March 2007

Penderecki String Quartet
presented by New Music Concerts
March 1, 2007Music GalleryToronto
Rebirth of Senses and Sensibilities
by Anna Lisa Eyles
Musical, visual, and scientific artistry combined to stimulate our senses and enhance our sensibilities, forming the foundation for the Penderecki String Quartet’s presentation of works by internationally acclaimed 21st century Canadian composers, performed by vocal and video performance artists. Each of the four works was specially commissioned by the Quartet, including two world premieres during the course of the evening. The acoustical and visual innovations evolved into a reinvention of the music process.

Composer Omar Daniel’s six-movement work, Annunciation, sponsored by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, is dedicated to the Penderecki Quartet who first performed it in 2005. An Italian Renaissance work of art was displayed on screen for each of the distinctive movements titled after the originating visual artist. Emotional clarity was provided by the marked contrast depicted from picture to picture as the Angel Gabriel announces the forthcoming birth of Jesus to Mary. The divergent sensibilities and consequently different musical interpretations of the paintings were articulated in each movement through both strings and electronics. To indicate the emotional distance between the distinctive interpretations of each artist’s works there was a lengthy pause between each movement while the visual changed, allowing the audience to cleanse their emotional palettes.

The fourth movement of Annunciation, “Botticelli”, revealed itself as particularly distinctive through a seemingly disconnected and most individual dissonance at its opening. The tragic tone of the fifth movement, “Caravaggio”, portended the later events in the life of Christ while the sixth movement, “Fra Lippi”, teases us into wanting more through the dynamic musical echoes.

On this eve, the audience was particularly musically savvy and one patron, Dahlia, recognized the “cognitive dissonance” of the work noting the juxtaposition of the contemporary style of the music against the visual backdrop of the works of the Renaissance (rebirth) “…balancing the two sensibilities”. In fact, this contemporary music is its own ‘rebirth’, making sense of the seemingly chronological and stylistic polar opposites and playing on the theme of birth and emergence or rebirth.

The second work of the evening was Laurie Radford’s composition Everything We See in the Sky, which was funded by the Canada Council for the Arts. It includes digital signal processing. Radford sees this combination as serving “to extend the acoustic instruments and lend them new timbral and rhythmic profiles.” Portions of this work were transcendent, with its chromatic ascents and ‘Vyger’–like sounds reminiscent of Star Trek I, certainly leading our thoughts skyward and beyond. The interplay between the digitized sounds and the pizzicato of the violins and viola presented a formidable technical challenge which the Quartet ably surmounted with their tight and empathetic interpretation of the music.

After intermission, we were treated to the world premiere of Veronika Krausas’ midaregami (tangled hair) based on Japanese poet Akiko Yosano’s Tanko poems examining the progression and dissolution of a love affair through exploration of the senses: visual, olfactory and aural with the sensibilities of the accompanying emotional states. The five- and seven-syllabic line structure of the poetry is reflected in the architecture of the music. Krausas obtained the molecular frequency of the rose geranium, responsible for its scent, and states that she used this for the basic pitch selection.

Krausas also composed this work with the voice of Guelph mezzo-soprano Kimberly Barber in mind. With Barber’s extensive and impressive list of international operatic credits this consideration is no surprise. There is an unusual quality to her lovely dark voice; it sparkles at key dramatic points, regardless of increasing technical difficulty.

The string players doubled as percussionists and also gave voice to the text in haunting stage whispers. The counterpoint was fundamental to this rhythmic and moving work. Enhanced by Robert Drummond’s micro and macro video landscapes, morphing from molecular hair structure to fields of blowing grasses and flowers, tangled hair examines the emotional spectrum of inter-relationships between life forms at varying depths of imagery.

Nowhere was the technical excellence of the Penderecki Quartet more evident than with the final offering, also a world premiere performance, “TrancePaining (Black Wings Has My Angel) String Quartet No. 3”, by Piótr Grella-Mozejko, completed just last month. Following the minimalist musical score with its seemingly never-ending repeats surely was a feat in concentration alone. The subtitle was taken from American author Elliott Chaze’s dark-toned novel. Grella-Mozeiko voices his protest against the global events of today. He stands vehemently against the tyrants “using their often unlimited powers to bleed nations in the name of freedom.”

The fine hand of famed flautist and conductor Robert Aitken was evident in the balance of this creative concert. With nearly three decades of performances, The Penderecki String Quartet is best known for its contemporary music and performances of the works of more than 100 new composers. During their sixteen-year residence, they have successfully developed the string program at Waterloo’s Wilfred Laurier University and continue to devote their time and energy to the birth of new young talent. At the leading edge of their craft in terms of innovation and exploration, they continually support the creation of new works and new modes of presenting their progeny.

We welcome your comments and feedback
Anna Lisa Eyles
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