Scene I, 15 December 2013.
The televised concert specials from New York City are predictable. They feature everyone I’ve heard before and didn’t want to hear again. Over and over, the same pastiche of music hall tripe, broadway warbles and symphonic war horses featuring the only pianist, cellist and singer in the world.
On the Toronto home front, creators of concerts besides being more modest, have considerably fewer formulaic thoughts and produce resoundingly successful entertainments of high artistic merit without Big Apple budgets, celebrity hype and hyperbole.
Case in point, the recent Array Music Benefit, 15 December www.arraymusic.com. My ticket to ride included dinner! All delicious and all prepared by Array Music supporters and staff. The best chicken wings I’ve tasted in this hockey, wing and beer society and that’s saying a lot. Array space was set up cabaret style with tall round tables and scattered seating. The entertainment was in three short, but riveting parts, each followed by ample time for drinks, eats and schmoozing.
Though Marie Joseé Chartier is known for her choreography, dancing and leading her own dance company, http://www.chartierdanse.com, she is also no mean chanteuse. Marie Joseé sang two a cappella songs. The first one, during which she flirted with me, was by Rogers and Hart, Everything I’ve Got, made famous by Blossom Dearie. The second was La Vie en Rose, the Edith Piaf hallmark. Moving with ease through and around her audience in a wispy white floor length dress, Ms Chartier made both songs memorable with enchanting, unaffected performances.
Patricia O’Callaghan, www.patricia-ocallaghan.com, sang Zu-Potsdam Unter Den Eichen by Kurt Weill and Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs by John Cage. Reading Wikipedia I learned O’Callaghan was an exchange student in Mexico when she decided that rather than becoming “either a rockstar or a nun” she would combine both these ambitions by becoming an opera singer. This non sequitur in and of itself endeared her to me. She studied opera singing at the University of Toronto and became infatuated with cabaret music. I think her voice is lovely and she is a fine musician. Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs was the best of many I’ve heard over the years- true to the score with no vibrato and rendered in time, the closed piano accompaniment played clearly and with delicate authority by percussionist David Schotzko. A beautiful taste of Cage and an example of impeccable ensemble performance. Schotzko also played drumkit on the Weill and Gregory Oh played piano normally.
In the midst of the evening Array Music Artistic Director, percussionist and composer Rick Sacks sang his Rap styled song I Does Art , written in response to a long forgotten uproar over some art censorship in Toronto during the early 1980s. Rick continues to surprise me. I love this song and its performance was reality itself, both poignant and humorous. I learned he had at least three more songs in his oeuvre and if they are anywhere near as good as I Does Art, he needs to record them.
Three delightful songs by Allen Cole were next: Falling in Love with You and the Clam Song, both from an Array Music commission titledThe Wrong Son; and The Girl in the Picture from The Girl in the Picture, another Array Music commission. Patricia O’Callaghan sang Falling in Love with You and The Girl in the Picture accompanied by Greg Oh at the piano. The Clam Song was sung by Rick Sacks with accompanyment by David Schotzko on bongos and wood block.
The entire evening was a culinary, social and musical success. Sacks has plans for the Array Music space infrastructure, including among other things, HD audio and visual recordings of concerts and an elevator. Array Music is just three blocks from my home so it is taxi and TTC free. A boon by any standard. It is becoming the venue of choice for some of Toronto’s most interesting and talented performers.
My wife and I joined two friends for an early dinner at Boland’s Open Kitchen on New Year’s Eve. Our easy patter lighted upon art galleries in Toronto and I admitted to being an infrequent visitor, knowing little about today’s artists and their output. One of our dining companions, Joanne Tod, is a well established and successful Canadian artist presently specializing in portraiture though during her long career, she has created work in many mediums. Joanne is a regular art gallery visitor, but opined that many young artists latch onto the latest fad and stay there, unable or unwilling to take risks. Assuming the role of music critic, I offered pretty much the same opinions about some keyboard percussion music.
Scene II, 9 December, 2013.
The concert given in Array Music by Dan Morphy, his duet partner Ed Squires and TorQ colleague Adam Canpbell, www.torqpercussion.ca began with Eric Richards’ The Unravelling of the Field arranged by Dan Morphy for two vibraphones from the original score for one pianist playing from two grand staves in four simultaneous, but different tempi. This work has been performed with many combinations of resonant percussion instruments, all, including Morphy’s rendition, engaging and musically satisfying in every respect.
Following the Eric Richards work were the four keyboard percussion pieces that prompted my comments to Joanne Tod, . For the most part, they were based on patterns as if influenced by the music of Steve Reich. Reich himself was influenced by percussion music and percussion technique, so the composers of these works, all trained percussionists, are condemned to comparison with the more famous works of Reich, whether or not he had any influence at all upon them.
It’s the patterns that plug my ears. Pattern music is aggravating because of their forms, usually A-B-A with no attempt at transitioning. The rhythms, though sometimes complex, are laid out like dictionary entries, one riff after another, often without any discernable relationship and interminably long. The harmonies are simplistic, without any frisson to tweak one’s ears. No more than a measure goes by before I sigh, slide a bit in my seat, get comfortable and wait for the end. A sort of trans Pacific flight mentality.
There is a sub text to the foregoing. Years ago I visited the emminent percussionist John Beck in his studio at the Eastman School of Music. John was working on a Henry Cowell trio I had recently played that contained a prominent xylophone part. John said the part was difficult to learn because it contained no patterns. I held my tongue because its lack of patterns was precicely why I had found it easy to learn. I had the same experience with the xylophone part in Messiaen’s Oiseaux exotiques. Seiji Ozawa once turned to me and asked, “Is the xylophone part to Oiseaux exotiques difficult?” I knew he had scheduled the work for his orchestra on an up coming concert and knowing patterns to be every drummer’s raison d’etre, I had to hesitate before answering “No”.
After intermission came the music of Ken Shorley www.kenshorley.com. Ken Shorley, a percussionist and composer new to me, is a former student of Trichy Sankaran, a master of Karnatik music who teaches at York University in Toronto. As Shorley announced, his compositions are influenced by the classical music of South India. He incorporates the vamps or brief motifes used by mridagam players in extended solos, but only as starting points. His works are not arrangements. They are fresh, inventive creations which to a great degree, conceal their heritage. There were moments of surprise, delightful quirks. I never had the sense that Shorley was padding his music. This was clean and lean music trimmed of fat and artifice. And they were all played from memory by Shorley, Adam Campnell and Dan Morphy.
Music of Ken Shorley:
About Time (tambourine trio) – 2011
Helix (darabuka, frame drum, caxixi/tala bells) – 2012
Three Into Five (frame drum trio) – 2002 (rev. 2012)
Cobra (gongs, bells, frame drum) – 2012
Sarvalaghu (solkattu, jawharp) – 2011
Root Cellar (wastebasket, triangles, tin cans, shakers) – 2011
The Bright Side (darabuka, riq, cajon/caxixi) – 2010
Monk’s Drum (darabuka trio) – 2011