It was standing room only at the Music Gallery last night for the first of two concerts featuring the works of Vinko Globokar this weekend, but by the close of the second half of the evening’s programme you wouldn’t have noticed because everyone was standing to applaud. (More about applause as wrecking ball at the end of this.)
In the first, “Au-dela d’une etude pour percussion” percussionist David Schotzko was put through his paces in a series of evolving, and to my eye and ear devilishly difficult, “exercises” on a wide range of percussion instruments. “If the percussionist is interested only in percussion” Globokar says, they can simply play through sections A to P without stopping.” If on the other hand “the percussionist is interested in things other than percussion – such as fencing, karate, ... the production of noises with the body,... a variety of cries,... or mime, then he can invent six short performances and place them in a suitable space, outside the scope of the percussion.” The list of other interests he gives is much longer than the few I have cited, but no matter, because Schotzko, of course, chose nothing from the list, opting instead for a dextrous little episode of swishy casting with a fly fishing rod, followed by five bouts of chopping, dicing, dusting, cooking and consuming a meal on stage, each episode cunningly and ferociously amplified. As the piece proceeded one had to deal with the somewhat alarming realization that not even artistry of the highest order could hope to match the percussive (and compositional) wizardry of a piece of meat frying on a plate. Smelt good, though.
The second piece was illustrative of another facet of Globokar’s own life and work in that it was a true improvisation by four musicians (trombonists Scott Good and Heather Segger, and percussionists Schotzko and Dan Morphy who worked with Globokar during his two week residency). The four had never worked together before this week (and in fact I was a fly on the wall at their very first session together, exactly a week ago). At that first session they did about a fifteen minute improvisation, with Globokar listening. It was interesting, and resolved easily enough. Globokar talked a bit about his own years as an improviser, how their cardinal rules were never to discuss what they had just played, and never to discuss what they were about to play. And then he simply said “So do another, but this time, play longer.” It was fascinating last night to watch and listen to how that simple instruction still informed the “final” piece, as it wandered along its course, through a classy, deft first ending into a difficult rebirth (for the audience too) and a second, less tidy but emotionally far more satisfying close.
The first half of the programme concluded with “Dos a Dos” (Back to Back), “for any two mobile instrumentalists,” in this case trombonist David Pell and saxophonist Wallace Halladay. “Throughout the piece the performers have a tumultuous relationship, and battle for supremacy” is how the programme notes put it, and that sums it up quite neatly (although “neat” in the tidy sense, is not, as you may have gathered by now, Globokar’s signature.)
I said at the outset that I would come back to the notion of “applause as wrecking ball” at the end of this, and here I am, with nothing said about the life-changing, second half of the programme “Terres brulees, ensuite ... (Burned lands, then ...)”. It’s a work scored for piano, percussion and saxophone (Stephen Clarke, Ryan Scott and Wallace Halladay, respectively), with the pianist and saxophonist relatively stationary, and the percussionist wandering (or is it driven?) through seven stations, unleashing all the cries and moans, concussions, crackles and explosions of humanity doing its very best to do its worst with all the elements available to man. As fire consumes all, and is itself consumed, little jingoistic anthemic snippets of melody blessedly fade. Darkness descends, and with it comes silence. Profound, blessed silence. But dare we hope for a lasting peace?
Nope, not in our time. Haven’t yet been in an audience in this town where some individual didn’t feel compelled to be the first to bellow bravos into the disquieting quiet or fire celebratory rifles of applause into the air hungering for at least a moment more of silent healing.
Can’t wait for Sunday’s final concert (New Music Concerts, Betty Oliphant Theatre, 8pm).