderful. It had so many different experiential qualities. It was perfect – exactly what I was looking for.”
A playful, upbeat piece performed by Horvat was inspired by the story of a one-room school house in South Africa, which was provided with electricity by an international charity organization. To perform this piece, Horvat placed pieces of cardboard onto the piano strings which changed the sound of the piano – a sound which he said was inspired by African folk music.
“When people come to my concerts, they hear piano music and hear me talk a little bit about the themes that pieces are based on,” Horvat said. “If I give the audience a little of an idea about what is important in our world, they can get a little inspiration and think about their own everyday activities, either negative or positive.”
Horvat said he feels the Green Keys tour has been successful in doing this, and concerts often create a dialogue in which sustainable behavior can be discussed.
“I get a lot of feedback on what actions [the audience] takes to minimize their carbon footprint,” Horvat said. “My main motivation has always been an evening of music, but I try to provoke some thought, and I’ve been really happy with the results.”
Part of the proceeds from the sale of Horvat’s newest album will be donated to the World Wildlife Fund. Horvat said he knew he wanted to support an international environmental organization because of the necessity of a worldwide, cooperative effort against big issues like global warming.
“[For] a lot of these issues, people can make a difference in their locales,” Horvat said. “But in the end, if the world doesn’t collectively do something about this, it doesn’t matter what one person in their community does.”
Kara Savidge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.