Sunday, April 14, 2013

What New Festival at the HPO

I went Saturday, April 13 to hear a chamber orchestra concert at the Studio Theatre of Hamilton Place, conducted by Jamie Sommerville and featuring the very fine first-desk players of the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra.

Maestro Jamie Sommerville

Last night's concert was sparsely attended reminding us of why last year's festival was cancelled outright. The audience was loud and appreciative and made up largely, I suspect, of the folks whose financial support sustains the orchestra.

The concert opened with Norbert Palej's Divertimento, which was the most beautiful music of the evening. His idiom is highly accessible and melodic. He combines long note value melodies with impressionistic underpinnings and sometimes regular, and at others times pointillistic, accompanying rhythms, all incorporated in a detailed texture. His affinity to vocal music clearly contributes to his musical style. The strings were featured and violist Elspeth Thomson made a fine effect when it came her turn to play the main theme.

Norbert Palej

They followed with brefs messages (2011) by the celebrated Hungarian composer György Kurtág. His music is of the lineage of Musical Expressionism (like the pre-dodecaphonic Schoenberg) and the concentrated style of Webern. He was also a close friend of György Ligeti. These were the most "difficult" works on the concert but, since they were short and concise, easily digested.

They closed the first half with Jordan Noble's Entropy. He's a prolific Canadian composer with numerous prizes to his name.  I would like to have heard the piece again (they played the première of Abigail Richardson-Shulte's Downstream twice). The piece begins very busily and energetically and the tempo slows, and the density of the texture decreases, as the piece winds down to a very quiet, almost static ending. The piece isn't very long and it was hard for this listener to determine how the musical material was organized on only one hearing.

Jordan Noble

The second half opened with the aforementioned première of Abigail Richardson-Shulte's Downstream. Her idiom is very eclectic and programatic. The motion of the piece was, appropriately, undulating and suggested dance rhythms at times. The middle slow section was very spare and included woodwind players disassembling their instruments in order to produce the sound of bird calls. She's a very imaginative composer.

Abigail Richardson-Shulte

The concert closed with Claude Vivier's Pulau Dewata arranged by McGill professor and composer John Rea. Vivier's music was influenced, even transformed, by his stay in Bali in 1976. In its original form the instrumentation is not dictated. The work provided a nice contrast to the other works on the program. It is sometimes almost minimalistic in its repetition of short musical fragments and features prominent roles for percussionists playing gongs and, especially, pitched percussion instruments like the xylophone.

The festival continues next week concluding on Saturday, April 20 in the Great Hall of Hamilton Place with the full HPO presenting a concert which will include Michael Torke's Javelin and the first performance of Richardson-Shulte's City Synesthesia. 

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