Continuing the contemporary CanCon theme I’ve been listening to Bestiaries; a CD of music by Bekah Simms. I first heard her music at the TSO in June and liked it enough to want to explore further. There are three pieces on the CD; each a little over ten minutes long. The first, Foreverdark, is a 2018 piece for solo cello, chamber orchestra and live electronics. It’s inspired by the compose and cellist Amahl Arulanandam shared love for metal and quotes from iconic metal albums. I’m not a metal fan but I am intrigued to hear younger composers using ideas drawn from more popular genres. Think Missy Mazzoli and electronic dance music. It’s no different really from Ralph Vaughan Williams using folk songs or Michael Tippett aking ideas from blues music. The result here is heavy textured, weird and chaotic with Arulanandam using all parts of the cello and acoustic instruments of the orchestra (the Cryptid Ensemble conducted by Brian Current) made to sound like electric, amplified ones with all the effects one usually gets from electronic manipulation generated acoustically.
from Void (2020) uses an error laden digital analysis of Rebecca Saunders’ orchestral work void. Again acoustic instruments are made to behave in unfamiliar way though here it’s more like machinery; whirring, buzzing and occasionally sounding disturbingly like very hungry cats. It’s lighter textured than the first piece but still pretty dense in places. The performance here is by the Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal with Véronique Lacroix conducting.
Bestiaries I and II riffs of the album Ys by Joanna Newsom and is inspired by the depiction of animals and birds in medieval manuscripts (ljke the tattoo on my wrist!). It uses extracted syllables from the source sung by soprano Charlotte Mundy against a backdrop of chamber ensemble (the Cryptids and Brian Current again) plus live electronics (Dan Tapper and the composer) which Simms describes as a “warbling sonic ecosystem. It’s certainly much lighter and more lyrical than the other two pieces. It’s my favourite of the three I think.
The recordings all sound just fine. The first and third were made at evolution Recording in Toronto in April 2022 and the second at Piccolo Studios in Montreal in May 2021. It’s available as a physical CD, CD quality FLAC, MP3 or “special edition” vinyl. There’s a useful and informative booklet with excellent notes and bios.
If one’s idea of dangerously modern music is Berg or Schoenberg then this is not likely to please. For someone interested in what younger Canadian composers are up to it’s got a lot going for it.
Catalogue number: Centrediscs CMCCD30622