Esprit Orchestra: DEMON reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

Friday, May 1, 2009, Jane Mallett Theatre, Toronto.

The highlight of Esprit Orchestra’s Mayday celebration was a performance of the late Maki Ishii’s Saidoki (Demon) for solo percussion and orchestra (1992) featuring Ryan Scott. The demands of Ishii’s score kept Mr. Scott, busier than a six-armed demon selecting the right implement to strike/rub/rattle/shake the right instrument. He is pictured here coaxing subtle sonic colours out of a pair of ‘cidelos’, rectangular metal boxes with ornate cuts made in their top surfaces that produce a rich array of pitches when struck. A lot of audience attention went into watching and wondering what Scott would do next and how he could manage the multitude of changes. His virtuosity was warmly rewarded with repeated ovations.

Ishii’s music, which employs close to 60 musicians (onstage, below stage, and a big brass band behind the audience) combines Western and traditional Japanese compositional methods. I imagine Saidoki as the music of subatomic quantum spaces, the dance of quantum froth, which is to say, the music is intriguing but enigmatic, till the end, when Scott goes crazy on the tom-toms and the big brass behind blares, and the whole orchestra including 5 other percussionists pull out all the stops, then it’s May Day, May Day May Day.

Erica Goodman is one of the dedicatees of Chris Paul Harman’s Gott Lebet Noch (2008) concerto for harp and orchestra. Harman’s composition is based on a Bach chorale of the same name (eng: God Still Lives). Of his treatment of Bach, Harman says he has done some “reharmonization, fragmentation, chromatic melody alteration, retrogrades of individual phrases, layering of canons, registral displacement and extreme changes in tempi….” Because Harman did not write in extended techniques for the harp, we heard its natural timbral qualities and a sense of Bach mingle with the rarified orchestral dissonances, discords, percussive sonic booms, clangs, jangles, moaning winds and keening strings. The idea occurred that the modern title could be God Still Lives (or Not). Ms. Goodman’s extreme exertions were warmly applauded, and the piece’s other dedicatees, Alex Pauk and the Esprit Orchestra offered a bonus performance of  “Brazil”, a 1944 Academy Award nominated tune by Ary Barroso that was a lot of fun.

The Nathaniel Dett Chorale featured powerfully in Discouraged Passion (2009) by Esprit resident composer Douglas Schmidt. Schmidt’s music, which is percussively rhythmic, high-spirited and engaging, is based on a 19th Century Brazilian tango lyric sung by a lover who is breaking up with his girlfriend because he hates her family. Schmidt on his bandeon, the hand organ popularized in South American brothels, adds virtuosic bounce to the rich harmonies of orchestra and chorus. His music is interesting and entertaining.

Comments are closed.