Archive for October, 2006


Monday, October 30th, 2006

[The following text contains a brilliant analysis by composer David Litke, that served as a sonically assisted introduction to the performance of Elucide by the New Music Ensemble, October 15, 2006, in Toronto. It is intact, except for removal of references to examples that were played for the audience that cannot be reproduced here. In a sense, these examples were essential to the understanding of what Mr. Litke is sharing. In another, equally compelling sense, his verbal representation of ideas is quite rewarding and richly repays a careful reading. Enjoy this, and have your pleasure in listening to contemporary music enhanced. Editor]

ELUCIDE by David Litke

Elucide is a musical exploration of the act of perception, and the mechanisms by which we come to understand and find meaning in sensory information. The piece takes as a point of departure an examination of the raw materials of music, the acoustic phenomena created by the instruments of the ensemble.

Due to the transitory, elusive nature of sound, many aspects of sonic events generally go unnoticed. Elucide attempts to take hold of sounds that seem to pass too quickly, and to break apart the overtone structures of sounds that appear fused, in order to have a closer listen to the phenomena and to reveal elements that we would otherwise have difficulty perceiving.

Throughout the piece, individual instruments use techniques that reveal components of their sounds that would ordinarily be hidden. String harmonics, for example, allow the higher partials of a low pitch to emerge.

String instruments can play near the bridge, revealing the upper regions of their harmonic spectra.

The woodwind instruments use multiphonic techniques that allow us to hear multiple simultaneous pitches from a single instrument.

By playing inside the piano, a low piano note can reveal a rich set of higher component pitches.

While these techniques break a single sound into its multiple components, another compositional technique is used to combine numerous sound sources into a single timbre. Computer analysis allows us to examine in detail the internal characteristics of a short sound sample, such as the piano harmonic we just heard. This information can then be transposed to musical notation and played by an ensemble, creating a kind of instrumental synthesizer. In employing this technique, the partials of a source sound are played on an augmented time scale in order to reveal minute developments of the sound that generally pass too quickly to grasp.

Tonight we play an analysis of the same piano harmonic re-constructed by the ensemble. First, we hear the source sound, and then the instrumental version of the sound. These two compositional methods allow us to hear “inside” the sound, in a sense, and to become aware of aspects of the phenomena that were always present, yet were formerly hidden.

While Elucide begins with a focus on the perception of acoustic phenomena, it progresses to explore the ways in which these perceptions find musical significance. Over the course of the piece, the constituent elements of the source sounds are progressively manipulated, organized and re-interpreted. What begins as a unified timbre is thereby progressively transformed into melodic gestures, motives, and musical phrases. As the characteristics of the source sound are applied in various ways, the music gradually moves from the domain of pure “sound as sound” to that of musical semantics, the sound patterns and organization to which we ascribe musical meaning.

The image that I used to guide the composition of this piece is one of pulling apart and unraveling a sonic object, to find the living, breathing music that dwells within it. In synthesizing a unified spectrum with the ensemble, Elucide aims to engender a certain lucidity, in the sense of transparency, whereby the identifying characteristics of the individual instruments melt away to reveal a single harmonic entity. Over the course of the work, however, this transparency transforms into another type of lucidity, this time meaning intelligibility, whereby the musical meaning found within the sound is elucidated.


Friday, October 27th, 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006 1:30 p.m.
I MUSICI DE MONTRÉAL baroque chamber orchrestra
Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building, University of Toronto.

A performance that nudges your insight deeper into the musical code of a composition is a good performance. Yuli Turovsky conducting his I Musici de Montreal accomplished this clarifying nudge for me in “Chamber Symphony, Op 73a” by Dmitri Shostakovitch.

The piece is a transcription of Shostakovich’s “String Quartet No.3 in F Major, Op. 73”(1946), instantly recognizable by its insouciant opening theme. Being insouciant in the Stalinist USSR was hazardous. Music was supposed to be “transparent and understandable.” However, this piece is full of a kind of veiled mockery, creepy carelessness of correctness, and a sense that some standard or other is being burlesqued. These are the qualities that Turovsky seems to emphasize, particularly through the growl of the low register strings towards the end of the first movement.

He brings out the coded joke in the music, and the audience showed they got the joke by chuckling when the movement ended.

The work of transcription was done by conductor and violist Rudolf Barshai, a friend of Shostakovich and violist in the Borodin Quartet. This same transcription was performed and recorded by the Tapioloa Sinfonietta under the baton of Jean-Jacques Kantorow on the Bis label in a more lightly coloured version. In Kantorow’s version, you don’t quite get it as the ‘what, me worry?’ passages accelerate into staccato strains of desperation and outright panic. But Turovsky’s low register strings bring collective doom down on the plaintive, lyric voice of the violins. Nevertheless, this voice endures and persists in the end as a niggun-like melody, free from any dogmatic principles, that sings itself into a mood of ecstatic irrationality.

I was interested to find a high contrast of opinions during the interviews that took place at after the performance. Here, first, is M. Walker, violist with the York Symphony:

MW: Very precise, very well played, but the first violins are not communicating very well with the rest of the group. In the Sinphonia Toronto, the first violinist has something really special about her that kind of radiates through the group, and their conductor, Nurhan Arman is very personable—he gets out there and talks to the audience. Turovsky is not so sweet and it affects what goes on in the group. I Musici’s concertmaster, though she’s tremendously competent, she doesn’t seem to have a lot of real involvement with the music, in the sense of being genuinely overwhelmed by it. That is what Etsuko Kimura, concertmaster of the Sinfonia Toronto has. Other than that, the groups are very similar. And I have to repeat; I Musici’s playing is flawless. Turovsky’s conducting is conventional but very nicely done.

Here is what Bev Chernoff of Toronto had to say:

BC. I loved the program. Some of it I was familiar with, but I did not know Skalkottas and the “Five Greek Dances.” I enjoyed that particularly. I know I Musici from their CD’s and I think they are fantastic. They have a beautiful, mellow sound. Turovsky appears to me to be very enthusiastic and to be enjoying the music himself very much. That comes through his body language. The music he elicits from the group is very cohesive. His cello playing of de Falla’s “Spanish Folksongs” was very precise and, yes, emotional. I also noticed that during “Bartok’s Rumanian Folk Dances” several members of the ensemble looked like they were about to break out into dance.


Friday, October 27th, 2006

Thursday, October 26, 2006, 8:00pm
Denise Djokic,cello;Kerry Stratton, conductor

Plenty of surprises in “Cellist Romance”, Toronto Philharmonia’s concert featuring hot cellist Denise Djokic.

The final piece of the evening was the Brahms “Serenade No. 2, Op. 17 in A Major” performed by an orchestra stripped of its violins to produce the golden colours that conductor Kerry Stratton said Brahms wanted. The concert opened with a surprise contemporary composition entitled “Jyotir”– a paean to the universal light of Brahma by Glenn Buhr, better known to me as the leader of the splendid jazz-fusion group that played Top O’ the Senator nearly two years ago.

The program notes held a third surprise, one connecting music and dance with military recruiting. I am delighted to pass this one on.

Kodaly’s “Dances of Galanta (1933)” are described as follows: “The dances, consisting of slow steps alternating with lively ones, were performed by a group of Hussars led by their sergeant. The impressive display, designed to drum up support and enlist troops, was accompanied by gypsy bands whose players often performed breathtakingly elaborate improvisations over basically simply tunes.”

It came as no surprise though, that Denise Djokic’s playing of Haydn’s “Concerto for Violincello, No. 2, D Major, 1793” was sensitive, nuanced, and technically brilliant. Kerry Stratton is an extraverted conductor and all the music followed his lead towards drama, contrast and clarity. The evening was, as Nero Wolfe would phrase his highest praise, “very satisfactory.”

ESPRIT ORCHESTRA reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

ESPRIT ORCHESTRA, Sunday, October 22, 2006. SANCTUARY

The magic of Gyorgi Ligeti’s “Melodien”, as performed by Esprit Orchestra conducted by Alex Pauk, is that it allows the individuality of each sound to arise distinct and separate before it merges with the texture of the whole sonorous fabric Ligeti has woven. The effect is similar to the way Ezra Pound conveyed how he experienced faces of Parisians in his poem “In A Station of the Metro”:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Both artists democratize their perceptions, rather than lose them in broad general forms. Ligeti’s composition develops a massive but dignified energy that naturally resolves into a quiet peace.

One of Canada’s most highly regarded and most often performed composers, Alexina Louie, kindly offered these observations at intermission:

Ligeti thought of music in a different way. His concept of multiple voices, instead of having each voice clearly understood as in a Bach fugue, the voices were in small incremental lines that all the players would have that they would weave together into a texture. It is wonderful how the music in tonight’s performance of “Melodien” dissolved into its quintessential note at the end. That takes skill and art—to take the listener on this journey from very intricate lines with all of these textures to one single note at the end. It is remarkable–and hard to play–by the way.

STM: How about the George Benjamin piece “Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra”? If the orchestra is one instrument, then the timbres he gets out of it –one has never heard them before. It is like a completely new instrument.

AL: If you heard my pre-concert talk, I mentioned that Benjamin studied in France, and that is where colour, texture, and timbre are really practiced. Benjamin’s palette is unique in getting new sounds out of the instruments. In the piece we just heard, Benjamin is working with blocks of sound and color rather than separation and purity within a texture as Ligeti does. Benjamin is working with the sound of the brasses, or the answering of the percussion from one side of the stage to another. He is also working the instruments in these filigrees of texture. He has the woodwinds joining with the strings at one point and everything is rising up, and cymbals begin to sound gently and there is this surprising big bang on the drum at the end.

Following intermission, we heard two pieces by our own Paul Frehner and Brian Current, two composers who are rapidly rising above the musical horizon. Frehner’s “Sanctuary” is full of new orchestral timbres, arising peacefully from textures of bell-like harp tones, whispering strings and pulsing tom-toms to the martial tones of blaring horns. This dramatic and compelling music is, surprisingly, inspired by a somewhat programmatic storyline, an account of which follows in a paraphrase of Frehner’s own telling in the pre-concert talk. “Sanctuary” is my reaction to the tsunami that struck the countries around the Indian Ocean in 2004. “Sanctuary” is a reflection on sanctuary lost and an expression of hope. The piece is divided into two movements. In the first expansive movement, I am trying to depict an imaginary haven in a vast landscape that evolves over time. Many solos emerge and fade back into the texture, like voices of individuals that are heard briefly before passing on. The second movement shatters the idyllic mood. It depicts a situation spiraling out of control as people lose power of decision to irresistible outside forces. At the end, there is a brief, fragmented return to soloistic material from the first movement.

“Kazabazua” by Brian Current is exciting music, finely-grained and dense stretches of sound released by huge percussive shocks into a poignant quiescence. In his commentary, Mr. Current speaks of experimenting with “ constantly accelerating tempos…as if written for a metronome that only gets faster. The piece phases through cycles of momentum to renewal.

After the concert, Ellen Nichols offered this comment: “ My rule of thumb is always if instantly I want to hear it again, then it’s music that really struck me, and I feel that way about both pieces. I would give anything to have them play it again.”

TAFELMUSIK reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

Sunday, October 22, 3:30pm, Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre
FRESH BAROQUE:Tafelmusik’s Brilliant New Talents

Baroque music is a stairway to heaven that rises by orderly degrees, or plumbs the depths with dignified, stately steps. No ensemble conducts these journeys with more precision and grace than Tafelmusik. Mary K. Schauntz, a regular patron had this to say about the FRESH BAROQUE concert:

“The music satisfies a part of me that needs quiet, a certain order, because I tend to be a person who is very intense. I find a great peace in this music. I like it that Tafelmusik is constantly introducing new composers and new pieces that I have not heard, and this is very special. For instance, I enjoyed the new piece composed by Allen Whear. He includes some modern, dissonant elements, but he also has tradtional musical elements like melody and rhythmic pulses for the body to enjoy.”

Other pieces newly introduced were “Overture in G Minor” by John Helmich Roman (1694-1758), and “Overture no. 6 in G Minor” by Francesco Maria Veracini (1685-1768). The highlight of the programme was the premier of the piece entitled “Short Story”, composed on commission for Tafelmusik by resident cellist Allen Whear. Here is what the composer had to say about the piece in an interview.

ALLEN WHEAR: The ‘Story’ in the title refers to the experience of having melodies you’re familiar with from playing so many times flow through you, and in the process the melodies break down and change as you go home after concert and rehearsal. These elements mix in with all the other music you know, and you play around with that process.”
STM: Is there some kind of story or whole that emerged from this process?
AW: It did kind of form itself loosely into a structure, a kind of sonata rondo structure in that I had an introduction, a principal theme which returns, a secondary theme in the dominant key, and I had short developments so it’s very concentrated. I didn’t write it with a form in mind, but eventually the motives kind of took form. That’s the story.
STM: Is it helpful to think of “Short Story” as ‘modern baroque’?
AW: Not really. It’s written for a Baroque ensemble, I use Classical principles of composition, and it has a romantic sentiment. It’s a mixture of all of those things, and that too is the story, I guess. When I was studying cello in school, composers were expected to write in a more academic style to be accepted. Now, luckily, we live in more eclectic times, and now you are free to write a melody and write it in with more strident themes. The other connection with the Baroque is in that time many of the composers were performers, and there wasn’t such a divide between composers and performers and audiences. My idea was to write accessibly for the performers that I know and for the audience that I know.

The program included pieces from the standard repetoire. One was J.S. Bach’s “Concerto for 3 violins in D Major, after BWV 1064” featuring the finely tuned and eye-catching trio of Julia Wedman, Aisslin Nosky & Christina Zacharias. Vivaldi’s “Concerto for bassoon in A Minor, RV 498” with Dominic Teresi had many of the ensemble players grinning with delight. SF

MUSIC TORONTO:QUARTET SERIES reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, October 20th, 2006

Thursday, October 19,2006, 8 pm

The ladies of the Lafayette built their performance of Haydn’s Op. 20 No. 2 like a finely wrought 18th Century ormolu mantle clock. They followed with John Burke’s String Quartet(1994)** filling the space of JaneMallett hall with flocks of birds at twilight, swarming, dissolving, and morphing into a school of tropical fish and a storm tormented wheat field. After the intermission, Felix Mendelssohn’s Second String Quartet gave voice to the passion of youthful courtship, like West Side Story unfolding in the Prussian court.

The String Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op.13 is Mendelssohn’s extended love song to a mysterious romantic attachment he formed before he was 20. By relying on the technical complexity that the formidable Beethoven was demonstrating in his later quartets, Mendelssohn succeeded in producing a work in which youthful romantic ideas achieved expression in mature classical forms with an effortless that brought the composer instant success with publishers and the public alike.

The Haydn String Quartet in C, Op 20 No. 2 is the composer at the peak of his form, leading the transition of European taste from the formalistic style to the expression of direct feeling. The piece resounds with new harmonic effects, operatic gestures, folk dances, drama, and concludes with a remarkable four-handed fugue.

John Burke’s String Quartet (1994) is also inspired by Beethoven, in this case, the late string quartets “which affirmed, in Burke’s view, the ideal of the medium as a type of “software for transcendence”. The piece was commissioned by The Lafayette String Quartet, this year celebrating its 20th season with its original membership.

The Jane Mallett theatre allows a musical performance to be both intimate and airy: it’s a bit like sitting inside an egg. Outside, after the concert, walking west, one reads that all the lovely old buildings are doomed to be torn down to make way for a condominium/shop complex. It would be elegaic if our theatre were rased and erased.

The Jane Mallett Theatre, 27 Front St. East, Toronto is home to MUSIC TORONTO’S 35th season of CHAMBERMUSIC DOWNTOWN, artistic producer Jennifer Taylor.

For the complete season program visit

This concert’s sponsor was LeDrew|Laishley|Reed LLP

*The Lafayette Quartet is Ann Elliott-Goldschmidt, violinist; Sharon Stanis, violinist; Joanna Hood, violist; Pamela Highbaugh, cellist. The Lafayette has been in residence at the University of Victoria in BC since 1991.

**Born in Toronto in 1951, John Burke studied at McGill and at Michigan. He now lives in Vancouver. The CBC commissioned Burke’s String Quartet for the Lafayette in 1994. It won the Canada Council’s Jules Leger Prize for chamber music that year. He has recently developed an interest in music as a healing medium.