NMC’s Roger Reynolds and his Protégés reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

March 29, 2009, Isabel Bader Theatre, Toronto

The works of Roger Reynolds are written for an ensemble of instrumentalists and a computer musician. Part of Reynolds’s compositional technique is to choose some passages performed by the instrumentalists for digital capture in real-time. This information is generated into algorithms that the computer musician then interweaves as part of the living performance.

This evening, we heard the world première performance of Reynolds’s A Mind of Winter (SEASONS CYCLE II d) 2009, a 12 minute piece with Robert Aitken on Flute, David Hetherington on Cello, Rick Sacks on Percussion, and Jaime Oliver on electronics.

The instrumental trio develops musical ideas around ‘musings’ that Reynolds associates with Winter and Old Age, such as “solitariness, glitter, freezing and distance/ recurrence, grieving, grotesquery and resolution.” The electronics, sometimes as a contrapuntal voice within the performance, sometimes as a soloist, comment on these ideas. Electronic commentary emanating from the surround sound system seems like the voice of space itself, especially during those times when the musicians are motionless, as if frozen. The feeling of it is not so much ‘other-worldly’ as ‘higher-worldly’. The instrumental music seems to become liberated into a larger space, and though the message of A Mind of Winter is heavy, the feeling that develops is unburdened and carefree.

David Felder says he learned from Roger Reynolds how to create a ‘singing room’: that is, how to rework the resonance of instruments electronically into a sonic environment, a virtual concert space in harmony with the instrumental performance. Felder’s 17 minute octet (including computer musician J. T. Rinker) is entitled partial[dist]res[s]toration (2001-03).  The seven brief movements derived from poetic imagery of writers like Neruda, Creeley, and Daumal, have a peaceful feeling. Strings, winds, percussion and piano tones articulated live are expanded electronically and get stripped of their usual tonal associations. The tinkle of piano and percussion, drone of winds, creak of strings are exalted; individual voices are alternately etherealized and re-individuated. The overall sense of the piece is harmony in the midst of diversity.

Juan Campoverde of Ecuador and Chicago was encouraged by Reynolds to look to other forms, mainly literature, painting and pre-Colombian patterns in pottery and textiles as continuous sources of musical content.  The sounds of his Illuminations (2007) come in bursts—swarms of winged things with the voices of oboe, cello, clarinet, piano, vibes and strings float like reflections on moving water, suggesting lines of light etched by acid on a metallic space.

Chaya Czernowin of Israel is indebted to Reynolds for her intuitive trust in metaphors that appear out of nowhere. Her Winter Songs II: Stones (2008) is a gutsy piece that seems to come from deep in the earth. It is composed for a low register septet (bass flute, bass clarinet, bass trombone, cello, tuba, viola, contrabass, three amplified percussionists), and is inspired by the death of a friend.  Listening, I thought of a splash of sea lions vocalizing on a rocky island during a storm. The solidity and outline of this imagery seemed, during the 17 minutes of their passage, to dissolve and expand like successive drops of coloured inks dropped into water.

The most purely beautiful piece of the evening was David Swan’s solo performance of Noturno para Chopin “in memoriam” (1995) by Antonio Borges-Cunha of Brazil who also accompanied the piano with an offstage accordion. The gentle, intermittent notes of the piano seemed to spawn shadows, vibrations, ripples and subtle life-forms in the concert space.

The evening concluded with a 35 minute performance of  a major Reynolds composition, The Angel of Death [DS] (19989-2001). This complex and overwhelmingly powerful work seemed to disengage my proprioceptive awareness and induce a strange kind of bodily disorientation. The electronics seemed to be suggesting metaphors and similies for things that don’t exist, or don’t exist yet in our world, or are on the verge of coming into existence.

There was much food for astonishment in this concert, not the least of which is the commitment and talent of the conductor and the musicians of the New Music Concerts Ensemble who were able to realize beautifully in a short time six new compositions involving almost 90 minutes of fiendishly difficult music. Their names are listed below.

Douglas Stewart, Dianne Aitken, Robert Aitken–flutes,Max Christie, Michele Verheul–clarinets, Joan Watson—horn,

James Gardiner, Robert Venables–trumpets, Ian Cowie–trombone, Scott Irvine–tuba

Rick Sacks, Trevor Tureski, Ryan Scott–percussion,

Fujiko Imajishi, Parmela Attariwal–violins, Douglas Perry–viola,

David Hetherington–cello, Peter Pavlovsky–contrabass,

David Swan–piano, Robert Aitken—conductor.

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