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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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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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the Bradshaw Amphitheatre, an Homage

The Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre, RBA, has achieved Most Favoured Venue status with Toronto chamber music audiences. An anonymous gift makes the RBA’s public concerts free of charge. They are the product of  programme director Nina Draganic whose discriminating and eclectic tastes consistently account for line ups and full houses. A visit to Ms. Draganic’s RBA website will provide ample insight into the popularity of her concert series.

Rick Sacks was one of her presciently gratifying choices. On 24 April, he performed a concert of music for the MalletKat – two octaves of rectangular rubber pads laid out like the black and white keys of a piano keyboard and activated with, what else, mallets. A computer helps program the pads with an almost infinite number of sounds and Rick employed many of them during the concert. An hour’s worth of MalletKat music proved plenty diverse enough to hold the audience’s attention.

Rick played six works, four of his own creation. On a couple of occasions, his natural gift for whimsy struck home. In his 2009 Dragnet, a Sergeant Friday -“Just the facts Mam” tribute, Rick donned a fedora and pulled up his shirt collar to take his bow.

The program opened with a work by David Lidov, evocatively titled I Want You To Know That I Love You (An Aria). This was written in 2011 and revised in 2012. I didn’t feel loved at all and wondered if i was missing something. Perhaps. There were no programme notes.

A commission by Rick was GOLEM (2014) by Musique Concrète composer Giels Gobeil. Although to me overly long, GOLEM is the work of a professional and the first work by Gobeil involving a performer. The industrial or factory sounds were, for the most part mesmerizing. I believed Rick when he said prior to playing the work, that it was extremely difficult and he was still working on it. At concerts end, GOLEM elicited questions from the audience about its notation.

Lullaby (2010) by Sacks, is a simple construction of sampled sounds of a naturally amplified German version of an Mbira. Lullaby is a beautiful work and without the traditional buzzing of shells or bottle caps attached to Mbiras played in Africa, it was profitably adapted to the MalletKat. Tender and affecting, Lullaby created a dramatic presence.

The last work was the premier of Rick’s Andronicus, which, on a couple of occasions and much to the delight of the capacity audience, he accidently referred to as Androgynous. Dedicated to the Bradshaw Amphitheatre and the Canadian Opera Company, Andronicus is a skillfully arranged pastiche of operatic excerpts triggered by strikes on the MalletKat. Andronicus ended in parody with a much too long high soprano note allowing Rick, mouth opened wide, sanpaku eyes ablaze and a supplicant’s arms outstretched, to accept his audience’s long and grateful applause.

Rick Sacks is the artistic director of Array Music, a composer, a percussionist and conductor. In this author’s opinion, Rick’s term as Array’s Artistic Director has wrought significant changes bringing  Array Music into an elite group of Canadian contemporary music educators and presenters. I look forward to Array’s Young Composers Programme in the last half of this month. (May 2014.)

R.E.

 

 

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SCENES from ARRAY MUSIC HALL

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

 

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TORQ IN ARRAY MUSIC CONCERT HALL

TorQ Percussion Quartet in the Array Music Concert Hall, 20 November, 2013.  L. to R.  Adam Campbell,  Jamie Drake Daniel Morphy, Richard Burrows.  Cell phone photo by Frank Morphy.

TorQ Percussion Quartet in the Array Music Concert Hall, 20 November, 2013.
L. to R. Adam Campbell, Jamie Drake, Daniel Morphy, Richard Burrows. Cell phone photo courtesy Frank Morphy.

TorQ struck again, pun intended, this time with a concert of music for Prepared Piano by John Cage, all arranged for traditional percussion instruments by members of TorQ.

I last heard TorQ in the Toronto Dance Theatre, playing works which were choreographed for existing music, as I reported on this site in TorQ Ensemble: Morphy, Rolfe, Reich and Cage, 28 June, 2013. That concert was an unforgettable experience. Consequently, I was prepared for this one to be at best, less memorable.

This TorQ program began with Bacchanale (1938-40), a vivacious complexity of rhythms and tempi written for dance and the first work by Cage for Prepared Piano. Of the 20 movements in Cage’s Sonatas and Interlues, (1946-48),TorQ members arranged and played 11: 8 Sonatas and 3 Interludes. The first half ended with an exquisite arrangement by Jamie Drake of the mezmorizing In A Landscape (1948), the only unprepared piano work on the program and ended with an arrangement of a John Cage oil painting titled Chess Pieces (1944). The program was appropriately titled Sonatas and Interludes.

Western percussion ensembles and the Prepared Piano are commonly thought to have been invented by John Cage: the percussion ensemble to provide him with solutions to compositional issues and later, the Prepared Piano to provide him with a percussion orchestra free from extra players, their accoutrements and expenses. However, there were important antecedents to both the western percussion ensemble and the Prepared Piano and Cage himself affirmed this during a phone conversation. When I asked him if he had invented them Cage said, “No, they were in the air”. His exploitation of both genres popularized them and they became indelibly associated with his name. The Prepared Piano proved to be an instrument that offered fresh insights into the aesthetics of sound and influenced generations of performers and composers.

The piano is a percussion instrument. When its strings are affixed with nuts, bolts, erasers and other knicknacks, its sounds are altered dramatically, and it sounds even more percussive. Thus, Cage’s Prepared Piano music was written on a percussion instrument altered to sound like other percussion instruments. Somehow, TorQ‘s  arrangements for quartet and multi percussion had closed an historic circle in music history. Or have they opened a new one?

I was seated with my wife and the very fine percussionist Alison Bent who has recently become part of TorQ‘s management team. Some of the Toronto notables in attendance were John Miller the music impresario of the Stratford Summer Music Festival [1.] and Ray Dillard, percussionist, recording engineer and President of the Toronto Musician’s Association. Also in the audience was Toronto pianist Henry Kucharzyk, whose fine recording of the Sonatas and Interludes (1990) provided inspiration forTorQ arrangers.

Toronto percussionist and composer Rick Sacks made his first appearance of the night playing his Kat, an electronic instrument programed for Prepared Piano. Cage never embraced electronic sounds. He did not like recorded music and donated all gifts of recordings to libraries. The Kat’s ersatz Prepared Piano sounds were at variance with the otherwise all acoustic sounds made by TorQ. The Kat simply rang false and yet, its sounds were appealing on their own.

Rick is the artistic director of Array Music and is the force behind its new music hall and administrative offices. He is an indefatigable worker. The new hall is splendid. Seating at most 50 people, it is an acoustical gem. The sound is not distorted by excessive dryness or resonance. Small dance and music ensembles not yet aware of its comforts need to check it out.

Cage was studying chess under the tutelage of Marcel Duchamp and made a painting titled Chess Pieces for an exhibit by Duchamp and other New York based visual artists. Cage painted a chess board and filled each square with snippets of music. These snippets define the form and structure of the work. American pianist Margaret Leng Tan arranged these squares of music into a piano solo. Thus, Bryan Nozny’s arrangement of Chess Pieces, is an arrangement of an arrangement of an oil painting and sounding within the purview of Cage’s aesthetic.

The Sonatas and Interludes concert was a garden of delights, always unexpected, always satisfying. I have grown accustomed to TorQ‘s artistry. They move in unison while remaining flexible. What excites me most about TorQ, is their desire to search out new ideas and realize them, time after time, in musically satisfying ways.

Note:

[1.] It was announced that John Miller has named TorQ the Stratford Summer Music Festival Artists in Residence for the summer of 2014. 

 

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