Archive for September, 2010

Discovering Adam Sherkin by Stanley Fefferman

Monday, September 27th, 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010, Gallery 345, Toronto

Adam Sherkin is an interesting man: he has his own way of doing things. Last night, at 7 pm, rather than at 8, he performed an eclectic concert on the Steinway at the elegant Gallery 345, for free, before a full house, and created a lot of excitement with a program that fused Bach with Birtwhistle, Beethoven with John Adams, and Rachmaninoff with Sherkin’s own compositions.

Sherkin has an interesting view of the classical lineage. He chooses works that are not so well known, partly because he hears in them prophecies of a musical future that has not yet fully arrived even in our time. Indeed, his playing of Bach’s Duets BWV 802 and 803, and Beethoven’s Sonata in F major Op.54 brought out recognizable post-modern elements. Passages in Bach’s and Beethoven’s pieces heard beside works by the British composer Harrison Birtwistle and indeed beside Sherkin’s own short pieces seem to be constructed out of juxtaposed blocks of sound that one associates with the works of Edgar Varése. Sherkin’s style of playing,fully capable of delicately nuancing legato passages, is distinctive for his ability to cleanly cut sonorities into crystalline blocks, and reinforces this forward-looking impression of the classics.

As impressive as his playing and composing is Sherkin’s bold style of presenting himself. The evening’s program was printed in colour on glossy cardstock and included a list of the performances he’s planned for this season. In addition to offering more of his considerable list of compositions, Sherkin will be premiering one of his works in progress, as well as The Piano Music of John Adams, Birtwistle’s Clocks, and Rachmaninoff’s Corelli Variations. I recommend you visit his website where you will find  bio info and the details of Sherkin’s 2010-2011 performance schedule.

John Farah @ Gallery 345 by Stanley Fefferman

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Saturday, September 25, 2010, Gallery 345, Toronto

John Farah’s compositions start out sounding like one man at a piano riffing a mix of classical arpeggio’s, jazz chords, minimalist iterations and middle-eastern ‘samai’s’. When the electro-acoustics kick in, he’s a one-man band with marimba, drum-kit, bass, flutes and piano synthed into a galactic symphony.

Farah presented eight new pieces, all about 10 minutes duration, that he composed around the time of his current one month Mackenzie Post-Digital Residency in Toronto sponsored by rj fleck. Apart from his undeniable virtuosity at the piano keyboard, and his wizardry with digital keyboards, what strikes about Farah’s music are the sense of drama at the heart of it, and the expansiveness of his vision.

I particularly liked An Etching whose asymmetrical chord structures develop an energy pulse like Ellington’s Caravan morphing into Ravel’s Bolero. He created a lot of excitement with Samai Point. Based on Arabic/Turkish classical music, Farah improvises a spare singing melody–electro-backed by an aggressively beating bassline–that arpeggiates into a Rachmaninoff chordal storm blowing through a bazaar full of jingling belly-dancers, and from there deconstructs into celestial waves of some solo fluty angelic voice.

Somewhere in his writings, Farah describes his music as Intelligent Dance Music. I resonate with that. The ‘Intelligence’ he reveals in his compostions may be improvising beyond the Oort Cloud or in the mimi-storm of dust raised off a mummy by a digger’s brush. In any case, Farah’s is the music of an imaginative mind. I enjoy it, and I am happy to say, with the poet Robert Frost, when he found a mite walking across a page he was writing,”No one can know how glad I am to find/On any sheet the least display of Mind.”

Claudia Chan, Piano, @ Gallery 345 reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Friday, September 24, 2010, Gallery 345, Toronto.

This is Claudia Chan looking like she is part of the piano, which she is, and looking like she is resting which she isn’t. She is busy playing part one of John Corigliano’s Etude Fantasy (1967) for the left hand alone, which the composer describes as a “bold, often ferocious statement”. Ms. Chan communicated a sense of ease and of having fun with this ‘frenetically charged’ composition containing ‘trills, grace notes, tremolos, glissandos, roulades’ and a scherzando ‘where the four fingers  of the left hand softly play a low cluster of notes (like a distant drum) as the thumb alternates with the right hand in rapid, barbaric thrusts.’

Ms. Chan seemed right in her element, bringing out  engaging, jazzy, playful elements of Sophia Gubaidulina’s updated treatment of a Renaissance dance, Chaconne for Piano (1962). This is a virtuosic piece, with opposing forces of controlled rhythmic movements, variants of tempo and intensity, incantatory, enigmatic and obsessional repetitions of notes. Ms. Chan seems at her best when there is a lot going on.

She seemed to have difficulty, at the beginning of her program, making sense of Franz Schubert’s clean, straightforward, melodious Piano Sonata No.13 in A major D.664, Op.120. By the ‘Finale’, Ms. Chan’s native humour, playfulness, her comfort with stop and go rhythms, found a place to come out. She seemed to relax further into the intricate and complex harmonies, the forward looking improvisatory variations and technical difficulties of Chopin’s Polonaise-Fantasie in F minor, Op.49.

Ms. Chan, 20, completing her B.Music at the Glenn Gould School, is already a recognizable specialist in contemporary piano. As confirmation of this, she recently won first prize of the 33rd Echkardt-Gramatte National Piano Competition for Contemporary Music.