Archive for August, 2008

Stanley Fefferman’s Chamberfest Diary, August 5, 2008:Part One

Thursday, August 21st, 2008

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

MUSIC OF OUR TIME 4: Quatuor Bozzini

The Quatuor Bozzini has a motto that is also a challenge: “New music was composed in the last 10 years. If it was composed more than 10 years ago, it is old music.” It was definitely a challenge to listen to the music they played at the 2 pm concert this day. First off was “Nameless Garden (2003) by Thomas Stiegler (1956-), a German, Freiburg-trained colleague of the Bozzini first violin Clemens Merkel. This is a kind of ‘pictures at an exhibition’ piece, the pictures being by German painter Otto Piltz (1864 – 1910), the music moving in short sections as if from room to room. One’s first impression is of rhythmic scratchings, squeakings, silent bowings and an oddly erotic whining rising to an orgasmic climax.

The next two pieces were by Japanese minimalist composer Jo Kondo (1947-) whose works have been performed by London’s Philharmonia Orchestra and recorded by Deutsche Grammophon. We heard two of his mathematically constructed pieces. “Hypsotony” published in 1989–and so ‘old music’– consists of a melodic line that is chopped up and distributed throughout the piece. The sounds are like two-stroke koto charnel-ground music. The ensemble makes much use of glissandos, crescendos and decrescendos, producing a strong effect. The second Kondo piece, “Oneiric Prosody”, a string quartet commissioned by the Bozzini, had its world premiere here this day. The predominant harmonies sounded like organ tones and brought to mind a kelp garden alive with sea-otters swaying beneath the play of tidal currents, relaxing, like breathing.

Next came “Trip (2008)” by Christopher Butterfield (1952), once a student of Rudolf Komorous and now on the Faculty of his alma mater, B.C,’s University of Victoria. Despite an opening section that sounded a lot like the string quartet tuning up, a rhythm began to assert itself and a nice bit of melody at the tempo of a scherzo that devolved into some scratchy spooky parts before concluding with a long, lazy, lovely passage. It occurs at this point to notice how often miminalist music has the almost generic quality of being able to produced tones that defy monotony and move the mind in the direction of a steady state of relaxation and hold it there, again in defiance of monotony, by the strength of the hypnotic power of repetition.

This afternoon’s concert concluded with two string quartets by Matteo Fargion (1961), an Italian who has made an international name for himself collaborating as composer and performer in works for theatre and dance. The Bozzini performed his “String Quartet No. 3 (1996)–‘old music’–, and “String Quartet No.4 (2003). Fargion’s music is melodic, polyphonic, energetic mixing sounds of minimalism and pre-baroque. The overall flavour is of perpetual motion blended with hoe-down fiddle-contest music. Very pleasant.

One must congratulate the Quatuor Bozzini on their total commitment to exploring the world of new music on our behalf. It may be many years before concerts like these become less of a puzzle and more of a treat. So be it, and more power to the Bozzini.

Stanley Fefferman’s Chamberfest Diary, August 4, 2008

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

The noon concert began the series: MUSIC OF OUR TIME. Roman Borys [click on the photo for a larger image], the executive arm of The Gryphon Trio who took on artistic direction of this Chamberfest and made it really cheerful, joined with Annalee Patipatankoon and Robert Cram on flute [click HERE for a Cram image] in playing “Trio for Flute, Violin and Cello” by Harry Somers. This neo-baroque polyphony of voicings arranged in 12 tone rows is surprisingly lyrical: fluty in a Debussyesque way, and sprightly during the third movement in the sophisticated way of Poulenc and Ravel.

Duo Concertante–Nancy Dahn [click on the photo for a larger image] and Timothy Steeves on piano–gave us an unabashedly emotional treatment of “Supernatural Love” by Katie Agocs (1975-). The music speaks of loss and redemption through supernatural love. The moods vary throughout the movements. The first is spectral, wounded, desolate, ironic and cold. The second is open, warm, rhapsodic and elegant. The third is emancipated, explosive, monolithic, nattering frantically like music from a charnel ground. Vivid and strong work.

Geoff Nuttal [click on the photo for a larger image], violinist for the St. Lawrence String Quartet, introduced the Canadian premiere of a work composed by his colleague at Stanford, Jonathan Berger (1954-). Entitled, “String Quartet No. 4, The Bridal Canopy”, the music is inspired by a story from the Nobel Prize winning novelist S.Y. Agnon, and concerns the travels of a man searching for a suitable husband for his daugher.

Typically for a St. Lawrence performance, the first movement is exciting, dynamic, passionate. Nuttall’s playing, in particular, is flamboyant. The second movement opens with a blast from a shofar slowly fading into a whiney, discordant, Hassidic melody that grows sad, faint and ghostly and ends on a cello solo. The third and final movement, a scherzo and coda, begins abruptly in a chaos of sound that develops through a twittering pizzicato to a wild ending. The coda starts slowly, contemplatively, develops a beautiful nigun and closes with a lovely solo from the first violin that fades into silence.

“Horn Trio” by TSO resident composer Gary Kulesha (1954-) is a more traditional sounding piece featuring James Sommerville. An opening fantasia like flowing leaves is rendered spectral and spooky by Gwen Hoebig’s delicate harmonics on the piano. The middle movement is a rhythmic scherzo reminiscent of Hindemith’s ‘Sextet’ with it’s busy voices. A melancholy series of cadenzas flow slowly from the piano followed by some finely controlled minor blasts echoing from the horn. The piece resolves nicely in the finale with a march that drives inexorably towards an energetic close. Very fine.

R.Murray Schafer at 75 was celebrated this evening with a concert where 5 ensembles totaling 25 musicians performed 4 of his compositions including the world premier of Schafer’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano”, and “Isfahan”, conducted by Alain Trudel. Trudel’s presence in this role extended the meaning of ‘chamber music’. Schafer is, as someone remarked, “a wild and crazy guy” of a composer. His music is acoustically multidimensional, avant-garde, and listenable. Inspiring to hear and worth further study. [click on the photo for a larger image]

Stanley Fefferman’s Chamberfest Diary, August 1, 2008

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

This day ended in triumph. The pleasure of music making triumphed over the music of pain we have been writing about these past few days. The prime music maker is violinist/fiddler Gilles Apap—one of those people from whom music flows spontaneously, unpredictably, joyfully, without self-consciousness or boundaries. He appears totally confident and totally into having fun stirring things up with his fiddle. Whether it’s klezmer or concerto, jigs, reels, kitchen music, or Bartok Apap makes music like a trickster makes mischief. With a wink and a grin, sounds that you never heard before morph into great classics. He had his ‘band’ (a dozen players of a chamber orchestra) whistling a few bars of a theme introducing a rousing and powerful version of ‘Spring’ from Vivaldi’s “Seasons.”

Apap also played an improvised program with accordianiste Myriam Lafarge: tunes from Ireland, Brittany, Québec and Bulgaria, to name a few as indication of the range of their learning. Lafarge is also a virtuoso, albeit a shy one, but her ability to cover Apap’s moves never flagged for a moment. He, in his grand and generous fashion, kept putting her in the spotlight, which also endeared him enormously to the audience. This was an evening exhilarating pleasure.

Earlier in the day, Barry Shiffmann joined some of his former colleagues—Steven Sitarski, Desmond Hoebig, and Andrew Tunis, for a performance of Brahms’ “Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor, Op. 60.” Despite the steamy venue and the hard pews, the music was moving and much appreciated. Brahms composed this at a time in his life when he was very stressed: Robert Schumann, his mentor was drifting into the insanity that would hospitalize him for the final few years of his life. Brahms was ‘dying’ of his unconsummated love for Clara Schumann. This quartet was an outlet for and perhaps a resolution of his torment. He put the finished work away for twenty years and rewrote it extensively before joining in the premiere in 1875.

The work is popularly subtitled “Werther” in reference to Goethe’s character who kills himself for love. The subtitle is apt in describing the sigh of pain that opens the first movement who’s minor key moan is not really relieve by modulations to C major in this and the following movement. However, the lovely opening cello solo of the third movement is considered the expression of a ‘letting go’ of Clara and expands through a series of animated cantabile melodies towards a finale full of charm and warmth and a certain loftiness of tone.