A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


The Great Sea - A Concert Of New Music & A Poet Smiles
Monday, November 17, 2008

It's dawn and things move about quickly,
a bird sound at the end of every sentence,
the period disolves and becomes a curve of notes

Robin Blaser

On election night Abraham Rogatnick and I went to a concert at St. Andrews-Wesley on Burrard and Nelson. The concert featured the Erato Ensemble and friends. This particular concert was dedicated to 7 British Columbia composers. All the music was brand new. The Erato Esemble is an interesting but ever so slightly odd musical group as they bring together voices, pianists and such instruments as the saxophone, the flute, the guitar, violin and the cello. This means that the group can play almost anything once it is adapted to their instrument makeup which varies depending on needs! The Erato Ensemble is not your usual chamber group.

The concert began with a cello and piano piece by Timothy Corlis called Prelude, for the night of the lunar eclipse. Pianist Rachel Iwaasa and the interestingly named cellist Stefan Hintersteininger instantly wowed me to the outstanding acoustics of the church. But then I was front row aisle seat and the cellist was only a meter away.

The next pieces were by composer Mark Armanini (below right with Vivian Xia). It must be nerve-racking to hear your music performed for the first time. Armanini was either trying to quit smoking or he was simply nervous as he chewed gum all night! His music blends a western sensibility with the music of China. During most of the performance of the 5-part Chinese Folksongs my eyes were on the hands of pipa player Guilian Liu. If there was ever an instrument (besides the harp) that is ballet of the hands the pipa has to be the other. Mezzo-soprano Grace Chan gave me an inkling (heard later in the composition of Leslie Uyeda) of her extraordinary presence and volume all wrapped around a most pleasant smile as if saying, “This is so easy.” I am sure it wasn’t. It srikes me that Armanini’s music and much of the music of the evening would be perfect for our Olympics. Armani then gave us some sweet songs with tenor William George and guitarist Michael Strutt.

I am not a lover of the soprano saxophone buy Julia Nolan (and Rita Attrot on piano) somehow made Denis Bedard’s Fantasie sound smooth and mellow in the smooth and mellow parts. Colin Macdonald (of the Macdonald Pocket Orchestra fame) was there and he proudly said that Julia Nolan had taught him to play that soprano sax.

Rodney Sharman was much more cheerful than usual as his two compositions, Cabaret Songs featuring tenor William George, baritone Joel Klein and pianist Rachel Iwaasa, were funny, especially Au Revoir, Maria Callas with text by Bill Richardson.

At the intermission my friend Abraham Rogatnick went to a victory celebration of the party of his choice and left me sitting next to poet Robin Blaser, a magnificent man with white hair whose profile is a Rushmore.

Leslie Uyeda’s (below right with librettist Tom Cone) The Great Sea with words by a Netsilik Inuit woman Uvavnuk was a powerful blast by mezzo-soprano Grace Chan accompanied by Rachel Iwaasa.

When we listened to Russell Wallace’s Dreams poet Robin Blaser’s face instantly went into a smile as soprano Emily Cheung’s voice seemed to soar to the church rafters. He looked like a little boy on the last day of school. At that point and with Wallace’s next piece Qanimenskan Ku Tmicw (I have heard the earth) I believe the whole church was delighted with music that exceeded their expectations.

The next piece, SunarcanuS (Act 2 with poetry by Roya Ravanbakhsh) was program music with a twist. Composer Farshid Samandari instead of chewing gum like Mark Armanini seriously transported himself into the percussion corner with instruments including an Arthur Rank type gong. Director Terry Pitt-Brooke had both hands going. He directed with his right while he flipped with his left a chart with numbers in 5 second intervals. It seems that this piece, a little duel between the left hand side and right hand side of the brain (with soprano Emily Cheung and mezzo-soprano Grace Chan and the full Erato Ensemble) had no predetermined tempo. This bit of avant garde music challenged me but did so gently.

It was Lloyd Burritt’s (very top, left) Lake of Souls that finally made me smile at my lucky stars. Burrit explained that the text of his composition was from a poem he had been exposed to when he was 7. He pointed at the man (sitting next to me) as the poet. I looked at Blaser and asked him, “ If Burritt was 7 then how old are you now?” With a smile he answered, “ I am not prepared to tell you that at this time.”

The whole piece with soprano Emily Cheung, mezzo-soprano Grace Chan, tenor, William George, baritone Joel Klein, flutist Tanya Klieforth, violinist Yuri Zaidenberg, saxophonist Julia Nolan and cellist Stefan Hintersteininger was, from my vantage point, a complete delight. The director’s right hand was mere inches from my face (that’s how close I was to the action) and on my right Robin Blaser, with a smile on his face seemed to be projecting on the singers the text of his poem for the first time.

As it all ended I wondered at the tragedy of so much of contemporary new music. You hear it once and then… But Burritt told us that the concert had been recorded.


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