Symphony @ The Roundhouse with Musica Intima

Date and Venue 17 February 2008 @ 8pm | The Roundhouse, Yaletown, Vancouver

Conductor Rosemary Thomson

Jordan Nobles Coriolis Piers Hellawell Litholatry Jeffrey Ryan Three Songs for CB R. Murray Schafer Three Hymns from Fall into Light Isabelle Panneton Travaux et jeux de gravité Peteris Vasks Dona nobis pacem

Reviewer J H Stape

Diversity seems the only appropriate label to describe this concert. Grab bag would be less generous. It had a title -- "two hander" -- but that seems more a flag of convenience than a motivating coagulant. Conductor and Host Rosemary Thomson used the word "kaleidoscope" to describe one piece, but it might best be applied to the evening.

Vancouver composer Jordan Nobles's six-minute long Coriolis for a capella choir set a tone of sorts: wordless, the piece derives its inspiration from the Coriolis effect, a discovery of French scientist and mathematician (1792-1843) about the Earth's rotation on moving objects. Purity and the crystalline were the main motifs, the whole having a vaguely liturgical flavour, with the influence of Tallis and Ligeti present.

Scottish composer Pier Hellawell's Litholatry (worship of rocks) received a rousing Canadian premiere. Composed for a fifteen-member chamber orchestra this ten-minute excursion into its subject is all swirling circles and colour and movement, with ideas shifting rapidly, a kind of Impressionistic palette with riffs.

Toronto composer Jeffrey Ryan's Three Songs for CB, a song cycle originally composed for a New York State choral group, are based on three (not especially accomplished) poems by Carol Burdock. The first contrasts inner pain with outward serenity, the second is about an old woman sing a young girl dance on a beach, and the last is about a girl reveling in beachside flotsam and jetsam.

As usual, Ryan's palette was immensely immediate and accessible. The opening sound, clean-line, is dead and white, a means of expressing pain. The second song for cello and choir was more overtly emotional, and the last scored for choir and string quartet was the most dazzling: playful and vivid, as Middle Eastern rhythmic effects (rather arbitrarily, given the text) dominated.

R. Murray Schafer 's Three Hymns, a selection of a capella pieces from a recent very large work for several choirs and percussion Fall into Light focuses on the mystical experience. Serenity proved its keynote, rather than ecstasy, and musica intima successfully conveyed the inner spirit of these highly interior but celebratory hymns.

Quebecois composer Isabelle Panneton was represented by a twenty-minute orchestral piece in three movements, which despite some gestures to Debussy, seemed largely an academic exercise in the strident and aggressive contemporary mode. Abstract, intellectual, and game-playing, the piece deals with the effect of gravity -- in both senses.

The concert closed with a thrilling rendition of Latvian composer Peteris Vasks's Dona nobis pacem. (Neither the host nor the programme seemed to know that the words were from the Agnus Dei of the Mass, and, irritatingly, pacem -- "pa-chem" in Church Latin -- was pronounced "pah-zem.")

The piece itself, strongly resembling the work of the contemporary English composer John Taverner was a soaring and appealing work, emotional and immediately accessible, and the evening's most self-consciously beautiful. It is no doubt one that will become a mainstay in the contemporary choral repertoire.

As the above summaries indicate, a lot was happening, perhaps even a bit too much. Fresh from a tour in the US, musica intima carried it off with its usual deft aplomb, and the VSO offered careful support, under Rosemary Thomson's firm baton.

© 2008 J H Stape