After the Fires

Lembit BeecherSaturday evening’s Cinq à SeptLiza Balkan for program book concert in the 21C Festival at the Royal Conservatory was intriguing.  The first half of the programme was a new song cycle, After the Fires, with words by Liza Balkan and music by Lembit Beecher.  It set seven pieces about the 2020 fires on the central California coast and their aftermath based on interviews with local residents.  It’s a really interesting piece scored for piano, clarinet, soprano, mezzo-soprano and baritone.  It’s very “text first”.  Although the accompaniment is often intricate it never overpowers the words and there’s a real harmony between words and music.  The mood varies but, given it’s about really awful events, it’s more elegiac and lyrical and even funny than angry or sad.  It got a fine, nuanced performance from Henry From (piano), Zachary Gassenheimer (clarinet), Xin Wang (soprano), Andrea Ludwig (mezzo-soprano) and Korin Thomas-Smith (baritone).

Christos HatzisAfter the break. there were three pieces composed for flautist Susan Hoeppner, all with a Northern/Arctic theme.  Christos Hatzis’ Arctic Dreams (1) is scored for flute, marimba (Beverley Johnston) and electronics.  The recording is of throat singing and ambient Arctic sounds made some years ago for a CBC documentary.  Flute and percussion are layered on in a kind of fluttery, repetitive way that is evocative and slightly hypnotic.

Alice Ho photo by Bo Huang 2022Alice Ho’s Ice Woman is also scored for flute and percussion (but no electronics) including a kind of “vocal percussion”.  It’s part of a longer work in progress dealing with an Indigenous woman who was the sole survivor of a 1921 expedition in the Russian Arctic.  It’s another complex, evocative piece beautifully brought to life by Susan and Beverley.

Eliot Britton 2Métis composer Eliot Britton’s Septentrion used flute and and a backing track of sampled sounds and throat singing/beat boxing by Nelson Tagoona to playful effect.  It’s a weird mix of dance music with a back beat and complex flute playing which effectively evokes a Manitoba winter; the north wind blowing ice pellets across a frozen highway.

This varied and intriguing programme was presented in an informal setting in the Temerty Theatre which, coupled with the early hour, gave it a “salon” feel which I found most enjoyable.

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