"The building started to sing," recalls a mesmerised audience member, describing the impact of Jones's Eternal Light, a total art performance that took place on the beach at Aldeburgh, projected onto the wall of the Sizewell A nuclear power reactor. "This stunning but brutal building – she sang the unsung song of the thing that everyone loves to hate, gave it a voice, gave it a soul."
A video artist who collaborates with live performers, Jones is busy jump-starting the often static classical music profession. This week, she brings her particular type of visual magic to Scotland, performing a joint version of Britten's Les Illuminations with the Scottish Ensemble and tenor Thomas Walker.
She's excited. "I know the Ensemble's performance of this particular piece will be incredible. I almost can't wait to hear them play this." It would be safe to say the classical music world seems equally excited about Ms Jones. She has even had critics comparing her work to the realisation, in modern terms, of Wagner's dream of "Gesamtkunstwerk – total artwork of the future".
But what is it, exactly, that Jones does to up the impact of these already impressive classical music concerts, leaving people so enlightened and excited by the results?
Jones is very clear. "In creating a projection design for a live concert, my ideal is that the audience are enabled to listen better." Her intention, she states, is to capture some essence of the piece, so that what you are seeing corresponds at many levels to what you are hearing.
It can be atmospheric and subliminal, but her work is not, she stresses, a son et lumiere show, nor is it a semi-staged concert, and it is not necessarily narrative. Rather, it is an integral and meaningful part of the presentation. "My work, whether in concerts or opera, is focused on creating a visual and narrative world that supports the musical composition. It's about creating extra layers to support the performance – because when every element of a performance is integrated, the audience experience is very complete."
One of the things that marks Jones out as rare, widely commented on by her colleagues, is the extent to which she understands the music she takes on. Oliver Coates, artist in residence at London's Southbank Centre, describes the "weeks and weeks" Jones will spend reading around the composers and their works in the British Library. "And that's for herself, not for anyone else – she becomes addicted to the projects. And that's lucky, for her audiences and for her musicians."
By Jones's own admission, it's the power of live performance about which she is most passionate. She grew up surrounded by musicians, steeped in their world. In concert, all the video art Jones has created is also performed live, giving it a unique interconnection with the artists on stage.
Nowhere was this more clearly demonstrated than in the success of her opera production of Oliver Knussen's Where the Wild Things Are, which she recently performed with Gustavo Dudamel and the LA Philharmonic. For this project she animated the famous illustrations by Maurice Sendak, put the singing actors on stage amongst the projections, and they all performed the opera together. Jones controlled the animations in real time.
Asked if she practises her part just like the musicians, she says: "I practise a very great deal, in that for any given piece I need to know it completely off copy, and I need to have my own programme under my fingers as well. There is never anything written down for these performances, so I have to know exactly what is about to happen. In this way the visual world can become completely integrated. With the Scottish Ensemble I will rehearse just as they would, to become familiar with their tempi and interpretation."
But do all musicians welcome video in their concerts? "I have to say," she admits, "my experience with musicians has sometimes been one of great resistance and distrust. My job is strange, in that there is a presumption before I arrive that I will ruin everything."
But the high standards she demonstrates, combined with what Jonathan Morton, director of the Scottish Ensemble, describes as her "incredible understanding of the music", means Jones is winning the respect of the notoriously stiff classical music profession. "Musicians know me a little better now, so that [negative] attitude is changing very rapidly," she admits.
Jones recently admitted to the New York Times that she had been obsessed with Britten's music since she first heard it as a child of 10, adding: "I was a bit of a weirdo." And Les Illuminations, she states, is one of her favourite pieces. Her working ideas for these performances have been inspired by the words of the poet John Ashbery, who described the work as "a disordered collection of magic lantern slides".
There is clearly nothing disordered about this artist's vision. Coates describes his work with her as "rejuvenating", adding: "There is no area of the art work she won't interrogate, in order to make it as rich and as enveloping an artistic experience as she can."
The Scottish Ensemble's Illuminations programme is at Dundee's Caird Hall tonight, the Queen's Hall in Edinburgh tomorrow, the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow on Wednesday and Eden Court, Inverness, on Thursday. www.scottishensemble.co.uk
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