Sometimes It’s a Good Thing to Be a Fish Out of Water.
After a harrowing streetcar trip on a gridlocked Queen Street, I power-walked my way up to the Array Space for *We will be the ones*. The concert was organized largely by Sammy Bayefsky, a current member of the University of Toronto’s composition program who also played piano for the night, and friends: Bryanna Petrie on vocals, Kintaro Akiyama on bass, Rosy Zhang on cello, and Erick Oliver Wawrzkiewicz on violin.
The premise of the concert was a bouquet of popular songs arranged for this ensemble as sung by Petrie, interspersed with some original compositions by Bayefsky and Akiyama. They professed to draw inspiration from The Art of Time Ensemble, who also do effective infusions of the art music world and the popular music world, and much like that Ensemble the two aesthetics were well-balanced.
The concert opened with a short, invocative original composition by Bayefsky, aptly named The Invocation, for four hands piano with the third and fourth hands skillfully played by Zhang. It was a great opener, meditative and expressive. It also was a fantastic lead in to the next piece, also composed by Bayefsky, and the concert’s namesake, *We will be the ones*. It began with a soothing ostinato in a curious little instrument called the mbira, which , while known by many names, I knew by kalimba, and you may be most familiar with the term thumb piano. It’s a little wooden box with stiff wooden bars suspended over a little soundbox, and in this case, thankfully amplified. I suppose it makes a sound that is hard to describe, but it’s a cool sound. I suggest you look for the instrument on YouTube.
This was also our first listen to Petrie’s voice; again, this is showing some of the aforementioned popular music ignorance, but Petrie’s voice is through-and-through possessed of that sort of folk/indie nostalgic twang that lends her performances a lot of character. I’m sure it is very reminiscent of an artist you, dear reader, are familiar with. It remained effective and idiomatic throughout the evening.
The piece after this was, incredibly, an arrangement of a song I actually know! Unprecedented, it was Harvest Moon by Neil Young, and a pretty nice arrangement by Akiyama too, who also played a great improvised solo in the middle of the tune, showing off his McGill Jazz graduate chops. After this was Succexy by Metric arr. Bayefsky, and closing with an original composition by Akiyama. This piece had some great colour and showed his jazz chops off yet again, but I feel as if Petrie’s voice could have been handled a little more effectively here. Maybe she was getting tired by the end of the first half, but she seemed to have a bit of a hard time with notes that seemed a bit too low or high, although as she displayed later in the concert her range gets pretty far up and sounded great in Case of You, a Joni Mithcell song arranged by guest arranger Britta Johnson. Hard to say what happened, but regardless, it did not seem to be a permanent problem.
I won’t go into heavy detail for the also solid second half. It opened again with another original composition for violin, cello, and piano by Bayefsky, followed by an arrangement by Bayefsky of, apparently, Petrie’s favourite Hey Rosetta! song, Bandages. Petrie also played some guitar for this one, and there were some great colours as a result of this uncommon pairing on instruments. Another original composition after this by Bayefsky entitled Say Nothing, with lyrics by Petrie. Then came the aforementioned Joni Mitchell arrangement by Johnson. The quality of the arrangement, which was a more upbeat take on the melancholic original, came as no surprise considering she’s had her music played at festivals like Stratford, Blyth, and Shaw.
The highlight of the program was the closer, In The Bachseat (more on that in a second). This arrangement of the Arcade Fire song In The Backseat was the most effective use of this weird infusion of popular and art music, new and old, arrangement and composition as it where, as it more effectively displayed a higher involvement in the craft of these infusions and a greater balance between all these different elements. The piece opens with what seemingly is Prelude in C Major from Book 1 of the Well Tempered Clavier by Bach. It’s a direct transcription, but slowly, some new notes pop up. You might almost think Bayefsky played the wrong note. Different harmonies creep in, different melodies. Before you know it, you’re listening to an Arcade Fire song, with that great way-less-static-than-it-looks-on-paper figuration from the Bach prelude as it’s groundwork. And, as quickly or as slowly as it came in, the song sinks back into the background where it came from, and you’re hearing the end of the prelude. I even got a little uncomfortable when he didn’t play the fugue right after it. At any rate, there is something to the interaction between idioms and aesthetics done in this way that is very compelling. Mixing classical music and popular music has long been like mixing water and oil, and it is tricky to find a way to represent both simultaneously. While I’d hesitate to say this was the key to a long locked-up new idiom, considering I don’t know the Arcade Fire song (obviously) and was looking at the arrangement/composition from the perspective granted me from the Bach prelude, it was clear to me this was the entry in the program that most revealed a greater purpose in the program. Keep going with this idea, Sammy!
In closing, some more janitorial remarks. The ensemble played confidently and cleanly, they were all solid players, especially for current students and recent graduates, and although I’ll pretentiously claim the character of Petrie’s voice isn’t necessarily my cup of tea, it’s obvious she does the style well. The Array Space is a nice, live little room that fits about 50 quite comfortably with lots of Array’s toys in it to play with, including what I assume was their microphones and amplifiers. A place to consider hosting your next chamber music event at, most certainly.
Lastly, and perhaps the most shocking surprise for me, was the alarming quality of the brownies offered during intermission, which were almost unbelievably gluten free. Now, I have no need for gluten free baking, and nor do I have the desire to conform to a gluten free diet, but this recipe must acquire greater publicity. The moistness and flavour easily rivaled those of gluten abound brownies that I have consumed. I was completely taken aback. I have friends with gluten intolerances ranging from grossly inconvenient to debilitatingly severe who would clamour for this recipe. Bryanna Petrie, and so for this fact it must be mentioned she is also a friendly and patient individual, said that she would send it to me, and I intend to hold her to that.
If you liked this review and thought this concert sounded cool, and it is still before 7pm on Thursday October 24th, well you’re in luck; the collective will be repeating this concert tonight again at the Array Space, so get over there!
– Jay Caron