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A wonderful message: Randall Vemer’s paintings featured in ‘MusArt’ documentary

Award-winning short film blends classical music, musicians, paintings, and an uplifting biography.


'Inés' portrait of Oregon Symphony Assistant Principal Second Violinist Inés Voglar Belgique, by Randall Vemer.
‘Inés’ portrait of Oregon Symphony Assistant Principal Second Violinist Inés Voglar Belgique, by Randall Vemer.

MusArt–a short film that fuses classical music, fine art, and the story of a musician who overcame a debilitating neurological condition–has recently racked up awards at festivals in Portland, Phoenix, and Tokyo. In April, it won the Best Original Music award at the Oregon Documentary Film Festival. In May it received the Best Original Score and Best Composer awards at the Phoenix International Short Film Festival and silver medal for the Best Music Composer award at the Tokyo Film Festival. 

The brainchild of Randall Vemer, MusArt pairs his paintings of orchestra musicians with music composed by Kira Zeeman Rugen, wrapping them with his story of prevailing over focal dystonia.

Vemer was the principal violist of the Oregon Symphony for 20 years (1976-1995), but his playing came to an end because of focal dystonia, which severely affected his hands and put an end to his career as a musician. Searching for a way to make a living, he learned how to design websites and, in the meantime, began painting lessons because of his passion for classical art. 

That led him to depicting orchestral musicians and their instruments in a series of 40 paintings.

“I wanted to make orchestra musicians cool and sexy,” said Vemer. “When people picture orchestras, they think of a bunch of old, unsmiling white men. Well, that’s changed a lot. There are many women in orchestras nowadays. So, I have painted a number of female orchestral players along with the instruments that they play.”

The women, looking glamorous in their striking gowns, are portrayed with vivid colors. Coaxing professional musicians to pose with their instruments took him a few years to accomplish. 

“The musicians have really loved the results,” said Vemer. “At first some of them thought that this was a strange idea. I had to let them know that I was a professional musician before I got into painting, and I had to show them some of my work so they knew what the quality would be like.” 

Through his connections in the music world, Vemer reached out to find his subjects. Violinist Inés Voglar Belgique, oboist Victoria Racz, and cellist Quinn Kun Liu are among the female artists who grace Vemer’s canvases. Trumpeter Jon Deshler and organist Michael Kleinschmidt represent the male side of the ledger. Conductor Olivia Tsui, composer Rugen, and soprano Cynthia Trif round out the non-instrumentalists.

In MusArt, the paintings are arranged according to orchestral sections: strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion, followed by extra instruments that are often used in orchestras. They are bookended by Vemer’s personal story and masterfully accompanied by Rugen’s score, which starts with a fragment of the viola solo from Hector Berlioz’s Harold in Italy.

The music builds in intensity as the film transitions through the orchestra, arriving at the brass section with full-score instrumentation and finally a hymn-like segment. The glorious finale enhances a quote from Plato about music giving soul to the universe. Rugen is a composer, conductor, academic professor and professional soprano based in Phoenix, Arizona. She is a soloist on Phoenix Chorale’s Spotless Rose album, which won a Grammy for Best Small Ensemble in February of 2009.

Kevin Hanzlik of Typeset Film directed the MusArt film, meshing the visual and musical content so that it flows seamlessly. Even though the film clocks under twelve minutes, it took many, many hours at the computer for Hanzlik to get all of the aspects lined up perfectly.

Vemer has entered MusArt into a number of international competitions, and it will be shown along with an exhibit of his paintings at the Aspen Music Festival this summer.  

Painter and violist Randall Vemer at the 2022 Oregon Documentary Film Festival.
Painter and violist Randall Vemer at the 2022 Oregon Documentary Film Festival.

In the meantime, ArtReach Gallery at First Congregational UCC has published the paintings in a book, also titled MusArt. Each painting, deftly photographed by Hector Salazar, is underscored by a haiku written by Malaysian poet Christina Chin.

“In MusArt, life imitates art, and music triumphs,” said Vemer. “It’s a wonderful message.”

Chamber Music Northwest Summer Festival Portland Oregon
James Bash enjoys writing for The Oregonian, The Columbian, Classical Voice North America, Opera, and many other publications. He has also written articles for the Oregon Arts Commission and the Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd edition. He received a fellowship to the 2008 NEA Journalism Institute for Classical Music and Opera, and is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America.


One Response

  1. Wonderful Randall!
    Thank you for keeping me posted.
    Best to you,

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