NIU Associate Professor Bart Woodstrup was recently commissioned to produce the visual components of a piece performed this month at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.
“The Sarajevo Haggadah: Music of the Book” was performed at the National Gallery of Art on April 15. Conceived and performed by Merima Ključo, the piece is a 50-minute composition for piano, accordion and video that uses music and visual art to tell the turbulent story of the Sarajevo Haggadah – a manuscript with many illustrations that tell the story of Biblical Creation and the life of Moses. The book was created by an unknown artist in fourteenth-century Spain. It is considered a symbol of perseverance, as it survived the Alhambra Decree, the Nazi’s in World War II, the Siege of Sarajevo and more.
Woodstrup has taught at NIU since 1999, and is an associate professor in the Time Arts department of the School of Art and Design. He is known for using technology to bridge the gap between sound and visuals, which is what led to his invitation to collaborate for this piece.
“I often create videos for my musical compositions, but I really enjoy writing software for performing sound and visuals live,” he said. “I have been extremely fortunate to also collaborate with many wonderful musicians and artists.”
Those collaborations included one with composer/accordionist Merima Ključo for a residency in Vermont in 2013, where Ključo worked on “Sarajevo Haggadah: The Music of the Book.”
The sacred book was intended to be used during the Jewish Passover Seder. Woodstrup’s piece of the project – the video – served as a visual backdrop to the music, interweaving the imagery of the Sarajevo Haggadah with elements of the book’s history.
Before being invited to collaborate on the project, Woodstrup said he didn’t even know what a Haggadah was. “I had to do a great deal of research in little time,” he said of the project.
Woodstrup said his work on the project was influenced by the aging life of the book.
“For instance, since the book was used in many Seder feasts there is evidence of spilt wine and personal notations scribbled in the book,” he said. “Little details like those helped me to create the visuals that, with the music, tell the amazing journey this book has taken throughout time.”
He said working on the project was exciting.
“It was an honor to be able to work with Merima and her pianist Seth Knopp who are both accomplished composers and performers,” he said, adding that together they have performed this piece at many prestigious venues including The Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco, the University of Chicago, and the National Museum of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Woodstrup said he feels the project has a message that people from all cultures and religions can recognize and appreciate.
“It is an especially poignant story considering current world events where we continue to see people persecuted for their identity, religion or nationality,” Woodstrup said. “I anticipate that we, like the book, will persevere.”