Udo Kasemets: 1919 – 2014

Some sad news from the world of new music.

Estonian-Canadian composer Udo Kasemets passed away yesterday at the age of 94. Kasemets, whose work has been played by all over Canada and Estonia, was a quiet, yet immensly influential figure in the world of sonic art – particularly, his work influencing young artists from the Ontario College of Art and Design.

He will be missed.

 

– Paolo Griffin

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Preview: Week of January 20th

There’s only one concert to happening in Toronto this week. However next week it gets busy. Next week, the University of Toronto New Music Festival gets underway with a week and a half worth of events. Concerts, lectures, shows, discussions, and more concerts will be available for free viewing. The composer in residence at the university this year is English composer Gabriel Prokofiev, grandson of Sergei, and a very talented DJ and composer in his own right. I’ll be covering the week’s events, so you can expect quite a few written pieces.

Now, onto business.

Wednesday January 22nd

7:30 PM: Ryan Scott, percussionist for Continuum, Esprit, and the Canadian Opera Company puts on a recital at University of Toronto’s Walter Hall. On the program are works from Japan and Canada, including a new piece by Andrew Staniland.

Thursday January 23rd

7:30 PM: Toronto pianist, composer, and New Music Toronto contributor Adam Sherkin will be joining forces with soprano Carla Huhtanen to “celebrate the musicality of Winter in a recital of songs from Canada and Scandinavia”. On tap are pieces by Canadians Omar Daniel, Ana Sokolovic, and Jeffrey Ryan, as well as Finnish legend Jean Sibelius, and Swedish powerhouse Ture Rangström. I have a great amount of affect for the music coming out of Scandanavia, and so I’m quite excited for this concert. Come have a listen.

Until Friday.

– Paolo Griffin

New Sounds for 2014

Last night’s concert at the Music Gallery, featuring Montreal-based Ensemble Paramirabo, as well as quite a few others, was definitely one of the most interesting concerts I have been to in a long time.

It started with Canadian sound artist and composer Christopher Willes, who has had exhibitions in Finland, New York City, and Toronto, to name a few. The only piece on the first half of the concert was Willes’ immersive Blow/Draw. The performers, and there were many of them, positions themselves around the hall and began to play long sustained tones. I’m told the direction of the piece resulted from following the harmonic series, but I wish I could’ve had a chance to talk to the composer about this piece. It seemed everyone had a different reaction to the piece, given that it was those long notes for almost 45 minutes. I’m not the first to admit that my mind wandered off for a while in the middle of the piece, but, then, maybe that was the point. Different colours, textures, and effect kept appearing, and the overall impression I got was that of the world’s most colourful slinky.

After an intermission, Ensemble Paramirabo stepped up to performer Willes’ Receding Background. A work made of seven miniatures featuring the instruments and electronic sounds via speaker. Most were good, some were fantastic. There was a constant shift in mood between playful, serious, exciting, and back again.

Canadian Scott Rubin’s interestingly titled work the Torn Cubist felt like a piece that progressed from abstraction into something more or less solid. In the later parts of the piece especially, when the music adopted a driving rock and jazz derived set of rhythms, did I feel like this was a piece that I would like to hear again.

Composers Robert Hansler and Rodrigo Bussad had brand new offerings. In the former’s case, a work titled In Every Place, Incense and in the latter’s, Loin.

In Every Place, Incense felt like a piece whose name really fit. It was a great combination of fragility and strength. The musicians seemed to really be in their depth during this piece, and it came out in the music.

Loin was another interesting piece. Perhaps not my favourite sort of work, but it had its definite moments. Roaring at a rapid pace through sections, with dark textures and a fantastic use of the instruments and their less conventional techniques, I would very much like to hear this piece again, as I don’t feel ready to give a complete opinion on it with just one listening.

There were also two Frank Zappa arrangements,  I’m the Slime and Fifty-Fifty,  on the program (arranged very well by Symon Henry). I’m not convinced that they were completely necessary for the concert, and they did stand out a little bit, but I enjoyed them nonetheless, and so did the audience and the performers.

This was my first concert of 2014, and casting aside the fact that I’m pleased to finally get back into things, the concert was enjoyable and a success. A full house with an enthusiastic audience and great performers is great to see, and it’s always nice to see familiar faces.

A final note. A word of advice to the man and woman who were lying spread eagle in the aisle during the concert: Don’t. It’s incredibly unbecoming, makes the audience look bad, and makes you look even worse.

Have a good weekend.

– Paolo Griffin

Preview: Week of December 9th

Three concerts this week! Here they are.

Tuesday December 10th:

8:00 PM: Bespoken releases their new tape ‘plays Nick Storring and Daniel Brandes’. Both Storring and Brandes are quite talented composers, and this show will combine live performances, some wild visuals, and a tape launch.

Thursday December 12th:

8:00 PM: The Music Gallery presents the first Emergents concert of the year (Emergents I: Strange Strings). Works by Canadian composers Margaret Ashburner and Anthony Wallace are on tap, as are two works by Mike Smith, formerly of Muskox (and other local bands)

8:00 PM: Spectrum Music puts on another show at the Annex Theatre. A long list of Canadian composers will be performed, along with the talents of the Spectrum ensemble. This isn’t a normal venue for these types of concerts, so if you’re curious, visit their site: http://spectrummusic.ca/.

I’ll see you all out there this week.

– Paolo Griffin

Review: Singing the Earth

I think I’d be able to write quite a bit about Singing the Earth, last night’s new work by Toronto-based composer Anna Höstman, if I had the chance, however I only have about 600 words or less to talk about it  so that will have to do.

Singing the Earth’s purpose was to “offer fragments and glimpses into this very special place.” That place was the Bella Coola Valley in the Central Coast area of British Columbia, where Höstman spent her childhood. The work, which was written for Continuum music and mezzo-soprano Marion Newman, and conducted by Gregory Oh, was split into eleven parts and combined with video recordings of the natural features of the valley, as well as interspersed interviews with its residents.

Höstman, who has an extensive resume already, displayed her skill in creating music that was delicate, yet had something of a backbone to it. In particular, Höstman’s piano writing was (and is) very impressive. Lonesome Lake, the ninth movement (which was for solo piano), was reason enough to attend. The fifth movement halling, which was an arrangement of an old Norwegian Slått (a folk music piece for fiddle), was also a favourite of mine. A mix of melancholy and something else, the arrangement was smooth and very lovely.

The work wasn’t without its odd or unsatisfactory moments. Höstman mentions in her program notes that a song she had worked on, only made it to the final product of the final movement in the form of a three minute ‘introduction’, wherein only the instrumental accompaniment was heard. I also wasn’t as keen on the film and video installation that was being projected behind the musicians during the work. Personally, I’ve never been a fan of things like this. Not that it wasn’t nice to see images and video of the valley and its contents, but I’ve usually been more distracted from the music by the images in these sorts of works, and in that way, I think it takes away from the music and the work that the composer put in.

The tenth movement, Glossary was also an odd piece. Accompanied by the ensemble, the mezzo sang not a poem or a story, but instead, a list of all the flora and fauna found in Bella Coola. This text came from Thomas Mcilwraith’s appendix to The Bella Coola Indians, an anthropological study from the 1920s. The notes mention that the effect of industry has been devastating to the valley over the years, and no doubt it has, but without having read those notes, I don’t think I would have fully grasped why someone was listing off everything in the valley in song.

Above and beyond what I liked or didn’t like, Höstman clearly displayed her skill as a composer. Technically speaking, I found no problems with the work. The text was set beautifully, especially in the last movement, and the music took on an appropriately atmospheric tone for the material at hand. Marion Newman’s singing was something to be admired, as was the skill of the musicians and conductor. This didn’t seem anything like a simple piece which most people could pull off; The music pulsed and moved along in complex lines, being tossed from instrument to instrument or in other places had a subdued, delicate feel to them. Talented hands were certainly needed for this work.

There is one last performance of the work tonight, same time, same place (the Wynchwood Barns up near St. Clair West), and I’d suggest taking a look. With so much on display, you’re sure to find something you like.

– Paolo Griffin

Lunchtime Treats

A Tuesday afternoon is usually an odd time for a concert, isn’t it? The answer is yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s a bad time. The Glenn Gould School’s New Music Ensemble certainly provided worthwhile listening this afternoon, when they tackled three contemporary works from American and Canadian composers.

Brian Current led the ensemble through a work by Montreal-based composer John Rea titled Accident, Tombeau de Grisey (2004), while composer Scott Good conducted his own piece, a work titled Three Movement for Chamber Orchestra (2013) which was a mish-mash of different styles. American Martin Bresnick also had a work on the program. The poignant My Twentieth Century (2002) for six players, and incorporating a bit of acting and narration.

My favourite work of the afternoon belong to Bresnick. A very passionate piece, written in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, the work at first made me lower my guard with its pleasant tonalities and catchy rhythms, reminiscent of Reich, mixed with Glass, and tossed around in a bowl of something else thoroughly American in style. Each of the musicians in turn, as the piece was being played, would come up to a pair of microphones in front of the audience, and recite a line of poetry about an event that occurred. Each line ended with “….in the twentieth century”. A very passionate piece that had more depth than one would be able to hear in one listening, this is a piece I would very much like to hear again.

Scott Good’s piece Three Movement for Orchestra was also very charming in its own way. Each movement had a completely different feeling from the last, and so the movements didn’t blend together as seamlessly as one would think (or in my case like), but the result was still impressive. The first movement was a dense, almost aleatoric trip through dense sounds and clusters of notes. The second was a very Steve Reich-esque (the composer admitted that Reich was his influence with this movement) straight line, driving towards a final point. The third movement had a rich, lush, almost Neo-Romantic sound that took influences from Indian raga.

Rea’s piece Accident…. was good, however I felt that it was too long, dragging in the middle, and the final minutes of the piece just didn’t have the payoff I felt was necessary fort sitting through a piece of this length or style. From a technical standpoint, it was very well done. It contained fantastic uses of the instruments, and the piano and percussion acted as shading to the already present picture. Too often, composers feel obliged to overuse these two sets of instruments. Their use in and of itself is not a bad thing, but having them dominate a 13-instrument ensemble seems like a waste sometimes.

Here I must make a quick note: I really enjoyed the venue and casual atmosphere of this concert. A lunchtime concert in the Four Seasons Centre, where one could watch the concert, but also glance out and see the traffic, people, and everything else that goes on on University Ave. really made the experience for me. I wish more concerts could be like this. Maybe I’ll have to write another article on this issue.

I enjoyed the concert quite a bit. I advise you to go to another noontime concert at the COC or see the GGS New Music Ensemble in concert. They’re well worth it.

– Paolo Griffin

Preview: Week of December 2nd

Good news everyone! There are four (technically five) events happening this week!

Let’s get down to it:

Tuesday December 3rd:

12:00 PM: The Canadian Opera Company’s regular chamber music series presents a concert of Canadian and American music, put on by musicians from the Glenn Gould School and surrounding areas. Music by John Rea and Martin Bresnick, as well as a world premiere by  Scott Good are on the program. This should be fun, as each piece calls for sizable ensembles.

7:00 PM: The CMC hosts the Score Reading Club. This club combines the music of Canadian composers, mini-lectures on their music and lives, and, you guessed it, a bit of score reading. This is always a very enjoyable event to attend, so get out to it if you can.

8:00 PM: Lula Lounge hosts ‘Canada Day Revisited’. This is a repeat of the Canada Day concert put on earlier this year (can you guess the date?). Poulenc, Brahms, and Schubert are on the program as well as Canadians Colin Eatock and Jean Papineau-Couture.

Wednesday December 4th:

7:00 PM: Continuum music works with last year’s Toronto Emerging Composer award winner Anna Höstman, dramaturge Dylan Robinson, and mezzo-soprano Marion Newman to create a program exploring the lives and times of the Norwegian settlers who arrived in Canada circa the 19th century. This show is presented on Wednesday and Thursday, and I advise you not to miss it.

Thursday December 5th:

7:00 PM: Same as above. ‘Singing the Earth’, presented by Continuum and Anna Höstman.

– Paolo Griffin

Please take the time to read this: https://newmusictoronto.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/funding-a-concert-northern-connections-and-the-music-of-finland-canada-2/. It would be lovely to see emerging composers inside and outside of Canada combine  their works for a great concert.