December 28, 2011 WholeNote publisher David Perlman chats with mezzo Wallis Giunta in Toronto, among other things about her current four day Toronto working holiday (Attila Glatz Productions opera spectacular "Bravissimo" at Roy Thomson Hall New Year's Eve), about life in the Lindemann program at the Met, and about where Rufus Wainwright fits in to her upcoming March 1 Music Toronto recital.
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).
I’m an enthusiastic but not very musically sophisticated attender at new music events so sometimes I end up stupefied, not knowing what I am supposed to be listening to or for. In the good old days I could at least pick up a couple of newspapers the following day to find out whether or not I had a good time, or if I did to feel mortified at the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed something that no-one with real taste would have. But those days alas are no more. Now I have to rely on my own judgment (or go out to the Duke of York or equivalent after the event with one or another person whose judgment I value.)
And last night’s repertoire was pretty daunting for players and audience alike – a single work, 65 minutes long, of which fully thirty minutes (in two chunks) was played in complete darkness. My greatest fear was of being discovered sound asleep when the periods of darkness lifted, but happily a well known Toronto stage and production manager/stage fighting coach sat down next to me. With the assurance that a well placed nudge in the ribs would be forthcoming if my deep attentiveness became too sonorous, I relaxed and had a wide-awake wonderful time.
Haas’s piece (as I told readers in my December In With The New column) is, to quote director Brian Current a “spectral wonder.” Happy to say, I have more appreciation of what he meant by that today than I did 24 hours ago, thanks in part to a great lecture Haas gave an hour before the concert, but also because, right away, I got to listen for the things he was talking about. “Spectral” as I now better understand it refers to music based on the physics of sound, the sound spectrum, and the precise scientific relationships between the different wave lengths. Hit someone over the head with a two by four of a precise length and it will not only produce a lovely A440 (concert A) but also a series of overtones, with the intervals between overtones diminishing, octave by octave, according to very precisely calculable rules. So, cutting a long story short, music based on true overtones would, if played on a modern piano, require keys not just capable of half tones, but quarter tones, sixths and twelfths – and VERY skinny fingers.
The modern piano by the way is the great villain of the piece, because it is grounded in something called “equal temperament.” That is to say it divides the tonal universe up into half notes, splitting the difference, agonizingly, between what are for people with musically way better ears than mine necessarily different sounds. To give one simple example, the black key between A and B must serve as both A sharp and as B flat. If you can hear the difference you can spend a whole evening, metaphorically, searching in vain for your auditory contact lenses, quite sure you played or sang or heard a wrong note. (Singers are often the greatest victims in this regard, sounding sharp or flat when all they were doing was matching the 88-key tonal antichrist they were leaning on.), or counting, on. Spectral composers have no such worries. They simply do the math and then put the players (and tuners) through whatever hell is necessary to reproduce the resulting “consonant” sounds.
Haas’ “In Vain” plays with both kinds of “harmony.” The “dissonance” in his terms of the world ruled by the piano (which sounds pretty good to start with to a three chord guitar man like me) is gradually overtaken by a world of true “consonance” (which sounds less and less strange as the piece progresses and the ear becomes more attuned), only to succumb at the end to the old regime again. The struggle for consonance, as the piece’s title suggests, has been all “in vain.” Perhaps not, though, because the stuff that sounded pretty good the first time through, sounds somehow less convincing in the reprise once the listener has had their ears washed out with consonant soap.
Well, at any rate, the great big verbal muscle that passes for my aesthetic brain soaked up enough of the theory ahead of time, that I was thoroughly convinced by what I heard, as were many others in the audience. Not so convinced were some of the aforementioned “people whose judgment I value” with whom I retired to the post-concert do at the Duke, but I have to fly off to Globokar at the Music Gallery right now, so that will have to be grist for another day.
In short, I had a lovely stimulating evening. Kudos to Current and co. for taking on the piece. For all concerned a rare and glorious chance to learn to listen a little bit differently.
I’m gearing up for the big Vinko Globokar invasion I talked about in my December issue column www.thewholenote.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=category&layout=blog&id=40&Itemid=32 , starting tomorrow night (Friday Dec 9 at the Music Gallery) and culminating Sunday night (Dec 11) with New Music Concerts presentation “The World of Globokar” at the Betty Oliphant Theatre.
I wanted to add something to a comment I made in the column – I said anyone wanting insights into trombonist/composer Globokar’s work and mind should start with an interview he did with John Palmer http://cda-nt.concordia.ca/econtact/10_2/GlobokarVi_Palmer.html a couple of years back. Well this is to say there’s an even better place to start, for anyone with 45 minutes to spare, courtesy Paul Steenhuisen.
Many of you know Steenhuisen in his own right as a composer. Some of you will also remember him as the author of perhaps the best, sustained series of interviews “Composer to Composer” we ever ran in this magazine – fantastic chats between Steenhuisen and a veritable who’s who of, mainly Canadian, contemporary composers. The series went on to become a book, SONIC MOSAICS, published by University of Calgary Press, good news for Steenhuisen and book readers – not so good, alas, for us.
In one of those bone-headedly dog-in-the-mangerish moves that (particularly), academic publishers are prone to, we were required to obliterate all traces of the series of interviews from which the book arose from our website, thereby robbing the composers interviewed (and, dare I say it, the author of the book) of any hope of a contant trickle of already interested online WholeNote readers to the U of C Press website.
That being said (gee, it’s good to get it off my chest) Steenhuisen has now gone on to create a wonderful new (ongoing) series of interviews (of which the latest is one with Vinko Globokar), this time in a medium that transcends the limitations of print. Titled THE SOUNDLAB New Music Podcasts http://itunes.apple.com/ca/podcast/the-soundlab-new-music-podcast/id438086263 the series revolves around interviews, commissioned by New Music Concerts, that Steenhuisen has conducted with a growing list of composers, six to date, including Rick Sacks, Elliott Carter, Jonathan Harvey, Kee Yong Cho, and, of course, as mentioned before, Vinko Globokar.
The beauty of the medium is threefold: the interviews are vintage Steenhuisen (interested, agile, informed); they are edited and embedded in a considered voiced-over narrative; and, the icing on the cake, they include numerous sound samples of the actual music referenced in the course of the interview, not only works by the composer being interviewed, but seminal works by other composers arising in the conversation.
It’s an absolutely brilliant way of getting not only words about the music (guilty as charged!) but a priceless taste of the sounds themselves. No better time to check the SOUNDLAB series out than with the Globokar interview, prior to heading out for a weekend with the master himself.
At Carnegie Hall on performance night, it was gratifying to see, as Jeanne acknowledged in her speech, many familiar faces. A group of loyal Tafel patrons, board members, and fans from Toronto constituted a sight for sore eyes. Energized by the best acoustics of the tour (and a now silent jackhammer), with a program seasoned by our Virginia run, everyone gave their best for Carnegie.
Afterwards, we enjoyed a reception with sponsors and fans at the trendy Flatotel, just four blocks south from Carnegie's stage door, before fanning out into midtown Manhattan on a Saturday night.
What was the critical reaction?
An online review from a site called bachtrack by one Stephen Raskauskas was generally positive while frequently wishing for more instruments in the ensemble.
In this piece [Vivaldi concerto], a few plucked strings, such as a guitar, lute, theorbo, or any combination thereof, would have enriched the sound. In truth, plucked strings would have improved the sound of every piece that evening, and Tafelmusik should be taken to task for not employing at least one full-time lutenist to tour with them…
Although it pains me, I am for once forced to agree with a critic. Ironically, our own Lucas Harris was in New York that evening, but preparing for a concert of his own. He was no doubt happy to be reunited, however, with his violinist wife Geneviève Gilardeau--who was onstage with us--and baby Daphnée, the newest addition to the Tafelmusik family. Her tiny presence on the tour was a source of cheerfulness to all, and she has already proven herself a stalwart traveler.
A New York concert always raises the question of whether or not the Times will write a review. Since our concert was on a Saturday night, when the arts sections for the weekend have already been put to bed, there was a wait of a few days before anything appeared. I admit to a feeling a traditional sense of dread about such things – but we didn’t need to worry. One of the newer critics, Steve Smith, attended our concert and delivered a glowing review that started with this headline:
Violins Take Center Stage in a Repertory Reincarnated
An excerpt of the review:
Indeed, the principal allure of the arrangement [Bach Concerto for Three Violins] was in the contrasting sounds and styles of three excellent soloists from the ensemble's ranks: Julia Wedman, Patricia Ahern and Aisslinn Nosky… [In the Bach Suite]Ms. Lamon was an exciting soloist, conjuring a whirlwind in the final Badinerie.
It's not just that the view was positive, but Smith seemed to “get” what our concert was about! What really matters, though, is what we ourselves thought and what our friends thought. [Tafelmusik supporter] Al Forest remarked that it was a “really great concert!” That's what we want to hear.
Our morning drive from Charlottesville took us north through the Shenandoah Valley, historically a conduit of armies and one of America's breadbaskets. But one was unaware of being in a valley since the Blue Ridge Mountains were entirely enshrouded with low-hanging clouds and fog. In the eighteenth century, Winchester was near what was then the frontier, and once housed the surveying headquarters of a young George Washington (yes, he slept here!). During the Civil War, Winchester changed hands 72 times between Rebel and Union forces, but Tafelmusik's occupation was to be a mere 18 hours.
Shenandoah University consists of a handful of schools, the largest of which is a Conservatory of Music with about 700 students. In the late afternoon, Tricia Ahern gave a well-attended master class, hearing four string players play Bach and other composers. Much of the orchestra's rehearsal was devoted to the challenging acoustics of the auditorium, but with some adjustments we got the program into shape.
Some of our repertoire is relatively new to us, such as the reconstructed Bach Orchestral Suite, BWV 1067 (for violin instead of flute) and the Triple Concerto, BWV 1063 (for violins instead of harpsichords). Much of the program features brilliant solo playing: Jeanne Lamon, Julia Wedman, Tricia Ahern, Aislinn Nosky, John Abberger, and Marco Cera take turns in the spotlight. Our biggest ensemble piece, Lully's Phaeton Suite, is already imbedded in our memory, since it is part of our music stand-free Galileo program. The audience must notice the change, because our gazes wander from their normal course and we must suppress the urge to walk or dance about the stage. We don't need no stinkin' scores!
Our Winchester audience was mostly college students, an interesting compromise between Charlottesville's mature evening and juvenile morning crowds. The sound in the hall improved with their presence, so the concert came off well. For this blogger, being in Winchester was a bit of nostalgia, since I taught cello at the Conservatory in a previous life. Onstage with Tafelmusik in Armstrong Auditorium, where I once performed the Elgar Cello Concerto, I felt two universes colliding. Some dear old friends met me afterwards for a brief but lovely reunion.
In the morning our bus headed for New York, feeling not tanned but definitely ready for primetime. Our bassoonist Dominic Teresi had already departed in the wee hours, having been called in an emergency to replace the principal bassoonist of John Eliot Gardiner's Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique for their Beethoven Symphony performances at Carnegie Hall. Luckily, he had brought along his classical bassoon for this tour. Keep your powder dry, as they used to say along the frontier!
A cold and grey morning's drive, first through slivers of rural West Virginia and Maryland, then more substantial chunks of Pennsylvania and New Jersey, until at last we slip through the Lincoln Tunnel into Midtown Manhattan. We disembark at the hotel on 57th St., just a few blocks from our ultimate destination, Carnegie Hall. It happens that I blogged for the last tour which brought us here, so I will first borrow from that original impression of Zankel Hall in February, 2009:
My Life as a Blog
Carnegie Hall is really three different halls: There's the Stern Auditorium, the most famous one where the big orchestras play, with its rings of gilded balconies, red velvet and classical columns. There's Weill Recital Hall, (no relation to Bruno!) , once known as Carnegie Recital Hall, the traditional space for debut recitals. And now there is Zankel Hall, where we will play. This venue was created in 2005 in a below ground space which formerly housed the Carnegie Cinema. While I have played many times in the two traditional halls, I have never played in or even seen the new Zankel Hall.
The last time I was in this space was some 20 years ago, when I went to a screening of the Swedish movie “My Life as a Dog.” So my curiosity was very high when we walked in on Friday for our dress rehearsal. What a lovely space it is! Unlike the older halls, it is almost entirely framed in light-toned wood, with wooden seats padded with green velvet. The official seating is 599, and the layout is entirely flexible. For our concert, there is a traditional arrangement of seats on a sloped floor, with a small ring of balconies. The sound is warm, the audience fairly close. It seems like an ideal size for our group.
So today there is some feeling of familiarity as we approach the iconic venue again, but no less enthusiasm! But first, after four continuous days of traveling and performing, we have an evening and a morning off to enjoy New York. Everyone has their personal preferences, so I made an informal survey the next morning of where people went. The kaleidoscopic results include the Grand Central Station Oyster Bar, Neue Galerie, Museum of Modern Art, Metropolitan Museum, Brooklyn Academy of Music (John Malkovich Show), Avery Fisher Hall (New York Philharmonic), Birdland Jazz Club, Carnegie Hall (Orchestre Révolutionnaire et Romantique, with our own Dominic Teresi pinch-hitting principal bassoon). Christina and I vistited Christoph Landon's violin shop and tried a million dollar Tecchler cello.
On Friday afternoon, with the sun shining for the first time during the tour, we reconvene for a full rehearsal on the stage of Zankel/Carnegie Hall. Balances and pitches are fine-tuned despite the jackhammer obbligato from a nearby construction site. The house manager tells me that Zankel's stage is 35 feet below street level, and just 8 feet beyond the backstage wall runs the subway (N, R, Q line-if you ever happen pass through the 57th St. station, remember we were there!). He also says that when Carnegie Hall first opened in 1891, this particular subterranean venue was the first to present a concert, before the more celebrated grand opening in the main hall with Tchaikovsky conducting. When the subway line was put in, they put a layer of rubber under the track nearest to Carnegie-but not all the lines. You can feel the rumble once in a while.
Because of extensive renovations being done to the Carnegie Hall towers, there is scaffolding enclosing the whole structure, and the Tafelmusik poster, proudly proclaiming SOLD OUT, is partially obscured. So plans for a group photo in front of the poster are cancelled-I should say, postponed, until our next appearance here. With all the pieces touched up and adjustments made, it's time to suit up for the concert!
US Tour Blog #1, by Tafelmusik Cellist Allen Whear
Thursday, November 16, 2011
Tafelmusik began its US tour in the historic college town of Charlottesville, Virginia, beautifully situated amid forests and hills of the Blue Ridge. Thomas Jefferson, president, diplomat, architect, author of the Declaration of Independence, and violinist, made his home here. One can't help but wonder what he would have thought of our program of Bach, Lully, Vivaldi, and Fasch – all “ancient” music in his day. He was known to like Corelli and did have Vivaldi in his famous music library. Jefferson once wrote, “Music…is the favorite Passion of my soul...” This signifies two things: not only that Jefferson was a kindred spirit to us musicians, but even in this small way was declaring independence from England by spelling favorite without a “u”.
The venue for our first concert, Old Cabell Hall, is situated on the campus of the University of Virginia, opposite Jefferson's Palladian-style Rotunda. Designed by Stanford White in 1898, the auditorium seems inspired by Palladio's Teatro Olimpico, with the audience rising in semi-circular tiers above the stage. Adding to the sense of antiquity is a mural-sized reproduction of Raphael's School of Athens behind us. More kindred spirits, perhaps?
At the rehearsal, the director of Charlottesville's Tuesday Evening Concert Series, Karen Pellón, welcomed us enthusiastically and said that people had been stopping her in the street to express their excitement and anticipation of Tafelmusik's coming. She also hoped that we were not worried about our previous experience in Charlottesville. (In 2004, two different buses broke down, delaying both our arrival and departure from their fair city and causing us to nearly miss a flight. We had begun to suspect that there was a Charlottesville curse…)
When I asked her later why people in Charlottesville were so pumped about our coming, she replied that our reputation preceded us and there was a real love for baroque music on period instruments here in Charlottesville, and that our previous visits in 1995 and 2004 were fondly remembered. How about that?
Early this morning we played for another thousand, but of quite a different demographic. An orange armada of school buses delivered grade and middle school kids from all over the city and surrounding county to the Martin Luther King Performing Arts Center to hear an abridged version of our program. Jeanne was MC and kid wrangler, and soon had thousands of hands clapping along to Marais' Tambourin.
Later, as our bus headed up the Shenandoah Valley towards Winchester, it was safe to conclude that there is no Charlottesville curse. In fact, we can't wait to come back. Jefferson would have loved us.
Toronto`s Jazz Performance and Education Centre (JPEC) is a registered charity that focuses on jazz education, cultivating new audiences for the music as well as mentoring young musicians. Inspired in part by Jazz at Lincoln Centre in New York City, JPEC aims to establish a first-class, multi-purpose facility in Toronto to feature performances, educational programming, recording facilities and a Hall of Fame and Archives to preserve Canada`s jazz heritage and tradition.
Last night at the Toronto Centre for the Arts, JPEC presented its third annual gala, ``Jazz at the Movies,`` featuring a wealth of local talent including four vocalists which charmed the audience in their own sweet way. Heather Bambrick entertained with her trademark warmth, wit and class, singing and emceeing in style. Crooner Denzal Sinclaire`s delicious, effortlessly smooth delivery evoked the late Nat King Cole, while newcomer Francois Mulder won the crowd over with his attractive voice. If one performer stood out, it was without a doubt Jackie Richardson, whose impeccable brand of musical storytelling is truly an experience to behold. This woman`s on-stage magic is not a dish, but a full-course meal: an almighty voice that wows, a great big heart that feels, impeccable timing that cooks, and a huge pair of eyes that light the room on fire. Sprinkle these elements with Richardson`s humility and grace and you have a true national treasure.
All four vocalists were accompanied by the JPEC Tentet which featured ten highly regarded, award-winning jazz musicians, all of whom also serve as educators: Shirantha Beddage, baritone saxophone; Mark Promane, alto saxophone and flute; Mike Murley, tenor saxophone; William Carn, trombone; Ted Quinlan, guitar; Brian Dickinson, piano; Pat Collins, bass; Terry Clarke, drums; Don Thompson, vibes; and Denny Christianson, trumpet and musical director.
There was a welcome balance of vocal and instrumental jazz in the evening`s program; the tentet played several instrumental arrangements including a memorable version of the famous Duke Ellington/Peggy Lee collaboration, ``I`m Gonna Go Fishin`,`` while the Mario Romano Quartet dazzled with a short set that included a poignant ballad reading of ``Someday My Prince Will Come`` starring the legendary Pat LaBarbera.
All in all, this was a highly entertaining event for a very ambitious and admirable endeavour. Good to see that it was well-attended, and even though the event didn`t sell out, it seemed that a lot of the audience learned of the organization`s initiatives by attending this gala. The next Jazz Performance and Education Centre event takes place at the George Weston Recital Hall on Sunday November 20 at 7:30pm, when West African jazz guitarist Lionel Loueke`s trio takes the stage. If you`ve never heard of him, check out this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXzgWTZ2NW0 and here`s hoping to see you at the concert!
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