I’d been planning to head up to The Cloister’s, the Metropolitan Museum’s exquisite uptown outpost, for months. I knew that visiting the former Benedictine monastery, originally from the Pyrenees, with its covered walkways and large open courtyard, in full autumnal color would be ideal. I had already been told that hearing The Forty Part Motet was an experience I couldn’t miss.
Instead I waited until the last minute (the presentation closes Sunday).
I went today. There was heavy fog, like a billowing white pillow, hanging quietly over the Hudson River. The trees were utterly bare. It was perfect.
Walking into the 12th-century Spanish Fuentidueña Chapel to experience the first presentation of contemporary art – ever – at the Cloisters, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had heard about visitors weeping, and that many were returning at a rate of twice a week. The “Motet” had become the “it” event of the season and I was here 3-days before it closed. I entered the space and felt literally enveloped by the sounds of the 11-minute repeating loop that immerses visitors into a sea of voices, each one part of the astonishing whole. The music is heard via 40 speakers that encircle the chapel in an oval configuration, placed that way intentionally by the multimedia artist Janet Cardiff, who created this presentation for the 40 voices of the Salisbury Cathedral Choir, when they performed the piece in 2001. She has said that the oval speaker placement contributes to a kind of sculptural effect, her own architectural way of breaking down and then adding together the choral voices to achieve a new experience.
The renaissance choral composition from the late 1500s was destined for the Cloisters. The acoustics of the chapel, with it’s soaring ceiling and ancient arches, allows for everything to align perfectly. In this place the music is a transcendent experience.
Just listen. Look around at the faces. Eyes closed. In awe. It will happen to you too.
You’ve only got a few days. Do whatever it takes to get there.
September 10 – December 8