An Archipelago Of DelightsSunday, January 29, 2012
It was with this in mind that I asked Walker why it was we were walking to the Fei & Milton Wong Experimental Theatre at the former Woodward’s. We were headed to a Turning Point Ensemble concert featuring music by Claude Debussy, local composer of the avant-garde, Rodney Sharman and music by Toru Takemitsu. The concert was part of this year's Push Festival.
Walker answered that we needed to challenge our music tastes every once in a while or we would lapse into a rut of predictable taste. He was, of course, absolutely right.
When you consider that many of the musicians of the Turning Point Ensemble play lyrical stuff as members of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra I begin to think that even musicians (and especially them) need to diversify and find it satisfying doing so. There is only so much 19th century music that you can play before a palate freshener is needed between heavy courses of Beethoven, Verdi, Wagner and the like.
I remember going to a concert of choral music by Messiaen at the University of Mexico in the early 60s. I hated it. And yet, a couple of years ago I found Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time played by the Turning Point Ensemble wonderfully satisfying. Even and old dog can be taught new tricks if the Ensemble is involved.
It helps that I know many of the musicians. During opera performances I like to linger by the pit before the first act and I wave and chat with musicians. Musicians in Vancouver, all of them, including those of the VSO are amenable to contact, in fact most of them want it as it’s the audience that makes their job more than what it is.
Walker and I weren’t about to change our ways and we sat front row, dead centre a mere two feet from the back of musical director Owen Underhill’s heels. From this vantage point, every instrument, from the celeste to an oversized alto flute wafted into our ears with a most clear direction. Forget surround sound. This is the real thing.
Perhaps some might find A Very Short Trumpet Piece (1984) by Morton Feldman played on solo trumpet by Marcus Goddard a glorified trumpet tuning work. But coming from somewhere in the rear, the lights mostly out and surrounded by people, some friends, the experience was a shared one that opened my musical pores for more. The work went down easy like a pre ice cold Tio Pepe before a feast. And a feast it was.
Takemitsu’s 1982 Rain Coming was a light gazpacho and Claude Debussy’s Cello Sonata (1915) performed by Ari Barnes on cello and Jane Hayes on piano seemed complex to me and I found it incredible (it seemed so fresh) that almost 100 years had passed since its composition. It helped that I love to watch Hayes play. She was dressed in a shimmering tight outfit and her wavy silvery white hair (lots of it) helped to convey the image that here is a woman who on a whim could demolish a piano in an instant. And yet how often do you see a pianist's left hand on the piano using the right hand on a celeste? We did!
Rodney Sharman’s Chamber Symphony (a 2012 world premiere) had an interesting first movement. But it was the second one that made me think of a slow version of the Clash’s London Calling, perfect music to drive fast at night past a well lit city, and listened to, real loud. Let's hope the Turning Pont Ensemble commissions Sharman for more.
Takemitsu’s Archipelago (1993) separated the orchestra into three sections into distinct places on the stage with clarinetists François Houle and Caroline Gauthier playing to our sides in upper rafters. This kind of music is always challenging but interesting as opposed to the massed almost single sound of a large orchestra. It was interesting to observe that every time a harp is moved Heidy Krutzen had to tune it.
The final piece Debussy’s Jeux arranged for a smaller orchestra by our local composer Michael Bushnell (a world premiere arrangement) had me wishing it had been longer. It seems I might not have to wait too long. I have heard rumors that Bushnell is busy working on an arrangement of Gustav Holst’s The Planets Op. 32 for a string quartet. I cannot wait!
It is most laudable to point out that at the bottom of the program’s cover I read that amount the donors that fund the Turning Point Ensemble was the Martha Lou Henley Charitable Foundation. I know that Louie (as Henley is called by her friends) likes music she can hum. That she injects her money to groups that don’t always do that, plainly conveys the idea that here is a woman with a heart whose musical tastes, like mine, are ready to be challenged by the likes of the Turning Point Ensemble.