Nu:BC Collective: Coming Together

Date and Venue Saturday, 8 March 2008 @ 8.00pm | ScotiaBank Dance Centre

Jeffrey Ryan Stillpoint François Houle/Keith Hamel Aeriali Chris Paul Harman Doubling (world première) Jesper Nordin Calm Like a Bomb Frederic Rzewski Coming Together

Reviewer J H Stape

New music in Vancouver doesn't exactly pull in the big audiences, but the scene is surprisingly vibrant, and the Nu:BC Collective, emerging from the UBC School of Music, holds an important place in it. No less than three of the composers featured in this concert graced it by their comments, and two, at least, acknowledged working with the performers.

Stillpoint (1989/96) by Toronto composer Jeffrey Ryan, written for a quartet of flute, harp, viola, and violin, plays with the notion of inner calm, exploring instrumental pairings and connectedness to arrive at and then to move away from serenity.

Always accessible and typically exploratory, this piece featured some particularly exquisite writing for the harp, and lived up to its title in encouraging a meditative mood.

François Houle's and Keith Hamel's Aeriali (2008), a solo piece for clarinet played against a shifting visual backdrop of abstract and quite beautiful Rorschach-like images, was performed by composer and the visual artist. Technical challenges and formal turns were to the fore, the piece at once extremely intellectual and vividly emotional, with Houle never less than dazzling in evoking a wide range of colours from his clarinet.

Chris Paul Harman's Doubling, a commission by Nu:BC given its world première at this concert, was academic in inspiration but, like the previous work, emotionally appealing, particularly in the brilliant writing for piano in the late sections, which the instrument comes increasingly to dominate.

Based on a technique in orchestration and inspired by its use in Berlioz, the work is playfully perky, shot through with jazzy elements, and clever, pensive, and moody by turns.

Calm Like a Bomb (2000) for violin and tape, by Swedish composer Jesper Nordin, was programme music of and for our time, living up to its name (taken from a line of the rock group Rage against the Machine). Disturbing and visceral, this work for electronic violin was Guernica set to music: aggressive, agonized, unsubtle.

Violinist Rebecca Whiting delivered a bravura performance of a piece, written, as it were, for Paganini on crystal meth, but the music itself seemed predictable and somewhat clichéd in its development and dynamics.

The programme's title work, Coming Together (1971) by American composer Frederic Rzewski, inspired by the Attica Prison Revolt of 1971-72, featured a group of eight players with a reciter of a text of a letter written by one of the revolt's organizers.

The idea was developed as a riff between confinement and freedom in "directed improvisation," while the single musical line, in sostenuto, forms the recitative backdrop for the vocal performance, not sung but read, by a man who becomes increasingly loud and frantic, finally ending in shouting out a text that he is unable to free himself from.

Why he did so whilst barefoot and dabbling his hand above a water tank to create instantaneous images that were projected onto a screen remained, for me at least elusive. It seemed, like the work itself, 1960s performance art that, whatever its political commitment and evident sincerity, was dusty and exceedingly dated.

Rather than the concert's highlight, then, this came off as bummer ending, a disapointing close to what, on the whole, had been an interesting, thought-provoking, and enjoyable evening of music-making.

© 2008 J H Stape