1 year ago

Volume 27 Issue 5 | March 4 - April 15, 2022

"Hard to watch and impossible to ignore"--on the Russian invasion of Ukraine; Tafelmusik goes live again in a tribute to Jeanne Lamon; TSO MD reunion as Centennial Countdown kicks off; PASS=Performing Arts Sunday Series at the Hamilton Conservatory of the Arts ...; crosstown to the TRANZAC, Matthew Fava on the move; all this and more ....

“And am I born to die?

“And am I born to die? / To lay this body down! / And must my trembling spirit fly / Into a world unknown?” The solo soprano personifies Guy’s painting, which hangs in the Brooklyn Museum. She gradually draws consciousness and understanding from the crowds of spectators passing by each day, until, urged on by the chorus, she is “born” out of the frame and enters a confusing and lonely present-day reality. At that point, the philosophical speculation “am I born to die?” is modified to the much more pressing and immediate: “am I born?” Hughes and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street are accompanied in this powerful performance by the NOVUS NY orchestra, all under the direction of Julian Wachner. Like George Crumb, Sofia Gubaidulina (b.1931) has shown no signs of slowing down creatively in her later years. To honour her 90th birthday Deutsche Grammophon has released a disc of world premiere recordings of two recent works and the earlier The Light of the End, written in 2003 for the Boston Symphony ( catalogue/products/gubaidulina-nelsonsrepin-12472). Andris Nelsons conducts the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig for which Gubaidulina has served as composer-in-residence since 2019. The last-mentioned work is based on a fundamental conflict that characterizes the physics of music, namely, the irreconcilability between the natural overtone series, played here by the horns, and the tempered tuning of the rest of the orchestra. This conflict leads to a series of dramatic crescendos and climaxes and is illustrated to exemplary effect in a duet between solo horn and solo cello. The disc opens with Dialog: Ich und Du (Dialogue: I and You // Violin Concerto No.3). It was written for Vadim Repin in 2018, and he is the soloist here. This and the companion piece The Wrath of God are extrapolated from Gubaidulina’s oratorio On Love and Hatred (2016- 2018), which constitutes her appeal to humankind to follow God’s commandments and to overcome hatred through the conciliatory power of love. The title of the violin concerto deliberately recalls religious philosopher Martin Buber’s Ich und Du (I and Thou) which describes the world as “dichotomous,” contrasting two things that are opposed or entirely different, here represented by a conversation, often interrupted, between the solo violin and the orchestra. The Wrath of God is a shimmering depiction of the Day of Judgement, or Dies Irae, for enormous orchestral forces. “God is wrathful, He’s angry with people and with our behaviour. We’ve brought this down on ourselves,” the composer explained in the preamble to the first performance in an empty Vienna Musikverein in November 2020, a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Gubaidulina has dedicated the piece “To the Great Beethoven” and we can hear hints of the Ninth Symphony peeking through in the dramatic finale. Speaking of Beethoven, following on their recording of his complete works for cello and piano, Yo-Yo Ma has once again teamed up with Emanuel Ax, this time with violinist Leonidas Kavakos, on Beethoven for Three – Symphonies Nos. 2 & 5 (Sony Classical The arrangements are by Ferdinand Ries, under Beethoven’s supervision (No.2), and the contemporary British composer Colin Matthews (No.5). It must be a daunting task to adapt the full resources of a symphony orchestra to just three players, even if we concede that the pianist’s two hands can render separate independent lines. Still we must realize that in Beethoven’s day arrangements were the norm, and in many instances the only opportunity to experience great works of orchestral repertoire. Recordings were still a hundred years in the future and orchestral concerts beyond the reach of most people. I am pleased to report in this instance both of the arrangements are convincing and satisfying. On the one hand I am amazed at how the trio is able to convey the musical scope and range of emotion of these familiar orchestral masterworks. On the other, I was intrigued to realize how reminiscent some of the movements were, especially the scherzo of the second symphony, of Beethoven’s early actual piano trios. I suppose that’s not really a coincidence. Satisfying as I found this recording, likely another result of COVIDimposed restrictions, I must confess it inspired me to revisit the cycle of nine symphonies in all their orchestral majesty, and for this I chose Simon Rattle’s live set from 2002 with the Vienna Philharmonic (EMI Classics). So thanks to Kavako, Ma and Ax for an inspirational and illuminating experience, and for an excuse to look up some old friends. Founded 20 years ago, the Claremont Trio (Emily Bruskin, violin; Julia Bruskin, cello; and Andrea Lam, piano) has been commissioning works for much of its existence that expand the repertoire and in some instances push the traditional boundaries of the contemporary piano trio. Queen of Hearts (Tria Records Hearts-Claremont-Trio/dp/B09RQDVRVV) brings six of these works together with compositions by Gabriela Lena Frank, Sean Shepherd, Judd Greenstein, Helen Grime, Nico Muhly and Kati Agócs. Frank’s Four Folk Songs draws on her Peruvian heritage on her mother’s side for a set that ranges from lyrical to playful and to frankly disturbing. Shepherd’s Trio was commissioned for the opening of Calderwood Hall in the Isabella Stewart Gardiner Museum, Boston. It was inspired by the architecture of Renzo Piano and the three movements consider different aspects of the construction. Most compelling is the finale, Slow Waltz of the Robots. Muhly’s Common Ground (2008) and Agócs’ Queen of Hearts (2017) mark the earliest and latest works on this compelling CD. Muhly’s title refers to the ground bass à la Purcell that appears in the final section of the work. Agócs also employs a repeating bass line, in this case alternating with a lyrical melody. She tells us that “A life fully lived may see challenges that can seem insurmountable. The work’s variation structure, by representing tenaciousness and ingenuity – continuously finding new ways to respond – ultimately reveals an inner strength and an emotional core that hold steadfast and unshaken no matter how they are tested. The title Queen of Hearts […] symbolizes resilience, magnetism, nobility, empathy, decorum, a flair for the dramatic, and a distinctly feminine power.” This piece makes a powerful end to a diverse disc with fine performances right across the board. I spoke earlier about musical works inspired by paintings. I have experienced two artistic epiphanies in my life, one visual and one audial. The first was on a family trip to Washington in my teenage years when I turned a corner in the National Gallery and came face to face with Salvador Dali’s The Sacrament of the Last Supper. I gasped and said to myself “Oh, that’s what they mean by a masterpiece!” The second was in 1984 when I attended the CBC Young Composers’ Competition and had the most visceral musical experience of my first 30 years. Paul Dolden’s The Melting Voice Through Mazes Running, which won the only prize in the electroacoustic category that year, was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. Although it sent some audience members rushing to the exits with hands pressed over their ears, it held me riveted to my seat and ultimately inspired me to commission a new Dolden work (Caught in an Octagon of Unaccustomed Light) for my radio program Transfigured Night at CKLN-FM. Now, some three and a half decades later, Dolden has published his entire catalogue of works and writings and I’m very pleased that Nick Storring has agreed to review The Golden Dolden Box Set in these pages. Storring is a composer in his own right, a generation younger than Dolden, who uses some similar techniques in his own work. I believe his insights are extremely apt and articulately expressed and I welcome him aboard the WholeNote team. We invite submissions. CDs, DVDs and comments should be sent to: DISCoveries, WholeNote Media Inc., The Centre for Social Innovation, 503 – 720 Bathurst St. Toronto ON M5S 2R4. David Olds, DISCoveries Editor 38 | March 4 – April 15, 2022

PAUL DOLDEN A LIFE’S WORK IN THE STUDIO Golden Dolden Box Set Paul Dolden Independent ( NICK STORRING In 1988 Canadian electroacoustic composer Paul Dolden (b.1956) started creating Below The Walls of Jericho – the first instalment of a three-part series that invoked the biblical story of Jericho, whose walls crumbled from the sheer power of sound. Though a number of Dolden’s earlier pieces – notably Veils (1984-5) – also employed multi-layered swarms of studio-recorded acoustic instrumentation, this was his first work to display an explicit preoccupation with sonic excess. Many of Dolden’s ensuing pieces also exhibit varying degrees of fascination with loudness, density, and velocity – enough for detractors to label his music, brazen or over-the-top. It might therefore seem fitting that his latest offering occupies a similarly massive scope. Golden Dolden, is a career-spanning digital compendium featuring ten hours of music (including seven unreleased works), 34 scores, six hours’ of lectures, and a generous serving of text. The virtual box-set’s reverse-chronological avalanche may indeed be overwhelming, but immersing oneself in it reveals the depth of Dolden’s vibrant, utterly singular vision. He does often favour thick, saturated textures comprised of hundreds upon hundreds of active layers, but this vast collection is full of contrast, contradiction, imagination, and, yes, beauty. Even at its most claustrophobic (such as on the aforementioned Jericho series) his music’s prevailing drive seems more inquisitive than destructive. The composer’s liner notes may be dismissive of his early catalogue’s underlying nihilism or postmodern posturing, but the swirling microtonal maelstroms are always projected through a radiant sheen of awe and wonder. Various philosophical inputs have motivated Dolden’s practice over the years – modernist innovation, then postmodern’s fusion and fragmentation, even his own peculiar brand of romanticism. Yet despite outward shifts in conceptual approach, Dolden’s work finds unity in its unquenchable and downright contagious curiosity about what music can do. The foundational reality of his pieces is the “anything-is-possible” frame provided by recorded music as a medium. Within it, he deploys the tactility of acoustic instruments in imaginary ensemble settings, the scales of which are sufficiently gargantuan to obscure their instrumental make-up. This allows him to craft outlandishly colourful, but decidedly organic sonorities, while forging strange and unexpected connections between disparate musical realms. His meticulous superimposition of multiple temporal strata and tuning systems is equally deft. It’s a paradigm-busting approach that situates him in the lineage of Charles Ives’ orchestral collages and Conlon Nancarrow’s whimsical automation, alongside the late Noah Creshevsky’s “hyperrealism.” Studio composition L’ivresse de la vitesse (1992-3) – once Dolden’s calling card – is almost cartoonish in its wayward juxtapositions of material. Maniacal cascades of endless choir magically dissolve into big-band bedlam as filaments of free-jazz skronk explode into timesmeared rock n’ roll. Its vivid conjuring of various genres may tie it superficially to postmodernism, but its formal fluidity, giddy potency and conspicuous lack of irony steer its panoply of references somewhere unfamiliar. According to Dolden, Entropic Twilights (1998-2000) refutes the notion that “the postmodern world is drained of substance, meaning, value and difference,” occupying a buoyant soundworld where unabashed prettiness wraps itself around precarious hair-pin turns. The shimmering 36-minute suite slithers between sonic spaces that variously resemble psychedelic orchestral music, agitated new age, jazz fusion and even metal. Yet these dramatic textural transformations never feel at all contrived. Where other composers have employed such adjacencies for their perverse humour, Dolden’s approach is almost stranger. It’s audible that these relationships exist on a profoundly visceral and sincere level for him. In one of his essays, Dolden explains that “as a creator who learned from recordings and books, I could not afford to establish borders for acceptable musical behaviour.” His immersion in DIY experimentation since his teens is clearly one of the biggest determining factors behind his unorthodox sensibility. Though uncommon amongst peers of his own age, this trait aligns him with younger composers whose creative journeys began with recording technology. The theme of transcendence runs throughout Dolden’s output but has become more central within the past two decades. He’s harvested musical data from the natural world. His longstanding respect for many global traditions has led him to embrace a multi-ethnic instrumentarium whilst eschewing appropriative superficiality. Works such as Memorizing the Sublime (2018-19) and 2020’s Moments for a Vibrating Universe also carve out what seem to be regions for simultaneous contemplation and perplexity – passages whose evocative power matches their utter inscrutability. This distinctive liminal realm – far more than his much-touted sonic ferocity – may be the true essence of Dolden’s idiosyncratic universe – even a younger, edgier Dolden might agree. As he said in 1993, “An art work fascinates by its esotericism which preserves it from external logic.” March 4 – April 15, 2022 | 39

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