Music and the visual arts merge in Gallery of Sound when five of our younger composers share a bill with Russian composer Mussorgsky's piano suite, Pictures at an Exhibition.

It's a venture which brings together the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra with Auckland Art Gallery and has seen local composers selecting New Zealand artworks from the gallery's collection as inspiration for new pieces of music.

Hamish McKeich will conduct Gallery of Sound with the chosen artworks projected behind the orchestra so audiences can pick up the links between what the music is a trying to do and the actual images themselves.

Composer Chris Adams has chosen Otira Gorge by Petrus van der Velden while a work on paper by the late Jean Horsley attracted Glen Downie. Sarah Ballard draws her music from a fanciful 1940s Chapman-Taylor photograph and the remaining two composers, Linda Dallimore and Reuben Jelleyman, chose paintings by Gretchen Albrecht.

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For Dallimore, working with an orchestra is like being a kid in a candy shop, leaving her amazed at the limitless scope of available colours.

"The opportunity to try things out, hear them and not be stuck with them if they don't work is a luxury that we don't often get," she says - and one she won't have when her latest orchestral piece premieres at Colorado's Aspen Music Festival in July.

One of the advantages of taking on the magnificent hemisphere of Albrecht's Aotearoa - Cloud was the chance to meet and talk with the artist. While she was always keen to catch the painting's movement and curved lines, Dallimore was grateful to Albrecht for explaining the significance of two thin white lines at the bottom of the painting that mystified her.

"Gretchen described them as the anchors of the work; the landmass that the great cloud on the canvas is sitting above," she says.

Dallimore calls on an orchestra, including a purerehua or Maori trumpet, and wind machine to capture a sense of the painting's movement.

Gallery of Sound, and the preparation that went into it with two intensive workshops last year, are a vital part of the community outreach programme, APO Connecting.

Gretchen Albrecht, Aotearoa - Cloud, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, purchased 1974.
Gretchen Albrecht, Aotearoa - Cloud, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tamaki, purchased 1974.

Thomas Hamill, the new director of APO Connecting, is extremely proud of the venture saying: "While we may talk about outreach activities in the wider Auckland region, it's also important to give our creative and talented composers a chance to establish their careers.

"The APO should be a platform for them to develop," he says. "Otherwise what will happen to our symphonic canon? We'll be left with a black hole."

The characters and scenes in Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition have become popular fare with concert-goers, thanks to Ravel's dazzling orchestration. Perhaps Gallery of Sound might reveal that our own composers can render art and life every bit as vividly as the Russian master.

What: Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra - Gallery of Sound
Where & when: Auckland Town Hall, Thursday at 6.30pm