There’s a buzz around the season-closing installment of the New Gallery Concert Series Thursday at the Community Music Center of Boston.
“Bees and Honey” offers Christine Collins’s photos of backyard beekeeping alongside a bee-related contemporary music program featuring a world-premiere composition by John Howell Morrison. Morrison’s “What the Honeybee Knows” was commissioned by New Gallery for Collins’s exhibit “The Keepers.”
“He’s really taken it to a place he wouldn’t have gone before, and that’s what it’s all about,” said pianist Sarah Bob, artistic director of the series.
Collins, of Jamaica Plain, started on the apian way a few years ago, when she and her husband joined a Community Supported Agriculture program, bringing them a weekly box of food from a Boston-area farm.
“I started to consider the relationship between farming, food, and landscape,” she said. “I started taking still lifes of the food that we would get, the weekly bounty.”
Eventually bees and pollination became a big part of the conversations she was having around the interrelationship of food and landscape and our busy, distracted lifestyles. That led her to suburban beekeepers.
“Beekeepers are a really generous group of people,” she said. “I met people who were willing to let me tag along with my 4x5 view camera. I photograph with an old-school, under-the-hood, one-sheet-of-film-at-a-time camera. And people were really generous with their time.”
As the title indicates, she ended up focusing more on the people than the bees. The resulting pictures are vibrantly idyllic, showing white-clad keepers moving in a fertile, green landscape redolent of summer. The bees in sight are mostly just black dots clinging to a hive. (You can see the pictures at www.christinemcollins.com.)
There’s “a kind of magic” in beekeeping, she said. “They’re not really interested in success or failure, it’s about the act of supporting these mysterious beings. For me there’s a lot about ceremony and ritual and survival that’s wrapped up in this.”
Morrison, who lives in Medford, grew up on a farm in North Carolina where he learned he was dangerously allergic to bees.
“I got stung by seven red wasps once when my parents were gone and they came and found me swollen, and if it had gone on for another hour I probably could have died,” he said. “I haven’t been stung by a bee in so long. But I think I was stung by a bee about 20 years ago and nothing happened, so I may have outgrown it.”
Morrison didn’t visit hives with Collins, but he read up on beekeeping and looked at Collins’s pictures and listened to bees buzzing on YouTube. He ended up depicting a day in the life of a honeybee in a way that’s “ethereal rather than bombastic,” said the composer.
Bees, of course, have been depicted musically before, from “Flight of the Bumblebee” to “A Taste of Honey,” which, come to think of it, may have been about something else. Although Morrison doesn’t want to spoil his piece by revealing too much, the piano provides the hive and the beekeeper’s smoke, while percussion instruments track the bee’s stops along the way.
“What the Honeybee Knows” will be performed by Bob on piano and Aaron Trant on percussion, who play as Primary Duo. Collins said she hasn’t heard the piece yet, “which is exciting for me.”
The evening will also feature two world premieres among four bee-related poems by John McDonald and bee-related pieces by composers Evan Ziporyn and Christine Southworth, who are married and keep bees at their home in Lexington.
Bob said she’s been happily shocked by how much interest there is in bees among Boston’s new music community. “While I was putting this idea together, I was talking with my friend [clarinetist] Eran Egozy, and he was raving about this piece of Evan Ziporyn’s that he played with Evan, and I said what’s it called, and he said, ‘Hive,’ and my jaw hit the floor,” Bob said. She spoke to Ziporyn about the event, “and then Evan said, ‘By the way, my wife has this piece that’s called ‘Honey Flyers.’ ”
Besides Primary Duo, the performers include clarinetists Michael Norsworthy, Rane Moore, Egozy and Ziporyn, violinists Charles Dimmick and Shaw Pong Liu, violist Mark Berger and cellist Katherine Kayaian, along with soprano Jennifer Ashe.
Free food is of course one of the most popular parts of any art opening, and “Bees and Honey” sticks to its theme with a post-concert honey sampling and beekeeper reception, sponsored by a company that will set up a backyard hive for you and a Harvard Square honey specialty store.
Joel Brown can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org