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NEXUS WORLD TOUR _ 1984 Takemitsu and Nexus’ repertoire, A Diary, Part 15

diary

 

Several years ago, Robin wanted to enter his diary on his website. Because of his poor eyesight he could no longer read. So I have entered the text from his diary.  In the months before his death, he was very concerned about finishing them.  I had started on this Part 15 before he died and this part ends the Asian part of the tour in Japan.  I will continue on to the European part of the tour as time permits.  Robin wrote this on the websites shortly after we started this process a few years ago.

“My wife has been entering pages of text from the diary I kept during the 1984 Nexus “World” tour, and have recently published China number five. We went to various cities in China, Korea and JapanIn and then flew to Europe and Finland. ‘Twas a long haul, but interesting. I decided to publish the texts in order, unedited, because leaving out an incident or day caused the threads of my thoughts to unravel and become less coherent. There are hundreds of pages to come and I’ve tried to help the brave readers and myself to keep track by listing the major events of each posting at the top of the article.

The grammar, spelling, punctuaation are execrable, but you can read my apologia in the preface to the first article. All the postings are on my Home Page: Articles –  All Articles Alphabetized – “Nexus World Tour’”.

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May 29, Continuing lunch and dinner conversation with Toru Takemitsu

John asked if we can add to one of our programs the Rudimental Drumming. Jean shows Toru a picture of our drum line he says “Yes” and asks “History?”. I explain briefly about Crusades, Saracens, Switzerland, Haydn’s “Military Symphony”, leopard skins in British bands and Arbeau’s “Orchesgraphy.

Dinner at a rather undistinguished Japanese modern restaurant. One dish is lobster tail, halved with egg salad topping. Drinks in hotel bar. John asked if there is any suggestion Toru can make for improving Nexus. Toru says we should play more new music and there are now some good composers in England. Russ, John and I agree it is time for change but we are building new repertoire and it is slow. John says he must know composer – otherwise it is difficult to play piece. I explained that what we do not have is worldwide awareness of music and composers and he should give us a list of composers he would recommend. He agrees. One problem is pieces too cluttered with instruments. Toru says “Yes – too many colors make bad picture”. Jean says we should write more pieces ourselves. I say it’s okay but we need pieces with depth that can be played over and over so they can – I pause, Toru leans forward and says “So they become anonymous”. I would not have said that. In fact, I wasn’t even sure where I was headed, hence the pause. Toru’s statement was so right it did not startle me. He said it as if he were merely helping me think of a word – helping me through a momentary lapse. But this of course is true. I mention that there is indeed no substitute for genius. A great work is capable of becoming for everyone – beyond composer and performer.

Xenakis was known as “Grand Libre” to many students and composers when he began mathematical theories in music as opposed to 12 tone system. He has glaciated with years and is now rigid in composition. Still his theories are interesting. Too many composers think only of their own ideas. They treat performers as slaves – do my idea – realize my piece. Performer becomes merely machine through which music is fed and execreted.

Composers do not hear. In percussion they write flat ———five tom-tom used as scale high to low. But they do not understand sound of one drum. They do not hear sound of one drum. They do not understand stroke. One tom-tom is not one note but infinite notes. Debussy understood cymbals. Mahler also. Writing for percussion is very difficult because of the variety of instruments. Percussion can be the most creative of music making.

Besides not knowing enough good composers, it is important that pieces written for Nexus be simple in instrumentation for touring. Harrison Birtwistle’s  “For 0, for 0, the Hobby-Horse is Forgot” may be okay as a piece – I’m not so sure, but how can any group hope to tour with it?  Six base drums –  30 tom-toms. This is crazy. Are six bass drums louder than one? Capable of more expression? Toru says his music is very simple –  very detailed instructions on playing – not so many instruments and notes.

I go to sleep at 12 o’clock midnight and wake up two hours later with a terrible fit of coughing. Very dry. I breathe very deep and slow for one half hour sitting with pillow at my back. Finally go to sleep. The next morning I sleep until 10 o’clock and meet Russ for some shopping and we all are driven to the music school for small concert and question and answer period with students, faculty, composers, some professional drummers. And then dinner at the Chinese restaurant with Keiko Abe and her students -13 girls and one boy. Keiko’s students play an arrangement of hers for four marimbas and base marimba. Fantastic ensemble playing -memorized. Some very good questions but I fear much is lost in translation.

On Sunday, Toru asks if we want to go to the Xenakis concert that evening. I say if I really wanted to go I would know and there would be no question. John said he does not like much of his music. Toru says “I will not go either. Let’s have dinner”. We wait for Russ to return from having “Paganini Personal” rehearsal. Toru related as how Sylvio Gualdo asked for a piece. Toru put it off for a couple of years because he did not care for Gualdo’s playing. Gualdo asked again and finally Toru dedicated “Raintree” to him. Gualdo told Toru he would not play it because he was a soloist. Gualdo is in town with Xenakis and is playing “Psapha”.  Toru asked him to stay and hear Nexus play “Raintree”. He said he had to get back. He couldn’t stay.

At the bar Sunday night Toru related and how he was first to introduce Stockhausen to Xenakis. They would not speak to each other. Later Xenakis said that Toru should not have introduced them. Toru does not understand composers who will not speak to each other. Xenaksi hates Penderecki, Penderecki hates Stockhausen etc. etc.

Toru thinks new music is in danger. I agree. More about this later. Must go to Seibu.

Tonight is our concert with Music of Today. Rehearsal at noon. Lighting setup for “Raintree”. It will be a long day. Entire afternoon TV rehearsal. We arrived at 12 o’clock noon – didn’t begin until 2 o’clock. Most pieces we did not need to do, but TV had to have lighting, picture and sound checks for each piece. Bob almost went over the edge and walked out. Toru gave John and I TV interview – two questions.”Do you feel different playing music and folk music and do you like contemporary music”. Interview lasted 44 seconds. I have a tooth ache, upper back left which is affecting my left sinus just below my eye and a headache. Also my eyesight is getting worse. That may account for the headache.

Toru had interesting observations about “Clos de Vougeot” by Bruce Mather. Blend is good – like marshmallow. Better play whole piece without any dynamic changes whatsoever. Oh hell, bigger contrasts in sound. Dynamics are too “Common”, (his word). Since changing sticks for louder passages is not possible, we would have to play entire piece without dynamic changes. I’m going to suggest this to the guys. We could play it that way without rehearsal. Blend is very good and Toru says his ideas are quite clear. He is happy about the piece.

Coming back from theater we meet Yasunori and Sumire. They just finished rehearsal for Ichiyanagi’s “Wind Trace”. It is good to see them

Perhaps I understand dilemma of many musicians, who tour at great length – tiredness. Perhaps never quite feeling healthy. So one drinks, takes pills. We do not do this but sometimes temptation is great – to get away -physically and mentally from stress and demands of new halls – time for everything as necessary and sometimes the least important thing is the music. Very hard.

In relation to tiredness mentioned earlier, I should say tiredness from inaction and too much action.

Saw an envelope and written below written across the bottom without punctuation was “Creative Art Think.

We decided to play the Mather with extreme dynamics rather than flat. It is a good hall, dry but clear and the pianissimos are still heard. We cannot play louder but we can play softer.

“Pieces of Wood” is incredibly defined. All voices are very clear but because of dryness – energy seems to be lacking. Improvisation is beautiful for the first two or three minutes but then goes flat. It is a relief for me when everyone finally stops playing and I am embarrassed for me and Toru. That is my feeling before we go on stage to play Mather, the third and last piece before intermission. Bruce’s piece does not feel-good. We have played many better performances. The second half is “Birds”, “Raintree”, Cage’s “Third Construction”. Perhaps we can still salvage the “Event”.

Toru is backstage as usual, unflappable. After discerning my state of mind he says “You can play encore”? I laugh,wryly, and asks if he thinks we will need an encore. He says, “Oh yes, please play ragtime”. He says there are so many people in the audience that he had to speak to the people turned away and explain they can come tomorrow night. Intermission is almost over and Russell says, “Are the people out there now the same as the ones for the first half”. Toru does not understand jive. Sure enough the place is packed people sitting up and down the aisles

“Birds” brings laughter and “Raintree” with lighting is gorgeous. Bob is under tremendous pressure to play perfectly. The vibraphonist for “Raintree” recording is in the audience – a great player. Keiko Abe’s students, best composers in Japan and who knows who else. I feel Bob’s control slipping and I encourage him forcefully in my mind. The section of free crotales and marimba shone with lights on and off repeatedly is very soft and magical. A delicious performance. The edge of disaster enhances the piece. Wonderful applause. (In traditional Noh drama, applause was forbidden. There is nothing to say if performance touches one deeply.) How true and yet how difficult to accept. The Cage really burns and audience will not let us go. Rhythmic applause. We play “Charleston Capers” for our encore. we cannot undo the first half but second-half was so good  – maybe we came out better than ever.

After the concert is reception in the lobby of theater. Tomorrow is wholly different program but easier to deal with. I must remember to ask Bob to start the Cage a little slower. My first clave entrance is very beautiful but difficult  -too fast. At reception, Toru introduces each one of us individually with a short comment on our professional history. Perhaps 40 or 50 Japanese – artists, teachers, critics, executives. Interesting group.

Towards the end of the evening I approach Toshi and Toru. Toru says, “I will speak frankly”.Nexus should not improvise. I say, “Do you mean never, ever, anywhere, anytime?” He says “Yes”. Toshi says, “We believe your playing of written music is so much better. The true Nexus comes in written music”. Improvisation is a gamble and a poor gamble. It is filled with traps like following others and not expressing the individual. “Perhaps”, Tour says, “You should improvise one at a time while the others watch and then react to the previous person. I hear voice of Asaka behind me saying “They talk like this because they are composers”. Maki says she knows nothing of music but she could tell improv was different but not “Fantasy” which it was called on program. “Rather it was of the earth – instinctive and she said, “It was interesting”. I say that I think concert should be more than interesting. People come to concerts to lose awareness of themselves and to be able to say something interesting is far short of ideal. She understands but asked why one piece on program cannot be interesting. I say to Toru and Toshi that we will go to air-conditioned bar and, with Maki as chairperson and Asaka casting the deciding vote in case of tie,we will have this out.

May 31 12:30 AM

After the reception we go back to the sushi bar where we had so much fun a few nights ago. We presented the owner with a photo of the group which we had autographed and continued the discussion which had started with some comments made by Toru and Toshi at the reception immediately  following our concert. We leave the hall and arrived at sushi bar. I left my shoulder bag in the hall and Akiyama, the music teacher, insists on accompanying me back to the hall. I find my bag and we make it in time to find the conversation on improvisation once more being expounded. Akiyama listens intently and I wonder how much he is picking up. He is one of the most astute critics in Japan and wrote wonderfully perceptive things about our performance eight years ago

We leave and get back to the hotel at 1 AM. Bill is a little disturbed by the conversation and we stay up for an hour discussing the issues. Finally get to bed at 2:00 AM. Wake up at 4 AM with incredible fit of coughing. Get back to sleep at 5 AM, sleep until 10 AM and have coffee. Russ and I have gotten into the habit of putting the English newspaper under the door of the person sleeping late. There are only three or four copies each morning and they are all gone if you don’t get one by 8 AM

I go to the theater and listen to Russ’s rehearsal of Toshi’s “Paganni Personal” with Kaori Kimura. A very good pianist and good rehearsal. I stick around and get ready for our TV run through. The setup is simple and we look forward to a less strenuous concert than last night. We are finished by 4 PM and I come back to the hotel to shower and get the rest.

I showered and put on my Japanese robe. It is moments like this when I began to feel the intensity of being away from Eleanor for so long. I set the alarm for 6 PM but don’t sleep. I do however have a good rest and write in this diary until I run out of ink.

The concert is “Ancient Military Airs”, “Adzida” “Mbira” and “Kobina” (Toru likes the flute) –  Intermission -– 8 Rags and finally “Terry at the Throttle” followed by “Xylophonia” encore. All the performances have a special quality of great clarity and sensitivity of playing. Two of the newer rags – “Keep Movin” and “Frivolity” really take a giant leap forward. A very successful concert and Toru was happy. Yasunori and Sumire bring me a stone for sharpening my knives. Yogi Sadanari, a friend of Stewart Hoffman’s whom I met in Toronto, says hello and presents me with a recording of a percusion group he plays with. Three girls who heard us play in Kyoto eight years ago have come to Tokyo for our concert and have seats in the front row. They came to the hall for our rehearsal and stayed all afternoon to get seats. They had brought five bouquets of flowers and present them to us as we take our next to last bow.

Toru says there have been many interesting people at our concerts. The poet who wrote the novel from which the “Raintree” quote is taken. Many artists and tonight, a famous Japanese jazz saxophonist David knows of but whose name is unfamiliar to me.

The response and support which Toru is able to attract is really incredible. Jo Kondo comes tonight and I give him a can of ginseng. We all go back to the yakatori house we first went to with Yasunori and have another fabulous meal. We discuss language – geishas and friendship forever. Louis Hamel is with us and seems quite amazed with our thoughts. I hope he, as a diplomat, is encouraged by the thoughtfulness of musicians.

We discuss some of the signs – The things the Japanese do with the English language are incredible. English is very hip on T-shirts, sweatshirts and advertising. One restaurant on the third floor of the building behind the hotel had a big neon sign which said “Spaghetti and Chocolate”. A bistro is called “Lem-On-Tea”. A men’s shop “Ivy League”. Motor scooters call “Jog Tracer”, “Happy Ride”.  Cigarettes called “Peace Hope and Tender”. Sweatshirts with the most convoluted statement. One phrase we saw in ice cream parlor was “Mind Fancy Arbitrarily brought to Action”. Makes you stop and think.

Whoever translated Coca-Cola in China did a great job. The characters for Coca-Cola means “Feels good in the mouth”. Bob saw a truck today with the sign “45 RPM Boys Club” painted on the side panel. Tour recalls a place called “Potatoes and wine”.

Tomorrow at 2 PM I’m going with Toru to hear a rehearsal of Toshi’s new piece “Wind Trace”. Nexus has the music but we did not have time to prepare it before our tour began.  Yasunori, Sumire and Sugawara are performing it Friday night.  A lot of good performances coming up and we are going to miss them. Too expensive to change our plane tickets.

Saturday night, a sextet of Ondes Martinot under the direction of Jeanne Loriod is performing. One of the works is a 1943 composition by Wyschinegrdsky, a favorite composer of Bruce Mather and a forerunner in quarter tone writing. He is still alive. Bruce and Pierette have recorded some of his music and performed it extensively.  One of the Ondes Martinot members is an American, Mark Robson. He came to our concert tonight.

Toru’s concert is Sunday night and the concert of six duets. Russ, Jo Kondo, and I are going shopping tomorrow afternoon when trace rehearsal.

May 31 at 7:30 AM

I finished writing at 1:30 and woke at 6 AM. 4 1/2 hours sleep, not bad. I should say 4 1/2 hours of uninterrupted sleep. I have a big infection in my left sinus. Very yellow drainage. Painful ache all day.

It seems as if I’ve never established an equitable relationship with this tour. My mind is one thing, my body another. I am functioning very well on four hours sleep and in some respects I feel very productive and useful. But I am very tired almost all the time. The times when I am not are when I’m playing. Since Shanghai I’ve not been well.

I told Toru about the diary and he asked if it was for the Canadian government and laughed. Keeping this diary has help me be more honest.

Last night at yakitori house we discussed the necessity of working together worldwide. The whole world is carrying the egg of the future. We must allow all differences and still work together in friendship. Toru said composers must not remain aloof with their own ideas, selfish interests – “See how brilliant I am” – but must show everyone how they feel about the world, not only in their music but in other works,. This of course is Toru in action. Bringing people from all over the world together for music making – there is in everything he does a spirit of giving – excitement, thoughtfulness. My assumptions, my lassitude, my vague ideas are continually being made clear. Feelings that lead to confusion and frustration are resolved by his clarity. The “Anonymous” story is a perfect example. I wonder how many words I would have used, how long I would have rambled on and still, frustratingly, not made myself clear to myself as well as others. He gives me confidence that basically I am on the right track. I am mentally lazy. I provide people with a couple hours of entertainment but the rest of my life, I think is rather mundane, unproductive, uninspiring.

That is not true. As usual I’m going through a not so minor trauma, associated with hanging out with some real heavies. It is interesting to me that Toru says as few words and anyone I know, except Russell, and says more than anyone I know.

I say that I think one of the reasons I play music is so people will leave me alone. Bob remarks after a thoughtful pause,”That is an interesting concept”. A furtive glance at Toru reveals a benign smile. I’m not sure I understand the statement myself, but I think it is a very true remark close to something important or, if not important something I can learn from.

Toru believes that Steve Reich’s early music is good. “The essence”  – now his music is mostly cosmetic.

We walk back to the hotel and on the curb of one of the streets find a rectangular pole with a plexiglass square inset about 5 feet above the ground. Inside is a sculpture in bronze of two ears about 3 1/2 inches high. Toru mentions Japanese sculptor who committed suicide last year and mentioned huge ear he did in bronze.

12:45 PM

After breakfast with Russ, I spent the morning shopping for Eleanor and now back in the hotel room with all the cloths spread out on the bed. I wonder if she’s going to like any of these.

June 1-10 p.m.

Heard young guitarists Sato last night. Toru introduced him by saying there are many fine guitarists in Japan but Sato is the only one who is always learning new music. I fall asleep next to Jo Kondo during the opening piece – Bach. He is a very loose dude. The last piece on the program is beautiful. At 2 o’clock that afternoon Russ and I go hear “Wind Trace” rehearsal at NHK. The jury is still out on that one. After one run through, Russ and I joined Toru in the hall outside the studio. Jo Kondo is coming at 3:00 and we are going to hang out together for the rest of the day. Yasunori and Sumire come out for a break and after a cigarette Yasunori says “Well, time for the second show.” and they go back. Toru says the piece is too classical in structure. I don’t find it very interesting harmonically. Jo comes and we all decide on lunch – seventh floor Seibu. I try a glass of Mann’s white dry wine. Really not good at all. Toru leaves and Jo informs us that Toru has asked him to write a piece for Nexus. I tell Jo to think of air freight when he writes the piece and Russell says “Ask yourself how much that note is going to weigh when you put it down on paper.” We leave for a record shop where I buy Paul Zukofsky’s recording of the Freeman Etudes, and some Yuri Takahashi’s recordings.

Jo makes his living by translating English books and articles into Japanese. He lives in Kamakura because his parents own the house he and his wife live in and they pay no rent. Father Love is at the concert, a Jesuit priest, teacher of art history and artist. He has been in Japan 26 years. He is still a young man maybe 50 or 55 but he is very frail. Toru says he is sick. He is a good friend of Jo Kondo.

This morning we meet Toru at 10 o’clock at the Tops coffee shop next to the hotel and I tell him I must get something to relieve my sinus. He takes me to a drugstore and I get some patent medicine and aspirin. I go shopping for another bag to take care of my gift overload. I am continually looking for a place to spit. China does have some advantages. It’s just a few hours before our bus to Narita airport and I see Toru in the lobby meeting the Ondes Martineau people. He is taking lunch with his next group of charges. What a schedule he has. He organizes everything and entertains the foreign artists.

Over coffee this morning he asked he asked if we spoke to Yuji Takahashi at the concert last night. We had. Toru and Yuji had carried on an angry debate in the papers. Yuji attacked Toru as old-style. Toru criticized Yuji’s politics – (Maoist). Yuji called what Toru said “Bullshit”. Toru says that after a year they are now on speaking terms.

Whilst shopping for a bag this morning I found a book of soft porn bondage and have presented it to Joanne as we wait for our bus.  Joanne removes the cover, walks across the lobby and puts the cover in a pamphlet display advertising bridal parties and honeymoons at the hotel. She is seen by the bell captain and he moves in just a minute later and removes it.

5:55 PM Private cars to a downtown baggage and security check – seat assignments, bus tickets and ride to Narita. The ride is 70 minutes – half way there I fall asleep.

Armed with a calculator I make a definitive check of duty free prices on Nikon cameras – the F3 with an f 1.4 lens is  $912 Canadian,  the 80-200 mm f.4mm is $518 Canadian.

After airport tax,  pharmacy, and bus tickets, I am leaving Japan with about ¥80. I have ¥500 note on me now but am having coffee in airport restaurant and with the price of coffee, $2.80 per cup Canadian, I’ll not have any residue of cash cluttering my bag. Toru loved my clutch bag purchase as do I and the rest of the group.

Now just before boarding I am beginning to feel a gradual but nonetheless powerful erosion of my emotional monasticism. I am beginning to have gradual erections rising and subsiding with the amount of time I allow my mind to dwell upon thoughts of fresh country air and cool clean sheets.

We were supposed to have taken off at 6:45. It is 7:40 before we are airborne. No rebate on ticket price – just an apology from an anonymous and barely audible electronically reproduced human voice which, we are told by that very same voice is our pilot. The voice actually calls itself “Your Captain”. Your Captain obviously enjoys one part not afforded our hostess. Your Captain can speak conversational English with all the natural tendencies – verbal slips and interesting grammatical constructions present in most conversations or spontaneous monologues. Obviously Your Captain is held in high esteem by the corporate image planners. He is so important and respected that when speaking on the intercom he is allowed to simulate humanists humaneness. 10 minutes have gone by and we’ve been given blankets and a meal is about to be served. The movie is “The man who loved Women” with Burt Reynolds and Julie Andrews. One of the two other choices is “Octopussy”,  the third “Rueben Rueben” we’ve seen. Threee 747s land at Vancouver airport at what. Big jam up. I could have filled a declaration stating a $300 limit and had no problem. Instead I’m reasonably honest and wind up paying $50 duty on my excess. Our flight to Toronto was delayed 45 minutes; I assume to help us make the connection for our flight from Narita was 45 minutes late leaving Japan. After we board for Toronto we are delayed 30 more minutes. Right away things get snarky. Someone asks one of our hostess for a blanket and she gives a very disturbed look. Some other people see this blanket and began asking for them. Bad vibes start coming down and the stewardess gets on the phone. Slams the phone down after her call, storms into the galley and tears the curtain closed. I can’t recall one flight on CP Air that I’ve enjoyed. What is wrong with this company?

Next next diary posting June 21, 1984  Amsterdam.

 

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Posted by on April 15, 2016 in Composers, Contemporary Music

 

Concerts in Toronto – No. 3, October 28, 2015.

On October 28, a cabbie with too few miles in the driver’s seat and too little command of the English language, dropped me off in the dark of night on a street unfamiliar to me, somewhere in Toronto. With directions from individuals I met in an alley, I found my destination, the Australian New Zealand Club on Brunswick Avenue.  Commonly referred to as The Tranzac, the club is a bleak concrete rectangle that looks as if it could house illegal activities.

The corridor from the entrance to the main performance space is narrow. Jerry rigged curtains are only partially successful as sound barriers or as masks to hide staff and cases of beer. A few right angle turns add to the illusion that I’m in a carnival fun house or a Murray Schafer opera.

I like this place. Though the room is a bit seedy, it has a friendly feel and a rather large crowd has turned out to hear TorQ. TorQ audiences are made up of music professionals, students, friends, sponsors and the curious. They are always an important part of a TorQ  concert, providing a refreshing blend of  good humour and a bit of frisson.

TorQ member Dan Morphy greets and directs me to a chair along side his father Frank and Michelle Hwu, a former percussion student. Directly in front of us is Ray Dillard, percussionist, composer, recording engineer and producer and President of the local Musician’s Union. Further on is solo percussionist Beverley Johnston and her husband, composer Christos Hatzis. Rick Sacks, Artistic Director of Array Music is also in the house.

Tranzac’s bar is in almost every respect, in need of a serious upgrade; imagine no Campari on the rocks with a slice of orange, but then, Aussies reputed drink of choice is beer. I settle for a diet Coke and accept Ray Dillard’s offer to pay. Tranzac is a good place for small ensembles to proffer their wares and expect some return on their investment.

Judging from the number of  guest artists and the amount of equipment on stage, I doubt TorQ made anything much beyond a couple of beers each. The programme was titled OCTET, their guests being ARCHITEK a quartet of percussionist friends whose base of operations is Montreal. As usual, TorQ provided no printed programmes, preferring to announce everything from the stage. I must remember to bring a pad of paper and pen to their next concert. TorQ’s announcements have devolved upon Adam Campbell who is informative if at times loquacious.

The program consisted of a couple of very good works and a few not so good. The two bookend works were octets by Tim Brady and Michael Oesterle, both winners. Brady’s Spin (2012) was arranged from a large ensemble comprised of electric guitar, harpsichord, percussion, harp, electric piano, viola and bass clarinet. Rhytmically exuberant, it provided an exciting start to the concert. The Oesterle work took the grand prize. Titled California (2015) it was a mesmerizing stream of long tones and subtle harmonic progressions that never flagged. My question was whether or not this work could  be played as a quartet?  Funds for California were donated by Daniel Cooper who was in the audience and acknowledged.

Oesterie’s other work, Cepheid Variables for Quartet with Quarter Tone Glock soloist (2008), was not as successful. According to my source, a Cepheid Variable is a star that pulsates radially, varying in both temperature and diameter to produce brightness changes with a well-defined stable period and amplitude. It seemed to me that those brightness changes were the glockenspiel and its notes in quarter tones created startling moments when played with traditionally tuned notes.

Time Travels Light (2015) by Andrew Stanilan and Drum Dances (1993) for Piano and Drumset by John Psathas and arranged in 2015 by ARCHITEK member Ben Duinker, filled out the programme.

TorQ Percussion Quartet continues to thrive. Their collective imaginings create programmes and  performances which communicate directly with  audiences.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Concerts in Toronto – No. 2, October 27, 2015.

Some years ago a concert presented by New Music Concerts in Toronto’s Betty Oliphant Theatre featured the music of the German clarinettist Jörg Widmann. Hearing his music was a déja vu experience for me. Widmann’s compositions used many, if not all of the instrumental dtechniques my colleagues and I had struggled with in the 60s and 70s. Yet that night they were comfortably played and sounded fresh and natural. In a few rehearsals, Widmann had taught a group of Toronto ‘pickup’ musicians to play his works with authority. The techniques demanded by Widman had not been played regulalry in Toronto for nore than 50 years, but had been if you will in the air, allowing succeeding generations to absorb them as if by osmosis. Perhaps this transference defines Array Music’s programme title, Redefining the 20th Century.

ARRAY MUSIC Artistic Director Rick Sacks, stepped forward to welcome the audience and introduce the concert. He was dressed in slacks, dress shirt, tie and jacket, clothes which for him, seemed almost formal.  This attire, however, proved to be appropriate given the gravitas of the evening, its music, its performers, guest artist violist Vincent Royer, cellist Émilie Gerard-Charest,* and Toronto’s perennial new music pianist, Stephen Clarke, and the acoustically superb venue of Saint Andrew’s Church, built in 1876 in the Romanesque Revival style, on the corner of King and Simcoe streets in downtown Toronto.

Royer began the concert with Canto del capricorno l and Il by Giacinto Scelsi (1905-88).  Playing moderately loud and irregular strokes on a small gong, he entered from just off stage, that is to say, via an open door located mid chancel. After a brief procession, Royer put aside the gong and began a kind of sprechstimme consisting of multi syllabic nonsense constructions.  I first experienced these ceremonial or ritualistic devices in the latter third of the 20th century, though at that time, the notation was sometimes of equal or more importance to composers than the effect. There were no programme notes attending, so I am not sure exactly what Royer was vocalizing.

However, I had recorded in Paris some of Scelsi’s songs with my former Nexus colleague, Russell Hartenberger and Japanese soprano, Michiko Hirayama.  She had sung Scelsi’s “Capricorno” with 2 percussion, saxophone and electronics at Walter Hall, Toronto in 1981 and had asked us to record with her the next year after a lengthy NEXUS tour of England.  As I recall, similar speech sounds dominated the Scelsi songs as sung by Michiko.

As a concert opener, Scelsi’s music and Royer’s rendition were moving and completely convincing. The sprechstimme, was delivered unselfconsciously  and without undue labour.

Following were individual works by Royer – a solo titled O Souffle and the duet S’offrir by Gerard-Charest. Played without a pause between them and lasting about one half hour, they were similar in style and content. With the exception of col legno (wood of the bow), these works showcased many traditional bowing techniques.** The works also proved to be subtle tests in ear training. Within the sustainations were sometimes delicate and slow strisciata, up or down slides in pitch. These, among other devices, maintained one’s attention which might otherwise have drifted, so simple the works seemed to be.

During an extended cello ‘coda’ , Royer, who had been seated attentively and directly in front of Gerard-Charest, moved to a group of music stands in order to play the final work on the first half, Manto for solo viola, also by Scelsi. In this 12 minute work, a brief, but startling series of pizzicati, their first appearance on the program, provided a surprising and delightful contrast to the evening’s long tones. A memorable and evocative first half.

After intermission, an exploration of the church catacombs was needed to unearth soloist Stephen Clarke who finally appeared, unruffled and took his seat at the helm of a giant Bosendorfer concert grand – its extra keys provocatively uncovered. With composer Linda Smith as page turner, Clarke prepared himself to play the Horatiu Radulescu (1942-08) 29 minute Piano Sonata 6, Op. 110,Return to the Source of Light”, whose title was taken from The Tao te Ching of Lao-tzu.

This Sonata could well be a case history for exploring compulsive angst syndrome. The moderately paced, pounding chords of the beginning were sure to end I thought, but no, they went on and on until relieved by what may have been a Romanian folk song. Unfortunately the song, very catchy, was too short lived. It was also written for both hands playing canonicaly o’er top each other. The tempo was extraordinarily fast and when the tune first appeared, even Clarke whose artistic skills reliably re-create some of the most difficult 20th and 21st century piano repertoire, found his fingers interfering with each other, creating an unintended “Here’s the Church, there’s the steeple, open the doors and Ooops”, phalangial faux pas. That part of the work went much better the second time around.

Return to the Source of Light” is the first work by Radulescu I’ve heard. I hope his journey was a success, either before or after death.

The evening’s remarkably stimulating programme resolved with Scelsi’s Elegia per Ty. This was written for his wife who had deserted him in the 40’s and was never heard from again. Royer played beautifully. The concert with Royer and Charest’s performances greatly improved my appreciation for Scelsi’s music.

Excepting the bio of Stephen Clarke, those by the other performers seemed to run on like Ole Ma Bell’s Yellow Pages. When one is young, one wants to write down everything because everything is important. But there does come a time for thoughtful culling and I think the time has come for them. At any rate they are artists on the go and have done and are doing many positive things. They are both very, very good players.

Notes;

*  Violist Vincent Royer, Cellist Émilie Gerard-Charest occasionally play together, but are not a formally constituted duo. Charest was born in Montreal, Quebec and is presently participating in a month long composer/performer colloquy in Lyon, France. This colloquy will then move to three other European cities.

Born in Strasbourg, Royer studied in Freiburg and Cologne. He is now professor of chamber rmusic at the Conservetoire Royal de Liège in Belgium.

**  sulla tastiera (over the finger board), strisciata (slides between notes), strozzata (strangled, choking), sur la chevalet (on the bridge), harmonics and chords in extreme pianissimos or fortissimos. The sounds emanating from these techniques proved a helpful tool for remembering the music. I had to look up all of the bowings in a dictionary.

*** Their compositional devices; glissandi, harmonics, multi-phonics and slowly evolving chords, were frequently used by mid-20th century composers. I cannot now remember who said “good composers borrow, great composers steal”. Thus, restoring old techniques and devices once again proves useful.

 

 

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Concerts in Toronto – No. 1, October 16, 2015.

Art of Time opened with two concerts – October 16th repeated on 17th, masterfully played and for the most part refreshingly new, at least to my ears and eyes and all based on the  concert theme,TZIGANE.

Tzigane began with performances I’ll not soon, if ever forget. Guest violinist Yehonatan Berick and Burashko opened with three Brahms Hungarian Dances, numbers 1, 4 and 5. From the first note Berick took off. I felt as though he would crash and burn somewhere. But no, he had it all together, including padded shoes which allowed him to stamp his feet in time when the heat got hotter. Anyone who didn’t appreciate that touch must have the emotional range of a dead jelly fish. Yehonatan Berick is a Naumburg Prize winner and teaches at the University of  Ottawa and the Glenn Gould School whilst maintaining an international solo and chamber music career.  His performance with Burashko of Zigeunerweisen by Pablo de Sarasate put a genuine stamp of authenticity on the evening’s Gypsy theme.

I can think of violinists with the technique to play these works, but only one who played them with Berick’s innate understanding and willingness to take chances, that is, to bring the listener with him, exploring the music as if for the first time. Michael Rabin (1936-72) was the only violinist who compares and I urge readers to find the treacly titled CD Strings by Starlight, with Felix Slatkin conducting the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra. The CD is superp in every respect and contains Zigeunerweisen as well as other one-movement masterpieces for orchestra and solo violin with orchestra. [ EMI Studio,CDM 7 63660 2 ]* If you can find this collection, grab it. Then you will know. Yehonatan Berick now abides side by side with Rabin in my exclusive music vault.

Then came something different. An exciting display of Spanish dancing by Esmerelda Enrique and Ilse Gudiño of the Esmerelda Enrique Spanish Dance Company. They performed De Los Buenos Mountainiales, a set of Fandangos de Huelva accompanied by two guitarists and a percussionist. The arrogant poses and gestures and aggressive foot tapping of Spanish dancing remind me somewhat of the opening poses, upright presentation and sheer physicality of Highland dancing. Featured too was the poignant and powerful singing of Fernando Gallego who was born in Cadiz and is known as “El Reale”. With the greatest respect, whenever I hear this singing, I feel a need to be hammered.

After intermission Andrew and Berick Performed Tzigane, Rhapsodie de Concert by Maurice Ravel. I’ve rarely heard it played more expressively.

Next was Van Django, a quartet from Vancouver, B.C. whose speciality is music of Jean “Django” Reinhardt and its genre. Reinhart (1910-53) was a famous Jazz guitarist, composer and recording artist during the first half of the Twentieth Century. I have a modest, but comprehensive collection of Reinhardt’s recordings and can testify to the honesty of Van Django’s arrangements within which they’ve left room for their imaginative improvisations. Van Django is Cameron Wilson, Violin; Budge Schachte and Finn Manniche, Guitar; and Brent Gubbels, Double Bass.

Van Django are composers as well as arrangers and performers of sensitivity. Beside the music of Rheinhardt, they played other complimentary works from the era. This music genre deserves to be heard. As with so much of our music heritage, it has been shunted aside by the Pop Music behemoth, but deserves to be remembered. Van Django is one ensemble keeping this creative tradition alive with skill and respect.

The Brahms Quartet No. 1 for Piano and Strings, Op. 25, iv. Rondo alla Zingarese (Gypsy style) Presto, concluded the evening of  Tzigane explorations. Berick and Burashko were supported by the fervent cello playing of Rachel Mercer** and violist Carolyn Blackwell.  I am familiar with the Brahms Hungarian Dances in their orchestral versions, but had never heard the piano trios. I was therefore delightfully surprised by the Romani verve Brahms had captured in his chamber work.  A spectacular concert.

Andrew Burashko, Art of Time’s indefatigable artistic director, continues to invigorate Toronto’s traditionally nonchalant audiences with thoughtful programmes imbued with style and excitement. Whatever the music, whoever the players, one always recieves highest quality.

*Originally released as an LP titled In Memorium this CD also contains a  rendition of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings that rivals in every way Leopold Stokowski’s brilliant 1957 recording on the Capital LPs, The Orchestra

** Rachel Mercer is cellist with the Ensemble Made in Canada String Quartet. They have recorded on compact disc the music of Canadian composer John Burge.   If you do not know about them, look them up on Google. Besides their fetching publicity photos, you may be surprised by their accomplishments to date.

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2015 in Commentaries & Critiques, Composers

 

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Linda Catlin Smith, Sandy Baron, Rick Sacks and Array Space.

 

MOKEE (MOKI, MOQUI) DUGWAY SAN JUAN COUNTY, UT.  [1.] Photo by Sandy Baron. Used with permission of the photographer.

MOKEE (MOKI, MOQUI) DUGWAY
SAN JUAN COUNTY, UT. [1.]
Photo by Sandy Baron. Used with permission of the photographer.

26 April, 2015

Last night I attended a memorable concert of new music. One work, a duet for violin and percussion by composer Linda Catlin Smith, titled Dirt Road, was performed by violinist Sandy Baron and percussionist Rick Sacks. Calgary born, Ms. Baron has played in the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra for 19 years. During the summer months she plays with the Santa Fe, New Mexico Opera Company and when not in the pit, she drives around New Mexico’s outback photographing desert landscapes intersected by the dirt roads she travels in her 1971 vintage Ford blue and white pick up. When Ms. Baron returns to Toronto, the pick up is left to winter in the south-west.

With Sandy to one side and Rick to the other, Dirt Road (2006-15) was performed in front of Array Music’s new, very large and very clear rear projection screen upon which Baron’s lonesome dirt road photographs appeared in and out in an approprately slow accompaniment to the music. Dirt Road was written in 15 movements, any number to be played in any order. It is one hour long and occasionally I began to fidgit. My lack of control aside, the work was mesmerizing. Linda’s Dirt Road is generally quiet and slow. It demands patience, nuanced control and a lyrical, expressive sound. [2.] All these were provided by Ms. Baron.

Rick Sacks played vibrphone, large gong, four cymbals, triangle, glockenspiel and bass drum. On the whole, these were played sparingly as accompaniments to the violin. The vibraphone part was difficult, frequently four mallets, closely voiced and not easily memorized. The solo percussion movement, placed about mid-way, was a highlight. Many non pitch percussion instruments produce short or unanalyzable sounds, or both. In order to bridge the inherent silences or distractions created by these anomalies, a listener must retain sounds in order to attach them to the next. Rick’s phrasing provided the necessary continuity and the movement hung in space. Ms. Baron’s solo violin movement was a melodic gift, elegant yet casually proffered. A judiciously rendered foil to the percussion sounds. For me, these two movements formed the works apex.

The concert was pretty well sold out and even with my poor peepers, I saw John Beckwith, Kathleen McMorrow, Henry Kucharzyk, Adele Armin, Beverley and Austin Clarkson.

 

Notes:

[1.] “MOKEE (MOKI, MOQUI) DUGWAY, SAN JUAN COUNTY, UT.  (southeast Utah)

The Mokee Dugway is located on Utah Route 261 just north of Mexican Hat, UT. It was constructed in 1958 by Texas Zinc, a mining company. The three miles of unpaved, switchbacks descend 1100 feet from the top of Cedar Mesa from where the photograph above was taken.

The term “mokee” is derived from the Spanish word moqui, which was a general term used by the 18th century Spanish explorers and settlers in this region to describe the Pueblo Indians they encountered and the vanished culture which had left behind the numerous ruins they discovered during their travels.

Today the standard term used to describe these prehistoric Native Americans, who lived in this region more than 1000 years ago, is “ancestral Puebloans”. It is based on present day Puebloan tribes and archaeologists believe these people were the ancestors of the today’s Hopi, Zuni, Acoma and Rio Grande region cultures. You may also see them commonly referred to as the “Anasazi”, a Navajo word meaning “enemy ancestors”. note by Sandy Baron, edited by R.E.


[2.] I hope one day a recording is made of Blue Sky (2006) a percussion quintet Linda wrote for Nexus.  In my opinion, percussion repertoire would be enhanced by its inclusion. It is an aesthetic experience percussionists have for too long been deprived.

 

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Armstrong and Bechet, a Precise Freedom.

My brother was an avid collector of early Dixieland Jazz recordings and I grew up with the sounds of great singers, the likes of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith and Lizzy Miles and King Oliver’s band, Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five and Hot Seven, and the Original Dixeland Jazz Band. [1.] With incomparable panache these artists wrote and recorded some of America’s most expressive  music. Today, much of this legacy is available in digital format, though pureists may insist on listening to the original 78s and LPs.

In the 1950s Armstrong (1901-71) assembled his All Stars. Recently, I revisited two of my favourite Armstrong recordings from those years, Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy  and Ambassador Satch. The players were the same on both albums and long time Armstrong collaborators.  The band was Barney Bigard, clarinet; Arvell Shaw, bass;  Billy Kyle, piano; Trummy Young, trombone; Armstrong, trumpet; Barrett Deems, drums; and Velma Middleton, vocals.  Edmond Hall, clarinet, replaced Bigard on Ambassador Satch. [2.]

Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy was recorded in a studio under the supervision of the composer William Christopher Handy(1873-1958). The tunes on Ambassador Satch were recorded live during a European tour, with Edmond Hall’s lush clarinet tones and incomparably mellifluous lines, Arvel Shaw’s rock solid bass, Kyle’s tasty piano rhythms and sweet solos, Trummy Young’s rip saw Gut Bucket trombone, and Deems, “the Fastest Drummer in the World” tasty back ups and roisterous solos.

These guys played with a joy European fans had been waiting for years to experience. They were not disappointed. Within Europe’s music community, Armstrong and his All Stars were post World War II’s most appreciated ambassadors.

Note: To access audio files, go to my web site http://www.robinengelman.com

“Royal Garden Blues”, Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955. Columbia LP, CL840.

“Dardanella”, Edmond Hall, Clarinet on Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955.

“West End Blues”, Ambassador Satch, Louis Armstrong and his All Stars, 1955. Columbia LP, CL840.

In 1957, a high school teacher played me a recording of le Sacre du Printemps. Its fagotto castrato launched me into an adventure with Western Art Music that held my interest for Dixieland in abeyance for many years. I’ve since played le Sacre more than a few times and have about half a dozen LP and CD recordings by as many orchestras and conductors. During a conversation with Toru Takemitsu, I mentioned my love for early Dixieland. Toru replied, “Sidney Bechet”. Bechet (1897-1959) was familiar to me. Some years earlier I had purchased two recordings he’d made in France. [3.]  Unfortunately, their quality was very poor and I vowed to revisit his music.

Recently I purchased 115 Bechet recordings. As I made my way through this lode, I struck gold on almost every track. I was delighted by Bechet’s mastery of the soprano saxophone and his endlessly brilliant improvisations. There was one tune I had to include here. According to one aficionado, Shag is not only a prime example of Bechet’s art, it contains perhaps the greatest Jazz vocal, ever. That aside, this masterful example of Scat singing by Ernest Meyers offers an enlightening contrast to Louis Armstrong’s style. Shag was written by Bechet and this recording was made in New York City in 1932 with his band, New Orleans Feetwarmers. The Bechet Quintet performance of Summertime is ineffably beautiful.[4.]

“Shag”, Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Sidney Bechet, soprano sax; Don Donaldson, piano;  Wilson Myers, Bass;  Wilbert Kirk , drums. New York, 1943.

“Summertime”, Sidney Bechet Quintet: Meade Lux Lewis, piano; Teddy Bunn, guitar; Johnny Williams, bass; Sid (Big Sid) Catlett, drums. New York, 1939.

“After You’ve Gone”, Sidney Bechet and his New Orleans Feetwarmers, Vic Dickenson, trombone; Sidney Bechet, soprano sax; Don Donaldson, piano; Wilson Myers, bass; Wilbert Kirk, drums. New York, 1943.

I  wrote an article titled Music Appreciation 101. It’s a tribute to Janis Joplan and her album Pearl, one of the alltime great rock albums. Now, Armstrong and Bechet et al are providing me with further hours of pleasure. Their amazingly precise freedom gives me endless “What have I been missing” moments. After listening to a couple of cuts in this article, fellow drummer Rick Sacks said, “In this music you can hear all the voices.”  So true.  Next, I might check out Eddie Condon. Edmond Hall played with Condon as did drummers Cliff Leeman and George Wettling; trombonist Cutty Cutshall; and trumpet fireball Wild Bill Davidson, father of Toronto harpist Sarah Davidson.

NOTES:

[1.]  Ironically, an all white band and the first to make a commercial Dixieland recording.

The band recorded two sides for the Victor Talking Machine Company, “Livery Stable Blues” and “Dixie Jass Band One Step”, on February 26, 1917, for the Victor label. These titles were released as the sides of a 78 record on March 7, the first issued jazz record. The band records, first marketed simply as a novelty, were a surprise hit, and gave many Americans their first taste of jazz. (from Wikipedia)

[2.] I recommend exploring the biographies of these great players. The band members dates: Barney Bigard, clarinet (1906-80); Emond Hall, clarinet (1901-67);  Arvell Shaw, bass (1923-2002); Billy Kyle, piano (1914-66); Trummy Young, trombone (1912-84); Louis Armstrong, trumpet (1901-71); Barrett (the world’s fastest drummer) Deems (1914-98); and Velma Middleton, vocalist (1917-61). Velma died in Sierra Leone of a stroke or heart attack while touring with Armstrong. She can be heard on Louis Armstrong Plays the Music of W. C. Handy. Though some critics considered her voice average and suggested Armstrong replace her with someone better, Louis refused, stating “she was family”.  On this tour, the All Stars were official representatives of the U.S. government, hence the album title Ambassador Satch.

[3.] Bechet was a Creole. He was born in New Orleans and died in Garches, France, the country where he made more than half his recordings. Both his birth and death occured on May 14, reminding me of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams who died on the same day, July 4, in the same year, 1826.

[4.] This reminds me of the late Eva Cassidy singing Autumn Leaves on her CD Live at Blues Alley.

 

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New Creations Festival, Toronto, 2015

During the eight days from 28 February to 7 March, 2015, more contemporary music in the good to great category was heard in Roy Thompson Hall than in any previous season. The benefactor behind this musical munificence was the Toronto Symphony’s New Creations Festival (NCF), a yearly celebration of new music written for symphony orchestra.

The guest conductor and curator of this year’s festival was English composer and Cambridge University teacher, George Benjamin (b.1960). Benjamin selected the most substantive compositions and shared conducting duties with the Toronto Symphony’s resident conductor Peter Oundjian. Three of the festival’s five major compositions were chosen to accommodate the presence of soprano Barbara Hannigan. Ms. Hannigan has become an influential voice in new music. She has premiered more than 80 works, all written for her exceptional musicality, technique, her extremely high tessatura and her ability to memorize challenging scores. She has appeared with the Berliner Philharmoniker on more occasions than any other soloist and had her first experience conducting when Sir Simon Rattle suggested she share the baton with him during performances of William Walton’s Facade in which Ms. Hannigan also sang.

Ms. Hannigan began her NCF labours of love with A Mind of Winter by George Benjamin. A Mind of Winter is no great test of Ms. Hannigan’s skills, but she sang from memory, as she did with all the works she performed. The work is a generally quiet, beautiful landscape allowing the soprano’s first note to appear through the orchestra’s haze like magic, beginning innaudibly and gradually swelling into an expressive blossom. She was in fine voice. It was also abundantly clear that Benjamin is a splendid composer and conductor.

The concert on 4 March opened with a premier of a Toronto Symphony Commission, Lieder und Arien by Chris Paul Harman (1970). I was not looking forward to this. Years ago, I can’t remember how many, I played a work by Chris during one of the early years of the Canadian Contemporary Music Workshop, conducted by its founder Gary Kulesha. Chris’ antique cymbal part was a mess of notes. It looked to be a cadenza for an avant garde violin concerto. I explained to Chris the problems his writing posed for a percussionist, but wasn’t sure he was listening. The memory of that experience and subsequent hearings of Harman’s music, was greatly ameliorated by Lieder und Arien which contained some very fine moments of orchestration. Though Lieder und Arien is an arrangement of music by Bach, it sounded original at times and I was relieved to have my first experience with Harman’s music put behind me.

George Benjamin’s Duet for Piano and orchestra (2008) was next. It sounded to me very much as Benjamin described it, a challenging exercise for combining a piano with orchestra in some real duet form other than the typical concerto. This one left no impression on me.

However, the second half of the concert was given over to one work, Hans Abrahamsen’s let me tell you for Soprano and Orchestra (2012-13). Fortunately, Mr. Abrahamsen was not available for an interview. Considering the size of his  orchestra, Abrahamsen (b.1952) has created an intimate work, stunningly beautiful and complex. Written as a “dramatic monologue” with Barbara Hannigan “very much in mind”, let me tell you was commissioned and premiered by the Berliner Philharmoniker. The text for let me tell you is from Sir Paul Griffiths’ book of the same name and contains all the words spoken by Ophelia in William Shakespeare’s Hamlet. But Abrahamsen’s Ophelia “uses those words in different ways and, certainly, to express herself differently”.

I heard Sir Simon Rattle conduct the premiere performance of this work via the Berliner Philharmoniker Digital Concert Hall which is beamed into my television set in real time from Germany. Then as now, Barbara sang from memory and unobtrusively floated above the accompanying cushion of sound. Mr. Griffiths’ wife and Ms Hannigan deserve our thanks for planting the seed that became let me tell you.  It is a moving work of art

The festival’s last concert was devoted entirely to George Benjamin’s opera, Written on Skin. I had heard its premier performance on YouTube, fully staged  and conducted by the composer with Ms. Hannigan singing the primary role of Agnes. But You Tube reproductions are excretions. The NCF concert brought the truth of this work home. The mistreatments of characters, physical and mental, and the brutal rape scene were left to one’s imagination. The singing was terrific, but baritone Christopher Purves must be singled out. He was first to sing the role of  Protector when Written on Skin was premiered at the Festival d’Aix-en-Provence. The libretto for Written on Skin was taken from a 13- century razo, literally reason or cause, prefacing a Troubadour’s poem.

Written on Skin never reverts to clichés, nor does it wander. Every twist and turn is new, maintaining one’s attention through the last note. It is, if you will, a perfectly compact work of genius. It reminded me of Dutilleux. Clusters of brilliant ever changing sounds, miniature compositions in their own right, weaving their way through the orchestra, each clear and precisely crafted. The orchestra players must have enjoyed themselves. The section players had material perfectly written for their instruments and they played them, especially the brass, winds and percussion, with sensitivity and assurance. The audience reception matched any I’ve heard in Roy Thompson Hall. I attended all the Concertgebouw Orchestra concerts and none of them received standing ovations as lengthy or filled with such palpable appreciation, as this one.

This year Toronto NCF audiences were blessed with music of rare quality and soloists of the first water.  I could not, nor would I, attempt to choose between them. Let’s hope T.S.O. management can entice curators and soloists of similar expertise and quality to grace Toronto for future New Creations Festivals.

The question arises, why are such dramatic experiences relegated to three concerts in mid-winter? And why, given Oundjian’s violin heritage, are the T.S.O strings in such dismal shape? One wag seated near me opined, “Most of the violinists appear to be women and they play like exhausted housewives”. I hope they are not, but somebody needs to get them excited about something and that’s the conductor’s job.

As I blissfully made my way towards the exit, someone nearby said, “They’re having an after concert talk”. Sure enough the cast and conductor had returned and were seated in a semi-circle mid stage. I sped up my retreat and had almost reached the exit when I heard Oundjian say to Benjamin, “That was fabulous. George, how did you do that?”. OMG.

Notes:

Mr. Oundjian was born in Toronto of Armenian and English parents. He studied in England and before he began conducting full time, was for fourteen years principal violinist of the Tokyo string Quartet. He’s a good talker with a pleasing and uncondescending haut British accent still beloved of many Toronto art patrons.  Now, if he’d just learn to stop talking. A request rumoured to be heard among Toronto Symphony players.

Barbara Hannigan studied vocal singing with Mary Morrison as an undergraduate at the Faculty of Music of the University of Toronto. During that period she performed with Nexus, singing ballads and sentimental songs from the early 20th-century. She studied in London, England and then moved to Amsterdam where she lives today. Though her “signature” piece is György Ligeti’s Mysterie of the Macabre, arranged by Elgar Howarth in 1979 from Ligeti’s Opera le Grand Macabre, written from 1974-97, she has always been devoted to contemporary music and has established herself in the forefront of 21st-century music performers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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