blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Exclusively Canadian music

Tuesday's noon hour concert at Dominion Chalmers United Church (more a concert hall than a church these days with framed photos of concert performers on the walls of its corridors) was entitled 'Made in Canada'. We listened to five compositions by musicians I'd never heard of. One of them, Victor Herbiet (five years younger than my daughter) was there in person, playing the saxophone for a Fantaisie written by an older composer, Denis Bédard, with Jean Desmarais at the piano. Something about this piece reminded me of Vinter's Song and Dance for clarinet, in a similar (British) style.

I digress. The first piece in the concert was John Burge's Sonata Breve no. 4 for oboe and piano, performed by the duo I heard and blogged about a few weeks ago, "Chip and Fred", who will be including this piece on their upcoming CD. The NACO oboist Charles Hamann puts as much expression into his eyebrows as into his fingers when he plays, a performer to watch! Burge is a professor at Queen's University who initially composed the sonata for the principal oboist of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra, his son's music teacher.

The following item was a series of short dances and interludes (sic) for piano, this time played by Brigitte Poulin; the composer is a friend of hers from Montreal who also writes opera music and has been a dancer. She mentioned a lullaby incorporating tiny footsteps on tiptoe, but I'm not sure which section that was. The music sounded experimental, and one of the pieces, all of them seemingly handwritten on small scraps of paper that the pianist had taped together, was played on the top few keys of the keyboard and sounded like snippets of birdsong. She slapped or tapped the piano frame as well during this –– imitating a woodpecker?

Herbiet's work was the last item, called Fabulosae Creaturae, written for theremin and harp, played by non-Canadian musicians (Thorwald Jorgensen and Renske de Leuw). Premiered in Newfoundland, it tells a story of a shipwreck on a foggy island after which the Captain of the ship is persued through Hades by Cerberus, the Hound of Hell. Guided by forest spirits, the Nymphae Arborum, he escapes and flies away on Pegasus, the winged horse. This story line gave the composer plenty of opportunity to depict strange sounds, bird calls, laughter, the "sounds of monsters": Cerberus growling (on the theramin), the harpist sometimes hitting the frame and strings of her instrument, rather than plucking them.

Before we left, the basics of the theremin (invented by Leon Theremin in the 1920s) were explained to us. This peculiar electronic instrument creates "music out of thin air". The left hand controls variations in volume, the right hand the pitch. Its foot pedals seem to be able to generate chords and change registers too, but he didn't explain this.

The harpist and theramin player gave us a short encore by a Russian composer.

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