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.
[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.
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.
Posted by robinengelman on November 10, 2015 in Commentaries & Critiques, Composers
Tags: Andrew Burashko, Art of Time Ensemble, Brahms, Esmerelda Enrique, Michael Rabin, Van Django, Yehonatan Berick