Premieres and the Jules Leger Prize reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, April 11, 2008. New Music Concerts, Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto.

Alice Ho (Hong Kong/Canada 1960) says her “Angst II (2006)” describes the intense anxiety you might feel if you were trapped in a space like an underground garage. Her music is drama. She is not concerned with form, but with the organic flow of imagination. The music, scored for strings, winds, brass, percussion and piano, arises sporadically like physical gestures: spurts, dashes, snaps, strums, drums, blarings, ringings, and ejaculations of sound that echo, reverberate and fade into space. David Swan at the piano led the action and reaction with an insistent high register tremolo that vibrates like a wire in the blood. Very impressive music.

Rodney Sharman (Canada 1958) composed “Incantation (2007)” on commission by bassoonist Kathleen McLean, who played it with an ensemble of harp and string quartet. In contrast to Alice Ho, who admits being susceptible to inspiration from her environment but has no interest in form, Sharman’s music comes out of him wherever he happens to be; he has a compelling melodic sense, and in the case of this piece, employs the repetitive form of incantation. The word ‘beautiful’ came to mind quickly after the opening bars. The five-note melodic refrain of the bassoon sings, and the sighs of a chorus of strings blow like wind among the brittle lines of the harp. The work is rich in emotion.

Juan Trigos (Mexico/Canada 1965) is open to all kinds of forms and influences. The title of “Ricercare de Camara VI (1998-99)” refers to Trigos’ interest in ‘ricercare’, an early Baroque ancestor of fugal counterpoint. Trigos also pays homage to Spain through his use of abstracted elements of flamenco and the sense of ‘Son’ or regionally distinct styles of playing in this piece for guitar and chamber orchestra. The music appears as a scattering of sonic blocks of rhythm punctuated by various percussive impacts. The ringing of church bells, the bray of clarinet, the blare of brass hedge the highly inflected virtuosic performance of soloist Dieter Hennings’ guitar. Overall, one gets the pleasant feeling that Trigos is very sure of his writing.

Chris Paul Harman (Canada 1970) developed his work “Postludio a rovescio (2006-07)” from a piece he’d written for solo violin based on the Passacaglia for solo violin by Heinrich von Biber. The present work, scored for winds, piano, guitar and mandolin, harp and strings, is technically very complex in its orchestration, but comes across as delicate, elegant, with the light and rippling purity of sustained notes resolving into an ethereal beauty. Mr. Harman is this year’s winner of the Jules Léger Prize presented cooperatively by The Canadian Music Centre, CBC/EMR, and The Canada Council for the Arts.

So Jeong Ahn (Korea/Canada 1956) wrote the most imaginative piece of the evening. “SUB (2008)” is her homage to the Toronto ‘SUBway’–“a wonderful source of a variety of attractive sounds, [and] also a place of communication, where people from all over the world meet in a kind of daily ritual performance like a concert.” So Jeong Ahn’s music is a way of freeing herself from the suppressive influence of ‘other people’s business’ and getting on with ‘her business’, which is locating and experiencing the various personae that live in her alone. Her motivation and her music are courageous, engaging and wakeful. Her use of extended techniques (tapping on the mouthpiece of the horn, the silent breathings of accordion and trombone), the sequences of taped ‘live’ voices and ‘live’ footsteps, her imitation of the squeal of cars coming around a curve of track, and the rush of energy in huge, hollow spaces, kept the mind of this listener in a state of constant delight.

At this time when serious music is being ‘right-sized’ into to the lowest common denominator of media market produce, one has to celebrate the musical community that focused on this evening’s offering by New Music Concerts which is dedicated to bringing out the best, for us and in us.

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