This concert at Koerner Hall was the second in this summer’s Twenty-First Century Music Festival. It advertised works by Christos Hatzis, Brian Current, R. Murray Schafer and Louis Andriessen. In fact we kicked off with a short bonus selected from Youtube entries to make up 21 premieres for the C21. Unfortunately I didn’t catch composer or title and it lasted less than two minutes.
So onto the main action. First up was the world premiere of Christos Hatzis’ String Quartet No. 3 (The Questioning). It’s a three movement piece rooted in Hatzis’ Orthodox faith (a source of so much contemporary music). The first movement, The Affirmation, starts off with a tape of an Orthodox cantor singing a chant echos varys with a very sparse cello accompaniment which is augmented by the upper strings in a lengthy passage of rhythmic and tonal fluidity. One wonders if it is going anywhere or has the architecture to support a three movement piece but it resolves into something quite lush and Romantic with jazz overtones. It’s quite powerful. The second movement, The Denial, is aggressive, manic, driven and largely atonal resolving into something approaching tonality only at the very end. I think it’s meant to be uncomfortable and it is. The final movement, The Epiphany, is short, gentle and harmonic. There are no big ideas and it ends on a note of searching rather than certainty. It’s not the western idea of an Epiphany but perhaps makes sense in the more fluid theology of Orthodoxy. All in all this is a very worthwhile piece that I would very much like to hear again. It was played with feeling by Afiara Quartet for whom it was written.
Brian Current’s Faster Still for violin, piano and string quartet is, well, very Brian Current. It’s built around complex rhythmic structures and a cycle of speeding up and slowing down. It’s full of energy and has a wicked violin part, played here with aplomb by Véronique Mathieu. She was ably supported by Claudia Chan on piano and the Nyx Quartet. It seems to be Brian’s style to give a fiendish part to a soloist or singer (see my review of Extreme Positions and Birefringence). Enjoyable if slightly academic. FWIW this piece was originally commissioned by CBC Radio. Words I doubt I’ll ever type again.
R. Murray Schafer’s Quintet for Piano and Strings sounded very much like what it is; a work by a master of an earlier generation. It’s very well crafted and quite accessible without being trivial; the musical ideas being driven forward by a driving rhythmic pulse. Interesting and enjoyable. It was played by the ARC Ensemble for whom it was commissioned. Perhaps also an example of an older generation than the player of the other pieces.
After the interval we got the piece that was my principal reason for being there’ Louis Andriessen’s Anaïs Nin. It’s a music theatre piece for mezo, eight piece band and film fragments telling the story of Nin’s affairs with various men including henry Miller, her psychiatrist and her father. It’s told through a series of film fragments projected over the stage and staged scenes. The set is simply a couch and the band is on stage. The singer; last night Wallis Giunta, is clothed in various states of deshabille and a flapper wig. She’s required to sing in Inspector Clouseau English which doesn’t aid comprehensibility. And there’s the rub. Much of last night’s performance was impossible to follow. There were no surtitles and Wallis struggled to project her accented English over the on-stage ensemble which was brass heavy and very unkind on the singer. Birgit Nilsson would have struggled to be fully audible! It’s a shame really as Andriessen’s jazz inflected score is interesting and Wallis was nothing if not impassioned. The conductorless on-stage ensemble was probably too impassioned! With surtitles this might have worked quite well. Without it was not a success.