ESPRIT ORCHESTRA reviewed by Stanley Fefferman

ESPRIT ORCHESTRA, Sunday, October 22, 2006. SANCTUARY

The magic of Gyorgi Ligeti’s “Melodien”, as performed by Esprit Orchestra conducted by Alex Pauk, is that it allows the individuality of each sound to arise distinct and separate before it merges with the texture of the whole sonorous fabric Ligeti has woven. The effect is similar to the way Ezra Pound conveyed how he experienced faces of Parisians in his poem “In A Station of the Metro”:

The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.

Both artists democratize their perceptions, rather than lose them in broad general forms. Ligeti’s composition develops a massive but dignified energy that naturally resolves into a quiet peace.

One of Canada’s most highly regarded and most often performed composers, Alexina Louie, kindly offered these observations at intermission:

Ligeti thought of music in a different way. His concept of multiple voices, instead of having each voice clearly understood as in a Bach fugue, the voices were in small incremental lines that all the players would have that they would weave together into a texture. It is wonderful how the music in tonight’s performance of “Melodien” dissolved into its quintessential note at the end. That takes skill and art—to take the listener on this journey from very intricate lines with all of these textures to one single note at the end. It is remarkable–and hard to play–by the way.

STM: How about the George Benjamin piece “Three Inventions for Chamber Orchestra”? If the orchestra is one instrument, then the timbres he gets out of it –one has never heard them before. It is like a completely new instrument.

AL: If you heard my pre-concert talk, I mentioned that Benjamin studied in France, and that is where colour, texture, and timbre are really practiced. Benjamin’s palette is unique in getting new sounds out of the instruments. In the piece we just heard, Benjamin is working with blocks of sound and color rather than separation and purity within a texture as Ligeti does. Benjamin is working with the sound of the brasses, or the answering of the percussion from one side of the stage to another. He is also working the instruments in these filigrees of texture. He has the woodwinds joining with the strings at one point and everything is rising up, and cymbals begin to sound gently and there is this surprising big bang on the drum at the end.

Following intermission, we heard two pieces by our own Paul Frehner and Brian Current, two composers who are rapidly rising above the musical horizon. Frehner’s “Sanctuary” is full of new orchestral timbres, arising peacefully from textures of bell-like harp tones, whispering strings and pulsing tom-toms to the martial tones of blaring horns. This dramatic and compelling music is, surprisingly, inspired by a somewhat programmatic storyline, an account of which follows in a paraphrase of Frehner’s own telling in the pre-concert talk. “Sanctuary” is my reaction to the tsunami that struck the countries around the Indian Ocean in 2004. “Sanctuary” is a reflection on sanctuary lost and an expression of hope. The piece is divided into two movements. In the first expansive movement, I am trying to depict an imaginary haven in a vast landscape that evolves over time. Many solos emerge and fade back into the texture, like voices of individuals that are heard briefly before passing on. The second movement shatters the idyllic mood. It depicts a situation spiraling out of control as people lose power of decision to irresistible outside forces. At the end, there is a brief, fragmented return to soloistic material from the first movement.

“Kazabazua” by Brian Current is exciting music, finely-grained and dense stretches of sound released by huge percussive shocks into a poignant quiescence. In his commentary, Mr. Current speaks of experimenting with “ constantly accelerating tempos…as if written for a metronome that only gets faster. The piece phases through cycles of momentum to renewal.

After the concert, Ellen Nichols offered this comment: “ My rule of thumb is always if instantly I want to hear it again, then it’s music that really struck me, and I feel that way about both pieces. I would give anything to have them play it again.”

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