The opening concert of the Music Gallery’s X Avant New Music festival began with a huge explosion of energy Friday, October 11. The high-octane sounds coming from the Gordon Grdina Trio set the stage for the Montreal-based Quartetski and their retake of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring. As I mentioned in my October WholeNote column, this work caused a riot when it premiered 100 years ago in Paris. As I was sitting listening to the brilliance of this reworking of the original, I couldn’t help but wonder how those audiences of 1913 would respond. I imagined Stravinsky himself with a huge wide grin dazzled by the eclectic palette of sounds, many of which would have been unheard of in his day. As for the audiences? Perhaps so shocked and stunned they wouldn't be able to move, let alone begin a riot.
But back to the music and its brilliance. For starters, there was the instrumentation: viola da gamba, violin, drums and eclectic percussion, various sound/noise objects, electric guitar with effect pedals, bass clarinet and soprano sax. But it was the seamless movement between scored sections and improvisation that captured my attention. The referencing of the original music was unmistakable -- the familiar melodies and the driving rhythms. But with the addition of improvisation, the individual virtuosic skills of each player shone; they approached their instruments as full-on sound generators including saxophone multiphonics, the bowing of the tailpiece of the gamba and a scratchy LP recording. One of my favourites was a DIY noise machine made by putting a stick in a styrofoam ball and placing it on a moving potter’s wheel, with the styrofoam ball acting as the sound resonator. You can see this white ball on the left in the photo.
After the concert, I asked the group’s founder and viola da gamba player Pierre-Yves Martel about how this piece came together. He told me that after listening to various orchestral versions, he studied the two-piano reduction created by Stravinsky. He proceeded from there to make an arrangement based on each player’s skills and unique talents. One of his fascinating ideas was to use various lines from the orchestral score that would not normally be heard so distinctively -- such as the tuba and flute parts. His creation was then brought to the group and honed into its final form through a collective process of improvisation and revisions.
To give you a taste of the imaginative melding of score and improvisation, here's a clip of the opening four minutes, thanks to Joe at Mechanical Forest Sound. It begins almost imperceptively with static-like sounds before we hear the familiar haunting opening melody. Then hold onto your hat as the sonic roller coaster kicks in.
To read more about Quartetski and listen to other audio clips go to quartetski.com.