Tag Archives: Vikram Seth

Music for love and loss

Posted by Liz

Continuing yesterday’s Canadian Voyage theme, today’s noon concert entitled Ottawa and Beyond featured new works from local composers, including solo piano; solo soprano saxophone; cello and piano; and two vocal works. Julian Armour’s brief introduction outlined the increasing freedom of contemporary composers and the resulting homan connection of new works. This was evident today in particular in my two favourites, both incredibly atmospheric: Angus McLachlin‘s Piano Sonata No 2 and Colin Mack‘s Isis and Osiris, Fantasy for Cello and Piano.

A little later on, Se-Doo Park provided an entertaining concert of cello repertoire: Britten’s Cello Suite No 1 Op 72, Piatigorsky’s Paganini Variations and Gaspar Cassadó’s Suite. Sadly I had to leave early, as Park’s playing was of a very high level.

This evening’s final Vikram Seth event, An Equal Music, was a delight. Seth’s engrossing readings from the novel concentrated on the directly musical aspects, keeping back some of the plot for concertgoers who had not yet read the book. The core performers, Quatuor Arthur Leblanc, provided accomplished performances of the string quartet excerpts (Beethoven’s String Quintet in C minor Op 104 – finale; Haydn’s String Quartet in A minor Op 20 No 6 – minuetto) and a spellbinding Contrapunctus 1 from Bach’s Art of Fugue. Maria Sourjko played the same piece for solo piano as the final performance, providing an interesting contrast.  Philippe Honoré and  Sourjko provided the most inspiring performance of the night in Vivaldi’s Manchester Sonata in C major, No 1 – largo. My mind kept flicking between images of the characters Michael and Julia and of Anna Maria Della Violin. The layout of the concert and of the works seemed to me to be a good introduction to chamber music so I hope there were ‘newcomers’ there – readers of the book who may not previously have heard the music, or indeed, been to this type of concert.

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Violin virtuoso part 2 – The Rivered Earth concludes

Posted by Liz

Continuing on from yesterday’s high quality performances, The Rivered Earth 3 was a spectacular, spine-tingling performance from Lawrence Wiliford, Philippe Honoré, Seventeen Voyces, Music and Beyond Festival Orchestra and the captivating young singers from Christ Church Cathedral Choir.

The Traveller tells the human story through transcriptions of sacred and secular Indian texts. The 4 ages of live – childhood, youth, adulthood and old age – were bracketed with Vikram Seth’s addition of the unborn and the dead. At the start of each chapter, a bell rang and Wiliford read a verse from the Rig Veda’s Hymn to Creation.

Right from the beginning the show was spellbinding, from the choristers and Honoré processing from the back of the church, to the children’s choir singing the nursery rhyme Ram Ram Shah – ‘woop’ glissandi included! Honoré had the treat of playing yet more excellent violin parts. The music mix was always interesting and varied from hot and angry to almost like a soundtrack; the tolling bell in ‘The Dead’ was very atmospheric.

The audience wasn’t the largest I’ve seen at Dominion-Chalmers but they were certainly amongst the loudest in applause and whooping!

The fourth and final instalment of The Rivered Earth was of a much more intimate nature. Two cycles based on the theme of The Seven Elements were performed in succession: the first, a song cycle for tenor and piano on the elements Earth, Air, Wood, Fire, Metal, Water and Space; the second a suite for violin and piano on the same elements but performed in a different order. All highly captivating and evocative; there were no introductions but the piano part (performed by Jean Desmarais) clearly brought to life each element, with excellent vocal performance by Isaiah Bell. The chord pattern in ‘Fire’ made me smile – in a small way it felt like an echo from a 1990s dance track!

The Seven Elements Suite for violin and piano, played by Desmarais and Honoré, was even more interesting and enchanting, conjuring up many mindscapes. According to my recollection, the Elements were performed in this order: Earth, Water, Wood, Air, Metal, Space, Fire. Again, I felt that this suite stepped almost into the indie-classical realm. The suite referenced the song cycle but with a different angle. For example ‘Water’ – in the song cycle the piano part sounded drippy and expansive, mimicking still water and the roar of a flood or waterfall. In the suite, ‘Water’ became smoother, more like a gurgling stream. Conversely, the themes for ‘Space’ were much more common across the two cycles. The violin parts were mostly simpler in sound than Ponticelli (Rivered Earth 2) but no less enthralling.

A short trio to finish – The Hermit on the Ice was fascinating and continued the mesmeric style of the concert, ending in a ‘repeat to fade’ motif on the piano.

All in all a wonderful concert cycle. The two CDs that currently exist would be excellent choices and I hope someone somewhere records The Traveller and The Seven Elements. Certainly with a bit of skillful marketing, Ponticelli and The Seven Elements Suite could easily appeal to fans of Amiina or Ólafur Arnalds.

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Violin virtuosi part 1 – The Rivered Earth and Earthen Grave

Posted by Liz

Today saw the start of the much-anticipated The Rivered Earth series of concerts featuring music by Alec Roth and libretti by Vikram Seth. Part 1, introduced by Lucy Van Oldenbarneveld and Seth, was a performance of Songs In Time Of War, written by Seth after the Chinese Tang Dynasty poet Du Fu. Lawrence Wiliford‘s voice was elegantly restrained and fitted with the violin, harp and guitar accompaniment of Philippe Honoré, Michelle Gott and Daniel Bolshoy. The set of 12 songs transported the spellbound audience to far away worlds. In particular I enjoyed the 4th and 8th songs, ‘A Fine Lady’ and ‘ The Old Cypress Tree at the Temple of Zhu-ge Liang’. Meanwhile, number 11 ‘Ballad of the Army Carts’ conjured up images from epic films such as Red Cliff. Roth’s music narrated along with the libretti, with effects such as ‘scratch’ violin to match the story.

Rivered Earth Part 2 featured Shared Ground and Ponticelli, each inspired by the Stuart poet George Herbert and for unaccompanied chorus and solo violin respectively. In the Ex Cathedra/Philippe Honoré recording, each work is played through, though it is possible to perform them as an interlocking sequence, which we heard today.

Seventeen Voyces, Larkin Singers and soloist Isaiah Bell provided a stellar performance, but in my mind the greatest plaudits go to Honoré for his performances. Heard alternately, each part of Ponticelli at least in some way referenced the preceding Shared Ground song. Ponticelli 1 ‘Flat Bridge’ and 3 ‘Arched Bridge’ had to my ears a fleeting similarity to some of the works of Icelandic indie-classical artist Ólafur Arnalds. The vocal settings had an almost song-like structure, with most verses having the title as a bridge/chorus.

From one super violinist to another, this time with a radically different sound: Rachel Barton Pine and her band Earthen Grave. Also a rather different setting – a metal band playing a church, albeit de-consecrated. Playing a set list predominantly from their current self-titled album, Earthen Grave executed a very professional performance and managed to engage the audience (which was mostly Music and Beyond passholders), although it did take a while mainly due to the type of venue and the relatively small crowd. There were a few of us up at the front, but compared to a more typical rock live music venue, it must have been weird for the 6 performers (including excellent stand-in drummer Chad Walls) to see people sat in pews! Some more concertgoers were standing for the final track, a rendition of Black Sabbath’s Children of the Grave. The special violin Viper definitely added an extra timbre to their sound. Based on this performance, the band and album are highly recommended!

Both Honoré and Pine are performing tomorrow in The Rivered Earth Parts 3 and 4 and Paganini: The Complete Caprices.

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Music and Beyond 2012: Introducing…

Only a few days to go until Music and Beyond 2012 starts! I am Liz, your guest blogger for the duration of this year’s festival. With even more concerts than last year, 2012’s festival has a whole host of exciting events, many of them very different to the more typical chamber music concert. Here’s a small selection.

Following the musical fireworks of the Opening Gala, Music and Dance showcases the interplay of two art forms from Baroque to contemporary. Continuing the combination theme, the ensemble Tapestry showcase the relationship between text and music in Song of Songs: Come Into My Garden. Two events feature the music of the Cold War: the Beyond the Bomb event at the Diefenbunker museum and the tie-in showing of The Iron Curtain at the Bytowne Cinema. Representing string quartets and eagerly anticipated after their 2005 Shostakovich Quartets series, the three Borodin Quartet shows feature the complete quartets of Brahms and Tchaikovsky.

For me, the five concerts featuring Vikram Seth are both exciting and intriguing. The four-part series The Rivered Earth features Seth and Alec Roth, alongside other musicians, performing Seth’s libretti (also published as a book) on the themes of ‘Songs in Time of War’, ‘Shared Ground’, ‘The Traveller’ and ‘Seven Elements’. The fifth concert returns to Seth’s 1999 novel An Equal Music and music featured therein. Menahem Pressler‘s two concerts, with the NACO Principal Winds and with the Jupiter String Quartet promise some very high quality performances.

Finally – the must-see Heavy Metal Violin event featuring returning virtuoso violinist Rachel Barton Pine with her doom band Earthen Grave. Their self-titled new release features 10 songs which will certainly please any fan of classic heavy metal with a twist!

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