By Randi Bjornstad

Most people probably don’t equate symphony orchestras with light shows, and in fact the Eugene Symphony says its April 18 concert may well be the first time in this country that one has taken on the task of translating Russian composer Alexander Scriabin’s music into both light and color.

The project came about because Scriabin — who is said to have “suffered” from synesthesia, but whether that’s suffering or not may depend on your point of view — believed that every musical note is attended by a specific color. For example, C is red, D is yellow, E gray, F maroon, G orange, A green, and B cobalt blue. In between, the sharps/flats also take on their own specific hues.

A look at a piano octave, starting on the left with C and ending on the right with B, and the colors Alexander Scriabin ascribed to each step; source is Wikipedia

Some people considered this propensity of Scriabin’s to be genius, while others thought him mad. The Eugene Symphony is taking a more creative stance in the middle by translating two of Scriabin’s works into their colors, as well as their sounds, the colors appearing on an 8-foot “Radiance Orb” hanging above the stage as the orchestra plays the notes.

It’s titled The Color of Sound, and it’s a collaboration between Eugene Symphony conductor and music director Francesco Lecce-Chong and two Eugene companies, Harmonic Laboratory and Light at Play.

It’s all a bit complicated, but the idea is to listen to the music, which includes Scriabin’s Prometheus: The Poem of Fire and The Poem of Ecstasy — with guest pianist Christopher Taylor at the keyboard as Harmonic Laboratory musician Jeremy Schoop “plays” it on the Radiance Orb, using software developed by Light at Play’s Yona Appletree, and evoking the colors Scriabin would have associated with his composition.

As Lecce-Chong put it, the light show should be felt rather than watched, because the color is not like a seeing fireworks or a laser show. It is “all-encompassing, but subtle,” he said, “not like something you find at Disney World. It’s art.”

Additional pieces on the program include Edvard Grieg’s Morning from the Peer Gynt Suite; Claude Debussy’s Claire de Lune; and short works by Felix Mendelssohn, George Frideric Handel, Arvo Pärt, and Gunther Schuller.

Besides the concert proper, the performance represents the culmination of a six-month educational project that the symphony spearheaded with several community organizations to bring students from elementary to college into the mindset of considering music in ways they might not otherwise.

The curriculum included studying synesthesia, listening to music, and then creating artwork that grew out of what they heard. An exhibit of some of their creations, including moving art displays, will be on display.

The Color of Sound

When: 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 18

Where: Silva Concert Hall, Hult Center for the Performing Arts, One Eugene Center (Seventh and Willamette streets in downtown Eugene)P

Tickets: $27 to $65, $10 for students, available at the Hult Center box office, 541-682-5000, or online at (online orders include a handling fee)