6 years ago

Volume 21 Issue 7 - April 2016

  • Text
  • April
  • Toronto
  • Jazz
  • Musical
  • Symphony
  • Arts
  • Theatre
  • Orchestra
  • Concerto
  • Choir


RAMONA TIMAR R-Pals rehearse in Robin Engelman’s studio at York U. (left to right: Don MacMillan, David Kent, Andrew Timar, Nicholas Kilbourn, ca 1974). made it a point to see what we were doing. In 2014, he even published his review of an ECCG concert on his website. Following a lifelong practice of telling it as he saw and heard it, he pulled no punches! On April 14, Soundstreams will present “Steve Reich at 80,” in celebration of one of the shakers of musical minimalism, and as I had alluded to earlier, there’s a Robin and Nexus connection here too. Nexus co-founders Russell Hartenberger and Bob Becker were both also original members of the seminal Steve Reich and Musicians, formed in 1966. Then, when Nexus was born in 1971 in Toronto, Robin was on board as a charter member. During their many extensive residencies, national and international tours, Robin was there (installments of his tour diaries can be read on the Nexus website). And Reich’s music was often on the program. His minimalist masterwork, Music for Pieces of Wood, videoed in a 1984 Tokyo concert, has surpassed 242,000 YouTube views. Returning once more to that evocative early 1970s photo of Sankaran and Robin, to me it captures a key feature of that era’s York University music scene and Robin’s place in it. In retrospect, the place was at the beating heart of a kind of transcultural music making, and for a few (trans)formative years I was privileged to be part of it. I’ve spent a career since exploring several such musical broader crossings and meetings. That photo reminds us that Robin’s York studio was one of its early touchstones, while his continuing friendship was yet another. He is already missed by many. The WholeNote’s regular world music columnist, Andrew Timar, is a Toronto musician and music writer. HalfTones Highlights Peter Maxwell Davies’ Canada Connection THE INTERNATIONALLY RENOWNED COMPOSER AND FORMER MASTER OF THE QUEEN’S MUSIC DIED OF LEUKEMIA ON MONDAY, MARCH 14, AT THE AGE OF 81. IN THE MARCH 16 ISSUE OF HALFTONES, OUR MIDMONTH E-LETTER, OUR SOCIAL MEDIA EDITOR, SARA CONSTANT WROTE ABOUT HIS INFLUENCE. BBC In a recent article by Andrew Clements, The Guardian referred to the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies as “one of the great fixed points in the firmament of British music.” Perhaps best known in North America for works like his music theatre piece, Eight Songs for a Mad King, Maxwell Davies was a prolific composer who over his long career tried his hand at an array of classical genres and styles. From his early experimental - and at times controversial - pieces, to his more symphonic writing of the 1970s, to his ‘light classical’ approach later in life, Maxwell Davies’ musical voice was a many-chaptered, multifaceted one. It just so happens that Maxwell Davies was a frequent visitor to Canada and the United States, both as a guest composer and conductor - and sometimes serving as both, as he did on tour in Canada with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra in 1988. He also left a musical impression, writing Job - a massive three-part oratorio, over an hour in length - for the CBC Vancouver Orchestra and Vancouver Bach Choir, who premiered it in 1997. More locally in the Toronto scene, Maxwell Davies proved a valuable resource for such local fixtures as Aradia Ensemble’s Kevin Mallon - who was a student of his at Dartington College of Arts - and New Music Concerts, when the organization was still in its infancy. In the early years of NMC in the 1970s - a tone-setting time both for the young Peter Maxwell Davies concert series and the Canadian new music scene at large - Maxwell Davies compositions figured prominently in the programming, featured alongside works by Claude Vivier in 1976 as well as in a show specifically dedicated to Maxwell Davies later that year. Interviewed at the time by the CBC, NMC director Robert Aitken cited Maxwell Davies’ aesthetic as an approachable, complementary counterpart to music like that of Vivier’s, and the 1970s as a transitional time for new music, where “music is more exciting now than it perhaps has ever been…where literally, anything goes.” That interview is archived online (at by the Canadian Music Centre, where you can check it out for a glimpse into Toronto’s - and Maxwell Davies’ - musical past. And as for New Music Concerts, now approaching its 45th season, things still seem musically as exciting as ever. You can find details on their upcoming April 3 program “Viva Electronica,” which features electroacoustic works from a host of Canadian composers, in our listings and at Incidentally, baroque ensemble Aradia is scheduled to close its 2015/16 season with a performance on June 4 of none other than Maxwell Davies’ infamous Eight Songs for a Mad King, featuring a guest appearance by Montreal-based new music group Paramirabo. While maybe the reason behind this performance’s suddenly-apt timing isn’t the cheeriest one, the piece is a real modern classic, and Aradia and Paramirabo are sure to put on a topnotch show. You can find the details online at Sara Constant is social media editor at The WholeNote and studies musicology at the University of Amsterdam. She can be contacted at Sign up for HalfTones! Scroll down on to our “Newsletter Signup” box to sign up for HalfTones, and keep an eye on your inbox mid-April for the next issue. 68 | April 1, 2016 - May 7, 2016

DISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS REVIEWED DAVID OLDS As I have had occasion to mention before, my day job is general manager at New Music Concerts, an occupation with brings me into contact with some of the finest musicians and composers from across Canada and around the world. So in the spirit of full disclosure I will say that I have had professional dealings with the artists involved in the project Horațiu Rădulescu – Piano Sonatas and String Quartets. Pianist Stephen Clarke has been a frequent performer on our series over the years and in January we had the great pleasure of presenting JACK Quartet in conjunction with Music Toronto. Rădulescu (1942-2008) was a Romanian composer active in the French school of spectral composition. He wrote six piano sonatas and six string quartets during a career which saw him based in France, Germany and later Switzerland, after leaving his homeland in 1969. Volume One of this series (Mode Records 290), which will ultimately include all of the sonatas and quartets, presents us with three very contrasting works, Piano Sonata No.2 Op.82 (1991), String Quartet No.5 Op.89 (1990-95) and Piano Sonata No.5 Op.106 (2003). As this is my first exposure to Rădulescu’s music it is hard to know whether the difference in approach between the keyboard and string writing has more to do with the nature of the instruments themselves or if it is simply a matter of different concerns in the different works. Each of the pieces has a subtitle taken from the Tao te Ching of the sixth-century BC Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu. The Second Piano Sonata “being and non-being create each other” is in three movements: Immanence, Byzantine Bells and Joy, in decreasing durations of Fibonacci proportions (we are told in the excellent notes by Bob Gilmore). The overall feel of the piece is contemplative, with even the “Joy” of the third movement seeming contained rather than exuberant. We are even treated to echoes of Beethoven’s “fateknocking” theme from the Fifth Symphony in the closing moments of the sonata. While in his earlier years Rădulescu had treated the piano in a number of unconventional ways – turning it on its side and bowing the strings with rosined cords; retuning the piano spectrally to free the natural harmonics hampered by tempered tuning – with the Second Sonata he seems to have reconciled his language to the use of a conventional concert instrument. This is not the case with the Fifth String Quartet “before the universe was born,” which uses a number of extended techniques to expand the palette of the strings in some unimaginable ways, which is to say that there are some sounds produced that I can’t begin to understand the origins of. The 29-minute work is in 29 brief sections, each with a quote from Lao Tzu beginning with “The unnamable is eternally real (darkness, the gateway to all understanding)” and ending “The world is sacred (it can’t be improved).” Again contemplation is the mood of the piece, with clouds of quiet sounds, but just past the halfway point things get more aggressive and there is an extended section of quite abrasive sound. Although there are moments of respite along the way, the work ends with insect-like buzzing and gnashing. The Fifth Sonata “settle your dust, this is the primal identity” returns to modal melodic material. It is based on Romanian folk music and its drone- and bell-like passages are a genuine relief after the dark journey of the Fifth Quartet. Perhaps the subtitle of the third movement tells it all: “Use your own light /and return to the source of light. This is called practicing eternity.” Stephen Clarke, who we know is comfortable in many modern idioms from the gentle, sparse music of Linda Catlin Smith to the aggressive complexity of Pierre Boulez, seems well at home in this largely unknown repertoire. And with their extensive work with Helmut Lachenmann I can’t think of another group better suited to the extended demands of Rădulescu’s string writing than JACK. In keeping with the full disclosure of my opening paragraph, it was New Music Concerts who first brought Steve Reich to Toronto back in 1976 and was responsible for my initial exposure to his music. In recent years it has been our colleagues at Soundstreams who have been Reich’s premier sponsors in the city and this month they will pay tribute to “Steve Reich at 80” with a performance of, in my opinion, the jewel in the crown of his oeuvre, Music for 18 Musicians. In October 2014 the Ballet de l’Opéra national de Paris presented choreographer Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s Rain (Bel Air Classiques BAC126), a setting of Music for 18 Musicians as performed by Ensemble Ictus and Synergy Vocals under Georges-Elie Octors’ direction. I admit to being out of my zone of comfort here, not being well versed, or even You can find enhanced reviews of all discs below the yellow line in The WholeNote listening room. Listen in! • Read the review • Click to listen • Click to buy New this month to the Listening Room For more information Thom McKercher at VIVALDI : LES VIOLONS DU ROY MATHIEU LUSSIER conductor Mathieu Lussier leads the Quebecbased ensemble Les Violons du Roy in this recording of quintessential works selected from the 500 concertos composed by Vivaldi. SCHUBERT To celebrate the 65th birthday of world-renowned pianist Janina Fialkowska, ATMA Classique is delighted to release this new recording of Schubert’s Impromptus and Sonata. Hélène Grimaud’s WATER is an evocative, experimental, deeply personal project combining her two greatest passions: music and nature. April 1, 2016 - May 7, 2016 | 69

Volumes 21-25 (2015-2020)

Volumes 16-20 (2010-2015)

Volumes 11-15 (2004-2010)

Volumes 6 - 10 (2000 - 2006)

Volumes 1-5 (1994-2000)