Last night the Toy Piano Composers turned 5. To celebrate they held a concert. Not a grand, dramatic concert filled with long speeches and tears; A concert that wasn’t too long, but wasn’t too short. It had short speeches, good music, and a welcome atmosphere. Last night’s TPC concert was nothing short of enjoyable, and should act as a reminder and example to people both in the music community and out of it, of how entertaining new music in this city has the potential of being.
Last night’s TPC concert was a celebration of five years of concerts. It consisted of 8 works that had been shown in previous TPC concerts, a sort of ‘best of’ list, as well as two new pieces, commissioned for the concert. A few of the pieces were re-tooled slightly to suit the new space as well as new ideas by the composer, however most of the pieces remained in their original format.
TPC has had a good history of creating and commissioning pieces that aren’t too long. It’s a firm belief of mine that audiences in this day and age can’t really wrap their heads around music longer than 12 or so minutes, and so composers must adapt to this. Obviously composers would like to be able to write whatever duration music they want, however the harsh reality is that most audiences (even ones well versed in new music) simply tend to blank out after a certain point. That being said, the TPC tends to create and commission pieces in the range of 10 minutes or less, and this is something that works wonderfully; All the pieces tonight were in this time span. Some were as short as four minutes, and some were longer, however they were of a duration that kept the audience’s full attention. Composer Igor Correia’s first piece of the program One Short Piece for my Short Attention Span (2011) was thus aptly named.
Ten pieces total. Two premieres. My three favourite pieces of the night were easily Chris Thornborrow’s Walking (2013), Half Broken on the Wheel (2013) by Ruth Guechtal, and Fiona Ryan’s incredibly entertaining A Geology Lesson (2009).
Walking (2013) is a piece that was inspired by an animated short of the same name by Canadian animator Ryan Larkin. Larkin, whose only other work is a short film titled Street Music (1972), battled a cocaine addiction and spent four decades of his life homeless. His film however is a much less depressing affair. It is a study on the movement of the human body, and the act of walking and of people in motion. In some ways, this was also the feeling I got from Thornborrow’s piece. A constantly moving affair, it consisted of smooth, sometimes uplifting, sometimes melancholy lines punctuated by changes in metre and dynamics. It kept pace and didn’t sag at any point during its performance,
Half Broken on the Wheel (2013) by Ruth Guechtal was the third piece on what in my opinion was a very well programmed programme. According to the composer this work was a result of her explorations of the term ‘masochism’. This was a rich, enthralling piece for solo piano, where the pianist played both on the keyboard, and inside the piano. The sheer number of effects and textures coaxed out of the piano was both astonishing and fascinating, and enveloped the hall in a deep, dark, yet smooth sound.
A Geology Lesson (2009) by Fiona Ryan was definitely the most lighthearted piece of the night. A tour through the different categories of rock and including an electric violin (always a fun instrument to see) and a narrator (here narrated by Elisha Denburg). The piece began with the narrator welcoming us to the world of science, and introducing today’s subject. Some well placed dialogue, a few really great moments where the narrator exclaimed ‘SCIENCE!’, as well as a pair of cool shades, was the recipe for a science lesson I would watch again any day.
The rest of the pieces in the concert were all enjoyable in their own right. Modus Operandi (2010) by Nancy Tam had a jazzy feel, reminiscent of private eye movies, and Glenn James’ Crosscurrents (2011) was a smooth, lush ride of a piece for piano, toy piano and music box. The music box here was well used, adding some delicacy to the piece that I appreciated. The strangest piece on the programme was $100 000 Noise Enclosure (2013) by Daniel Brophy. The pianist sat on the bench which was close mic’d and amplified so that every small movement by the pianist resulted in a great amount of sound. This joined with the pianist playing as one normally would and created an otherworldly, grating, loud, at times overwhelming amount of sound. To be honest, when the piece began, I thought that there was a small error in amp levels and that they had to adjust the feedback, however the pianist began playing and I quickly realized that that was the piece itself. Credit has to be given to the composer for knowing how long to make a piece of this kind. It was long enough to fascinate me and keep my attention, but not so long that it would begin to get on my nerves and become too much to listen to.
With this concert, TPC showed the audience what it was all about. New music that is fun. New music that you can sit and listen to and really take it all in and come out with favourable opinions about everything on the programme.
Well done TPC. Happy fifth birthday.
– Paolo Griffin