Thursday, March 23, 2023

Real-life theft of Mona Lisa is inspiration for new musical work

Cecilia Concerts presents Boston-based string ensemble Balourdet Quartet performing The Disappearance of Lisa Gherardini, a new work from former Haligonian Dinuk Wijeratne.

In 1911, former Louvre worker Vincenzo Peruggia perpetrated one of the most audacious art thefts by stealing Leonardo da Vinci’s famous painting Mona Lisa from the Paris museum. Hiding it in his apartment before being caught, its two-year disappearance skyrocketed the Mona Lisa from a relatively unknown artwork into legend.

This real-life heist has become the basis for The Disappearance of Lisa Gherardini, a new work from former Haligonian Dinuk Wijeratne to be performed by Boston-based string ensemble Balourdet Quartet in a concert presented by Cecilia Concerts on February 18.

The extraordinary true story of the theft of the Mona Lisa reads like the plot of some sensational Hollywood movie. – composer Dinuk Wijeratne.

Wijeratne takes the name for his piece from the subject of the 16th-century portrait believed to be, although the true identity is still debated, of Italian noblewoman Lisa Gherardini (del Giocondo).

“The extraordinary true story of the theft of the Mona Lisa reads like the plot of some sensational Hollywood movie,” says Wijeratne. “An inconspicuous Italian handyman named Vincenzo Peruggia hid overnight in one of the Louvre closets and chose exactly the right moment to emerge and lift the painting off the wall. As a former museum employee, he was familiar with the rhythm of the guards. The whole thing was, as they say, an inside job.”

Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (c. 1503–1516). Oil on poplar panel, 77 × 53 cm (30 × 21 in). Louvre, Paris. Photo: Creative Commons (public domain).
Mona Lisa or La Gioconda (c. 1503–1516). Photo: Creative Commons (public domain).

In The Disappearance of Lisa Gherardini, Wijeratne’s composition is built upon two central themes representing “Lisa” and “the heist” and unfolds in three sections.

For this concert, the quartet also performs Hugo Wolf’s operatic Italian Serenade, Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, Op. 44 No. 2, and Ludwig van Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 13 in B-flat Major, Op. 130 with Große Fuge, Op. 133.

“We are often asked how we develop unity in our voice as a quartet, and one of the answers we love to give is that we sing together,” says the ensemble members. “Singing is humanity’s key to musical expression and this program celebrates the human voice and the voice of the Balourdet Quartet.”

Initially formed in Houston, Texas, at Rice University, the now Boston-based Balourdet Quartet is currently in residence at the New England Conservatory’s professional string quartet program. The award-winning ensemble recently earned a spot in the top three international quartets at the 2022 Banff International String Quartet Competition.

Cecilia Concerts presents the Balourdet Quartet at The Stage at St. Andrews ( 6036 Coburg Rd, Halifax) on February 18. Visit ceciliaconcerts.ca for tickets and information.

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