June 2008

Continuum Contemporary Music – INform
part of SoundaXis '08
June 8, 2008 The Music Gallery Toronto
Visionary Form
by Jessica Lombardi
The soundaXis festival is a great outlet for sensational artists of the avant-garde New Music scene, and without its support many people might never experience this form of musical freedom. The festival strives to promote interdisciplinary collaborations with New Music and other forms of artistic expression, presented by a variety of ensembles in various Toronto locations. On Sunday June 8th, the ensemble Continuum Contemporary Music performed the music of Canadian and international composers with its talented and versatile musicians Anne Thompson (flute), Max Christie (clarinet), Sandra Baron (violin), Angela Rudden (viola), Paul Widner (cello), Laurent Philippe (piano), and Ryan Scott (percussion) with Gregory Oh conducting. Special guests were Marion Newman (mezzo soprano), Susan Black (mezzo soprano) and Vilma Vitols (mezzo soprano). The ensemble promotes creative and fresh ways of experiencing New Music, and it was with their talented support that the night’s compositions were successful. In their hands, New Music comes off as a combined sonic and scientific art form.
Marion Newman
Aural and visual sensations blended with the quiet mood of the Music Gallery’s church hall. The chosen repertoire of the night was of new and previously existing works by both accomplished and aspiring composers. The theme of the soundaXis festival this year was one of exploring perceptions of musical textures and materials, and the performance’s title INform reinforced the ideas of formality in composition and social behaviour. Overall, organic and inorganic materials were delicately displayed within each composition, delighting all with inspiring creativity. To go to such a concert as this, one might find it helpful to know a thing or two about the New Music, though its unexpected nature would still make anyone question whether the sounds would fill out or spiral away at the next moment. The audience remained enthusiastic throughout and cracked many surprised smiles at the music’s originality.

The late James Tenney, the so called “master delineator of music’s elements”, pioneer in electronic and computer music, and composer of the performed works Harmonium #5 and Listen…!, was a leader to many Canadian musicians — especially to those in Toronto. These compositions of his may be beyond categorization, yet they embrace a musical vision that was also seen in the other chosen repertoire of the evening. The compositions Lalit II (Giorgio Magnanensi), 8g (Matthew Rizzuto), Community-Normed (Aaron Gervais), and Matter (Justin Christensen), were unquestionably related in their attitudes and approaches to music, with simple yet flexible material, both intelligent and amusing.

Christensen’s Matter used interesting techniques involving clarinet multi-phonics and Sardinian folk idioms which investigated abstract timbres to create a sound ideal that masked the identities of the performing instruments.

Gervais’ Community-Normed examined many components of music, including acoustics, gestures, and social behaviours in relation to music's function in society and impact on its perceptions. Its first movement challenged our familiarity of individual instruments, bouncing unusual ideas from one instrument to another, seen especially in the percussions. The second movement, “Jackhammer Lullaby” challenged our experience of acoustics with its repetitive bursts of percussion so loud that the other chamber instruments were virtually inaudible. And finally, the third movement dealt with overpowering levels of dynamics, at times completely dominating our perception.

In Rizzuto’s 8g the piano took a lead role with its repetitive dissonant clusters and fragmentary material that interacted, blended, and resonated with the other instruments throughout the entire performance hall.

In Magnanensi’s Lalit II, the instrumentalists and the composer himself performed notated and improvised music, playing with musical fragments and short-circuited electronic equipment, for a combined effect of blended warm and cold tones. The piano and various percussion instruments dominated here, with unique colours above intimate strings, intensifying the other material. This music really brightened up the gloomy rainy night.

New Music has a depth to it that is cherished by many for its ability to open our ears wider to familiar and unfamiliar sounds, to create an imaginary world where people can hear bold tones as illustrative as those in the natural world.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Jessica Lombardi
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