The art of recycling

Posted May 13, 2010, at 7:13 p.m.
The one-of-a-kind concert dress made by designer Nina Valenti made out of 6,000 recycled juice pouches and worn by pianist Soyeon Lee during a concert at Zankel Hall in New York City in February 2008 is see on Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at the Bangor Symphony Orchestra office on Broadway in Bangor. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)
The one-of-a-kind concert dress made by designer Nina Valenti made out of 6,000 recycled juice pouches and worn by pianist Soyeon Lee during a concert at Zankel Hall in New York City in February 2008 is see on Wednesday, May 12, 2010 at the Bangor Symphony Orchestra office on Broadway in Bangor. (Bangor Daily News/Kevin Bennett)

The seeds for this Sunday’s Bangor Symphony Orchestra concert at the Collins Center for the Arts in Orono, the last of the 2009-2010 season featuring pianist Soyeon Lee and guest conductor David Itkin, were planted nearly five years ago.

In February 2008 executive director David Whitehill attended a recital at Zankel Hall, adjacent to Carnegie Hall, in New York City. The performer was Lee, a young, Korean-born pianist whom Whitehill had been watching rise since her appearance in the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in Texas in 2005, long before Whitehill joined the BSO in the fall of 2007.

Much was notable about her concert; first and foremost was her playing, as she performed Bach’s Chaconne in D and Ravel’s “Valse,” among other compositions.

“With that recital, she really took it into high gear,” said Whitehill. “She took it to the next level, in terms of her playing. I was so excited to see that. It was really phenomenal. I booked her for the BSO very soon after.”

The other remarkable element was her concert dress: an eye-catching, one-of-a-kind creation by designer Nina Valenti, made out of 6,000 recycled juice pouches. Lee and the recycled goods company TerraCycle, along with beverage company Honest Tea, commissioned Valenti to make the dress. Lee had attended the Live Earth concert at Giants Stadium the summer before and was inspired to make a concert dress reflecting the green message the event espoused.

Going green is more than just a hot topic and a buzzword: It’s a vitally important element to 21st century living, with the threat of global warming looming and clean air and water increasingly

becoming a luxury to all but those in wealthy nations. It’s a way of life, and it’s one that Lee has tried to adopt in her own life, whether it’s eating organic food, buying ecofriendly products, or just remembering to slow down and think about what she’s consuming.

“I think the green movement asks people to slow down. It asks people to rethink from using disposables, things that are just convenient, fast and easy, and to take the time to live in a ‘slower’ pace,” said Lee by e-mail. “I think classical music also asks people to slow down and take time to take care of and enrich your soul.”

To that end, you can think of this Sunday’s concert as a variation on a theme: the theme of going green. Lee will perform Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a theme of Paganini, which is a kind of “recycled” piece, as the composer reworked Paganini’s violin works for piano. The same idea goes for the other two pieces to be performed: Berlioz’s “Roman Carnivale,” adapted from his own opera “Benvenuto Cellini,” and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade,” inspired by the famed “Arabian Nights” tales.

“In a sense, classical music is a very green thing,” said Whitehill. “It uses no electricity. The instruments are made of wood and metal. It’s extremely low-impact.”

Aside from environmentally friendly elements, there’s a thematic connection between the green movement and classical music.

“I do not have to try to connect [classical music and going green], because the connections are already there in the basic premise of reusing,” said Lee.

“Classical music has always been reinvented. It is an art in which we take works that are hundreds of years old, in some cases, and bring them to life. Every performance is its own reinvention because no two performances are alike.”

Lee will not wear her Nina Valenti gown at Sunday’s concert, but the dress will be on display for concertgoers to see. Also at the concert will be a marketplace of sorts, featuring downtown Bangor shops Metropolitan Soul and Epic Sports, both of which sell items made from recycled materials, and Quench Metalworks of South China, which repurposes old buttons and beads into fine jewelry. TerraCycle will display some of its recycled bags, containers and accessories, and the BSO itself will show how green it is by encouraging patrons to donate to the symphony online.

Perhaps the most green aspect of all is the specially commissioned installation to be done by University of Maine Intermedia MFA student Allison Melton, which will hang in the glassed-in outer lobby of the Collins Center. The BSO asked TerraCycle to donate the 1,000 square feet of recycled plastic that Melton used in her installation, “Lily’s World,” based on a drawing by Lily Audibert, a second-grade pupil at Dedham Elementary School.

“It’s a major installation for an up-and-coming young artist at the university,” said Whitehill. “We’re so pleased to be able to collaborate with so many organizations and businesses to make this a really memorable concert.”

If you go:

WHAT: Final concert of the Bangor Symphony Orchestra 2009-2010 season, featuring pianist Soyeon Lee, guest conductor David Itkin and a green exhibition.

WHEN: 3 p.m. Sunday, May 16.

WHERE: Collins Center for the Arts, University of Maine campus, Orono.

TICKETS: $18-$42; Call 581-1755 or visit bangorsymphony.org.

Artist’s statement from Allison Melton

When I look back at my time spent as an elementary school student in the ’80s, I can recall an assembly geared toward teaching me what I could do to help save the rain forest. I can vividly remember the “Sesame Street” episode in which a cartoon suggested that letting the tap run while I brushed my teeth would cause a pond to drain and leave a fish, literally, out of water. I was aware of the impact of my daily habits on the environment from an early age, but never did I consider just how much material I, the average American, consumed on a regular basis.

If the average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only four trips to the grocery store, how many bags does every family in the United States throw out each year? Consider the food packaging that you throw out after almost every meal; where does all of the plastic go? Perhaps it gets buried underground, or it floats out to sea. Needless to say, it stays within our world.

Look at the world through the lens of a child, and you may realize it really is a beautiful place. Lily didn’t draw any garbage in “Lily’s World,” but there’s no denying that it exists in the physical world where she lives. “Lily’s World” is one with blue skies, where she can fly alongside the birds and the clouds. It’s a clean, happy and colorful place.

Allison Melton

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