Yesterday was slightly bizarre in that I was at two concerts of contemporary, or at least very modern, music. The first was at lunchtime in The RBA where the Array Ensemble presented two works by female Canadian composers; Linda Catlin Smith’s Hieroglyphs and Barbara Monk Feldman’s Love Shards of Sappho, both for soprano and chamber ensemble.
Hieroglyphs is super minimalist. The text is dictionary definitions of nine words set in a metrically slow and regular for the singer. It covers the full breadth of a normal soprano range but without any drama and was sung with appropriate lack of emotion by Brooke Dufton. The accompaniment, for the most part is equally metrical and slow tuned percussion with occasional very short figures or drone like background from two violins and a cello. I think perhaps twice in the half hour piece this gets varied; once when a sort of weirdly orientalist “tune” accompanies a stanza about the Khamsin and as a very short (seconds) coda to the stanza Vestige. The different words are supposed to summon up an “abstract narrative”. We didn’t get the dictionary definition of that. I think I can see the appeal, or at least the interest, of a piece like this but it really doesn’t work for me. In visual art terms, it’s like one of those 8’x10′ canvasses from the 1970s; painted a uniform light grey with three 2″ circles of colour strategically placed. In the interests of fairness here’s a pointer to a much more positive review by Leslie Barcza.
The Love Shards of Sappho reminded me a lot of the bits of Pyramus and Thisbe that I heard in rehearsal a few days ago but with the colours that were missing in piano transcription. This piece is scored for piano, violin, clarinet and lots of tuned percussion. (this was the day of lots of percussion). The text here; fragments from Sappho, is broken up, repeated, recombined in different patterns that blend with the instruments in a way that’s curiously immersive. The music really does defy time and space. Lovely work here from soprano Ilana Zarankin who sang softly and sweetly to blend seamlessly into the overall sound world. I think the Pyramus and Thisbe/Monteverdi mash up at COC (which opens on October 20th) is going to be both different and rather interesting.
Photos if and when.