I mention this because new music concerts are often eclectic things – as though programmers are constantly striving to underscore the great variety of styles and trends at large in the musical world (or are simply trying to hedge their bets) by presenting a little of this and a little of that. Yes, there are an awful lot of styles of new music these days – but not every contemporary program has to hammer the point home.
These works had much in common. All three composers filled their pieces with swirling flurries or chunky blocks of sound that gradually transformed into more swirling flurries and chunky blocks. And in their general rejection of discrete sounds and events in favour of dense complexity, they were evidently influenced by electroacoustic music (either implicitly or explicitly). Also, all three composers made use of a harmonic language that could be described as neither tonal nor atonal, often making use of expanded and enriched triadic sonorities.
Miller’s Round – a TSO commission and a world premiere – was a wash of colour, dominated by long, thick, strings chords. And above the orchestra – both literally and figuratively – were four trumpeters in the balcony, playing sustained notes. It was a static solemnity from start to finish, ending on a single note in the violas. It was an effective piece, well put together.
Bjarnason’s three-movement Emergence also began in a similarly solemn way – but long, slow crescendos injected a touch of drama into the first movement. The second movement was even more eventful, with some drums, a clangorous iron bar, and a noisy ratchet in the percussion section to enliven the piece. As well, there was harmonic movement, thanks to a post-post-Wagnerian kind of chromaticism. There was also a touch of Tristan in the third movement, which featured sumptuously blooming chords and orchestral textures.
Lizée composed the little Sesquie that opened the program: a trifle called Zeiss After Dark. Fortunately, her Black MIDI (receiving its world premiere from the TSO) was much more substantial. Black MIDI also brought the evening’s guest artists, the Kronos Quartet, to the stage.
Like other Lizée works I’ve heard, the piece was a celebration of obsolete technologies from way back in the 20th century. And also like other Lizée works I’ve heard, there was also a multi-media component to Black MIDI – projections on two large screens above the stage.
Before the performance, Lizée stepped up to explain the title Black MIDI. Based on what I could make of her comments, and of her written program notes, I think I can safely say that the piece, written in eight short movements, was an exploration of what can happen when technologies are pushed to their limits. The results were entertaining. As the TSO, the Kronos Quartet and sounds from two big loudspeakers chugged their way through Lizée’s dense textures and herky-jerky rhythms, the audience was treated to images of TV sets, jigsaw puzzles, a tuning-fork and lots of colourful patterns.
The TSO, under guest conductor André de Ridder, seemed to grasp the music before them, responding with a bright, spirited performance. But while I could clearly see the Kronos players sawing way at the front of the stage, their sound was so thoroughly absorbed into the busy melange behind them, they were almost inaudible.
I can recall a similar problem, last time the Kronos Quartet appeared with the TSO in a New Creations concert, in a piece by Alexina Louie. It would be nice to actually hear, as well as see, the Kronos Quartet play in Roy Thomson Hall some day.
© Colin Eatock 2017