A Fond Embrace With ThirstSunday, March 30, 2014
Si la sed va a abrasarme,
que ya me abrase.
If thirst is to embrace me
that it embrace me now
Jorge Luis Borges - El Desierto
|Telus Studio Theatre Chan Centre UBC, March 29 2014|
Going to a new music concert is always a thrill and an adventure. Particularly when in the collaboration with Turning Point Ensemble, musica intima and The Nu: BC Collective opening performance of Thirst last night, there were two world premieres. That might sound overly lofty but consider the pleasure of listening to something that has never been performed before.
Still I went to Thirst (with my designer friend Graham Walker) with some reservation. I am not keen (or at least I wasn’t at one time) on choirs or massed choirs. Fortunately musica intima (notice that I must write that in lower case!) is far from being a massed choir.
|Caitlin & Phoebe MacRae|
In the middle 50s while being a boarder at a Catholic school in Austin, a few of us of the many that listened to the only radio station around (owned by LBJ) considered ourselves sophisticated because we liked the instrumental music of The Ventures while everybody else preferred Elvis and company.
It is only in the last 15 years that I have begun to understand that every human voice (good ones) can be an exquisite musical instrument. And I should have known this before as I have jazz records by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross and many scat performances by Ella Fitzgerald. In my memory is a TV performance of a string trio in which the cello was simply actor Peter Ustinov imitating one with his voice!
One of the singular pleasures for me last night was noticing alto Caitlin MacRae (8 months pregnant) with her red hair singing with musica intima. I believe she may have been one of the original singers in the group when it was founded. There is a special reason why I hold a warm memory of MacRae.
In 1992, my wife, our two daughters and I went to our first ever performance of the Pacific Baroque Orchestra at Ryerson Church. They were appearing with the Elektra Female Choir. On the program was Vivaldi’s Gloria RV 589 (with that trumpet!). During this performance, my favourite ever (all female choir?) there was what seemed to me a competition between two soloists, Caitlin MacRae versus her sister (also a redhead) soprano Phoebe MacRae.
Most people who shun new music concerts because they may not be melodic enough or too dissonant or alien have it wrong when it comes to new music in Vancouver. Headed by the soft-smiling conductor (and Co-Artistic Director with trombonist Jeremy Berkman) Owen Underhill there is always lots of humanity in Turning Point Ensemble concerts. And when you mate the Ensemble with the music of the Serbian composer (resides in Montreal) Ana Sokolovic you have fun, games, humour and sound from instruments you never knew could be played.
Not that Sokolovic is all laughs. In her
Tanzer Lieder (2004) Soprano Robin Dridger-Klassen and The Nu:BC Collective
headed by pianist Corey Hamm, Paolo Bortolussi on flute and Eric Wilson on
cello there was a romantic intensity in music so good that the 15 minute
duration seemed to me to be too short. Extra special was listening to Driedger-Klassen
sing in German, French and English as Austrian poet Tanzer Lieder's original poem.
|Albertina Chan's harp and Jane Hayes|
Sokolovic’s Dring, dring (2010/2014) with the Turning Point Ensemble was a hilarious account of our contemporary problems with cell phones and in particular those in which we post baby and cat pictures and selfies.
In …and need a room to receive five thousand people with raised glasses…or …what a wonderful day, the birds are singing “halleluia”…(2014 and a world premiere) Sokolovic with lots of humour coaxed all kinds of alarmingly wonderful sounds from Marc Destrubé’s violin, and Albertina Chan on harp. But all the other instruments contributed too. David Owen removed the reed from his oboe to make blowing sounds, Berkman showed off with his trombone’s mutes but the most hilarious “noise” of all was French-hornist Steve Denroche’s imitations of the perfect flatulent sound. This piece should put to rest that unmelodic music cannot be fun and listenable.
Thirst (2008) by American composer Julia
Wolfe was much more serious. There were some moments where musica intima sang
the Old Testament’s text from prophet Isaiah but most of the time they were
simply musical instruments and part of the Ensemble. Thirst, when I closed my
eyes brought me the image of Omar Sharif playing Sherif Ali in Lawrence of
Arabia, in that iconic mirage in the desert as he closes in on the camera on
his camel. And it brought to mind one of my most favourite poems, el Desierto, by Jorge Luís Borges.
Montreal resident (born in Germany) Michael Oesterle’s No Need (2014 and a world premier), (was this composition all about food as the program said? Take a year old carrot, sauté for two hours in goat butter and chamomile...) was a more slightly serious laugh (but a laugh nonetheless) in which guest clarinetist (and a regular of the Turning Point Ensemble) made sounds with his instrument that I had never heard before. I asked composer and saxophonist Colin MacDonald who was sitting nearby if he knew about all these sounds (including those French horn farts). He said, “Yes.” I was afraid to ask him how you would, as a composer notate those sounds! Musica intima again with just a few words but with more pure sounds convinced me that Bach Cantatas, as beautiful as they are (I am a fan) are not the only thing going for the human voice.
|Ana Sokolovic, left, Owen Underhill, right|
There is another performance (besides the one at 2:30) tonight at 7:30 at the Telus Studio Theatre at the Chan Centre at UBC.