Saturday, March 24, 2012

2012 New Creations

March came in like a lion, and brought with it the 8th annual Toronto Symphony Orchestra New Creations Festival.

The first piece in this first concert in a series of three was "This Isn't Silence", an intriguing title.  The first half in fact was all Canadian, including the guest vocalist.  Composed by Brian Current in 1998 when he was only 26 years old, "This Isn't Silence" was named from a direction he had written in the score during a bar of rest while a percussionist needed to change instruments.  Contemporary music is still something I don't adore, in fact most I don't even like.  This piece fell in the don't like category although he gave a passionate description of how he came to write it in discussion with TSO Music Director Peter Oundjian prior to the performance.

(photo by: Dale Wilcox)
I believe it was composer in residence Gary Kulesha who once said the goal of contemporary music is to have people hear something that makes them want to hear it again.  The next piece had that.  By composer Claude Vivier, who died in 1983, "Lonely Child" was written in 1980.  It includes a soprano part and Barbara Hannigan fulfilled the job with a dedicated embodiment of the song sentiment (see interview with her regarding this piece here).  Vivier was an orphan who in later life tried to find his birth mother.  The lyrics are part French and part a language he made up himself.  At times throughout there would be this gorgeous chord so distinct from the dissonance, and something like you'd hear during a space theme movie.  These I wanted to hold on to and imagine a lilting, floating melody line above.  But, all too soon they retreated to the ether.

Peter Eotvos
(photo by: Dale Wilcox)
The second half switched to the Eastern European portion of the evening.  The conductor throughout was Peter Eotvos (please imagine the double dot accents over the o's) who has developed a name for himself in the interpretation of contemporary music.  Also a composer the second half opened with the piece I was most looking forward to hearing, "Seven (Memorial for the Columbia Astronauts) for Violin and Orchestra".

Guest violinist Akiko Suwanai provided the solo violin part while the other 6 violins played from the front of the balcony, one in each side section.  Peter Oundjian remarked that not only is it a difficult feat to not be hearing and seeing as well as on the stage but they also have to deal with vertigo!  I had great hopes for this piece and love the idea of a memorial piece of music, unfortunately I was not impressed.  The layout of the orchestra was completely novel.  There were 49 musicians, instruments interspersed with each other in 3 rows to create 7 groups of 7 players.  But I found it very dissonant as is most contemporary music, but without anything I'd really want to hear again.  The program notes indicate that each astronaut is represented by a personal dedication cadence.  I wish these had been pointed out, because I was unable to hear any differences and the cadence was suppose to illustrate the musical cultures of each, such as India for Kalpana Chawla and Israel for the first Israeli in space, Ilan Ramon.

The evening concluded with "Messages for Orchestra" by "Hungary's leading living composer" according to the program, Gyorgy Kurtag.  It is a series of 6 vignettes paying tribute to other Hungarian musicians.  The first in fact is titled "Letter to Peter Eotvos".  It must be odd to conduct a piece that's meant to represent you, although Eotvos said it suited him when he introduced the piece.

That concludes my take on this odd evening of music.  With all that said though, I'm looking forward to next year and the creation of "A Toronto Symphony" which will be debuted.  It's a collaborative work between the TSO, composer Tod Machover of the MIT media lab, and the people of this fair city!  Check it out, and get involved.  Let's make next seasons New Creations Festival, one that can not only be respected from a technique standpoint but enjoyable music for the masses.

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