June 2006

The Music of Iannis Xenakis
Presented by New Music Concerts
June 9, 2006Glenn Gould StudioToronto
Hanging Out At the Sound Laboratory
by David Fujino

Much is made of the 3-D sculptural quality of Xenakis' music.

This is inarguable — but to these ears, Xenakis' music is important because it dramatically gives form to the throes of civilization in the 20th century and postmodern eras.

A heavy statement indeed, but such are one's feelings, as "Phlegra" (1975) for 11 instruments opened the concert, employing drones which developed into quick moving fanfares and extreme register notes that returned to foreboding, hovering drones. Consequently, images of dark night and flashes of diagonal white light kept springing up in the mind.

Very noteworthy was the extreme detailing in Xenakis' sound textures: at one point I believe it was muted trumpet, muted trombone, and open bell French horn, blended into a soft yet sonorous brass sound which verged upon the exquisite.

And perhaps it was the changing instrumental groupings — the flute/clarinet/ bass clarinet/oboe/bassoons as one example, versus the string and brass domination — but I kept thinking fondly about the colourist Duke Ellington who would feature a contrasting clarinet trio, for example, in the middle of a composition and thereby create a unique compositional unit within a larger composition.

"Phlegra" also had those wonderful sections where the whole group sounded like a huge tape recording run backwards, and I was so moved to write in my notes, perhaps not so cryptically, "backwards Duke Ellington".

A real treat this evening was Lori Freedman's star turn in "Échane" (1989) for bass clarinet and ensemble.

A single held note from Freedman slowly disappeared into a held note (French horn and trombone) that morphed into an ensemble playing that sounded at times like a modern big band with a freely rhythmic and very extended sense of tonality and atonality indeed. Lori Freedman growled overtones, articulated section shifts, and interacted cleanly with the ensemble.

Iannis Xenakis

Then — and what a shock it was — a large Major chord was struck. It was as if, for a couple of measures or so, a Gospel choir sang their mellow version of reality: but soon we found ourselves back in the chaos and uncertainty, the ambient twitterings and occasional elephantine heavy tones ....

James Harley's piece, "aXis" (2006) for 13 instruments, was both a commissioned composition and a world premiere performance in celebration of Iannis Xenakis and his concepts.

"aXis" began with a mass chord then revealed a front line of five strings playing: two violins, one viola, one cello and one bass, closest to the audience. Behind them played the brass and strings.

As the ensemble sound swelled, the trumpet at one point spoke out from the ensemble, repeating and repeating a Balinese-like scale that, as it got fragmented and spread out, grew into free-floating ribbons of rhythm and sound. The architecture of this composition was clearly spread out.

The last piece, "Jalons" (1986) for 15 instruments, was likely the most conventional composition of the evening: it featured a number of Xennakis' motifs — a sustained note on flute amidst the mass dissonance of our quick lives ... the harp sounding out tonal urgencies and ideas that the ensemble would then play and vary ... and those broad washes of brass exclamation that volleyed out from different sections of the seating arrangement. (But it also must be said, amidst this celebration of a Master musician, that some of the themes and episodes in "Jalons" were experienced as being somewhat plodding. We are all mortals.)

Be that as it may, Robert Aitken's bouncing onto stage on a third encore, wearing a black t-shirt with "CAMP XENAKIS 2006" emblazoned on the front, and "Councillor Bob" on the back, was a fitting closer to the evening's sonic festivities.

New Music Concerts Ensemble
Robert Aitken, Conductor
Douglas Stewart, flute | Keith Atkinson, oboe | Max Christie, clarinets
Lori Freedman, bass and contrabass clarinets | Kathleen McLean, bassoon | Fraser Jackson, bassoon
Joan Watson, horn | James Gardiner, trumpet | Ian Cowie, trombone | Scott Irvine, tuba
Erica Goodman, harp | Fujiko Imajishi, violin | Corey Gemmell, violin | Douglas Perry, viola
David Hetherington, cello | Peter Pavlovsky, bass
We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
• • • • • •
The Live Music Report
• •

| Home | Archives | CD Reviews | Photo Galleries | Concert Listings | Contact |

Please contact us to secure permission for use of any material found on this website.
© The Live Music Report – 2006