Tim Fain’s Multimedia Concert ‘Portals’ Comes to Boston

The violinist from Black Swan explores longing for human connection in a digital world with an innovative concert at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.


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In our tech-obsessed day and age, interpersonal communication is all iPhone screen and clicking keyboard. When we want to find a life partner, we hit up Match.com; when we’re checking in on family, we shoot them a text, and when we dare simulate face-to-face interaction, we log onto Skype. All these interfaces are new portals through which we communicate.

“Portals” is also the namesake of a multimedia concert performance by Black Swan violinist Tim Fain. The show, which will make its Boston stop at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on October 17, has been touring since 2011. Portals is an artistic exploration of the longing for real and true human connection in the digital age.

The recital was produced in 2011 and includes dance, music, and film all on one stage, but you’ll see only a single live performer: Mr. Fain himself. Film of the dancers is projected onto a screen, and the pre-recorded music of pianist Nicholas Britell is piped in through theater speakers along with NPR’s Fred Child’s readings of Leonard Cohen poetry.

The interwoven videos of Fain performing everyday tasks like hailing a taxi may have been filmed a couple years ago, but this distance in time only feeds Portals’ theme of longing for emotional connection through digital media.

“It’s about this idea of, how close can you get to not being there, and still feeling like you’re sort of there? It has this weird quality that’s inherent in, let’s say, Skyping with your loved one, on a tiny little screen, from 5,000 miles away,” Fain said.

Fain worked with friend and famed composer Philip Glass to generate the original music for the performance, while Black Swan choreographer Benjamin Millepied crafted the accompanying dances, and director Kate Hackett worked on the film components.

“Collaboration has always been, for me, something that makes what I do really special, really deeply fulfilling,” Fain said. “There’s a collaboration and back-and-forth experience between the performer and the crowd, and that becomes a collaboration, too.”

Working with so many talented minds at once wasn’t without its challenges, however. Shoot dates were moved, appointments were canceled, but Fain said it all became part of the creative process.

“I began to not only accept and incorporate these changes that were beyond my control, but [I was] also able to start to really embrace and actually use them in a way that was productive and even better than what I had before,” he said.

The Juilliard alum’s resume is star-studded, including ghost playing for Richard Gere’s Bee Season character, performing onscreen and on the soundtrack for Black Swan, and, most recently, ghost playing for Brad Pitt’s Steve McQueen flick 12 Years a Slave, set to be released mid-October.

With the success of Portals, Fain plans to create a sequel that will delve deeper into what he and his collaborators explored with Portals. And he hopes to include a solo violin orchestra, a children’s choir, and more people overall next time around.

To understand the sequel, though, everyone knows you have to see what came before. Those willing to pry their eyes off their iPhones and open their ears to the sound of Fain’s violin this fall will experience real communication in that universal language: music.

Portals will take place at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum on October 17. Learn more at portalsproject.com.