Monday, March 14, 2011

New Music in Recital Programs

I attended, yesterday afternoon, a program in the Sundays at Three Series at Central Presbyterian Church in Hamilton. Flautist David Gerry was accompanied by the church's Music Director Paul Grimwood in a short but diverse program. This series has been ongoing during the Lenten Season for at least 25 years and offers audiences the opportunity to hear a variety of music, most of it for a Free Will Offering. (as an aside, the choir and orchestra are performing Howard Goodall's Eternal Light on Good Friday, April 22, at 8:00 P.M.)
They played a Quantz sonata and three Fauré Mélodies transcribed for flute. The other two pieces, Eve Beglarian's I will not be sad in this world and Sonny Chua's Menagerie, were both written within the last 11 years. I applaud Mr. Gerry for devoting half of his program to contemporary music. He is, and has been for years, one of this region's most prolific performers of New Music both as a soloist and collaborative musician.
One of the standard techniques in assembling a recital is to choose music representing various stylistic periods. One frequently attends recitals (Graduation Recitals being a perfect example) in which the most recent music was written sometime before the Second World War.  Surely performers ought to be making  an effort to program newer music than that and, as Mr. Gerry so skillfully demonstrated, it doesn't have to stretch the audience's listening skills to the point where they aren't engaged by the performance.
The Beglarian piece Mr. Gerry played on bass flute, accompanied by electronics (records of Ms. Beglarian herself singing and chanting). It's source material is an Armenian folksong. It is a quiet and atmospheric soundscape and provided an interesting contrast to the Fauré songs.
Sonny Chua's Menagerie, a suite of short pieces for flute and piano is, by any measure, conventional music: tonal and melodic. The pieces are charming, if a little similar one to the other, and utterly unlike the work which preceded them. It is, however, New Music, in the sense that it was recently composed.
I encourage performers to include new pieces in their recital programs, especially when these pieces stretch their abilities to include sounds and ideas that are outside their usual musical world. As for Graduation Recitals, it is as much the responsibility of the recitalist's teacher as that of the student her/himself to ensure that the student is learning and performing music which is composed by contemporary composers and important ones from the recent past.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Symphony Hamilton and the Live Music Conundrum

Sunday afternoon I heard Symphony Hamilton: Symphony on the Bay play an all Beethoven program under their conductor James McKay, recently retired Head of Performance at my Alma Mater, the University of Western Ontario. The orchestra played the Leonora Overture #3 and the 3rd Symphony, and Leslie Kinton joined them for the 5th Piano Concerto  Mr. Kinton played with accuracy and enthusiasm.
Whatever the calibre of the orchestra's performance, the auditorium of the Royal Botanical Gardens has rather poor acoustics and I was stunned recently that the Bach-Elgar Choir is performing there as well.

This orchestra has ended up there ("there" being Burlington, Aldershot actually) because:
 -it has been unable to find an affordable and appropriate venue in Hamilton
 -the new Burlington Arts Centre is to open in the fall of 2011 and they hope to perform there

The orchestra had previously played in churches in Hamilton and, for a while, in the Studio Theatre of Hamilton Place. Hamilton Place is so expensive to rent that even Opera Hamilton has abandoned it and will perform next season in the 1200 seat Theatre Aquarius.

In any event, the orchestra is in dire financial straits, and declared as much in a message from their Acting President in the program. They point out that only about 30% of their costs are achieved through ticket sales (the RBG auditorium was packed, and has been for every concert I've ever attended there.)
They need government or corporate support or donations from their patrons who are already paying $28 to hear a mostly amateur orchestra.

The Bach-Elgar Choir underwent a similar crisis some years ago and has never completely recovered.
What is to be done?

I must confess that I have not a clue. For years even professional musicians have subsidized the arts organizations for whom they perform by accepting scandalously low payment for high quality work. I remember being asked (and agreeing through my union) to be paid about $15 per show for radio broadcasts of performances which were played on the CBC and, ultimately, on public radio stations around the world all as a means of promoting the arts organization for whom I was working.

The place of live performance (and recordings) in the world has changed, and is changing. It's a sad commentary that the public, who by and large don't attend live performances, may end up with nothing of value to listen to.