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Concert review: Soundstreams' 30th anniversary concert provokes, satisfies

By Margaret Lam on October 12, 2012

Soprano Shannon Mercer, conductor Joaquin Valdepeñas and the Virtuosi String Orchestra at Koerner Hall on Thursday (Chris Lorway photo).

Thursday’s Soundstreams 30th anniversary concert at Koerner Hall was an unending stream of sonic stimulation.

The ambitious program featured works by internationally known composers Murray Schafer, Steve Reich and Arvo Pärt. It showcased Paul Frehner’s work along with three world premieres by Omar Daniel, Fuhong Shi, and Analia Llugdar.

These works were presented by some of the best musicians this country has to offer: Nexus performed Reich’s hypnotic Clapping Music and Mallet Quartet with such ease and grace, each of the performers were like extensions of each other.

The Gryphon Trio was centre-stage as soloists and ensemble in concertante with the string orchestra in Frehner’s Berliner Konzert, a work inspired by the division within the city around the time when Berlin Wall fell.

The musical finesse of Choir 21 under the direction of David Fallis was prominent in Schafer’s The Love that Moves the Universe (2010), where cyclical themes could be seen in the formation of musicians in a half-circle on stage, and heard in the haunting atmospheres inspired by Dante’s vision of Paradise.

Joaquin Valedpeñas led the Virtuosi String Orchestra, an ensemble of musicians from professional orchestras in Toronto, which did a wonderful job throughout the complex program and held their own in Pärt’s Orient & Occident.

Performing with flutist Julie Ranti and soprano Shannon Mercer, percussionist Ryan Scott transformed a table of pots and pans from objects of everyday life into objects of protest used by Argentineans during riots in December 2001. That event inspired Llugdar to write Sentir de cacerolas (which she revised this year).

Mercer’s crystal voice was haunting in Shi’s The Mountain Spirit (2012) as she sang beautifully about love and longing. She was also heard cutting through the noise in the lobby before, during and after the concert, performing Daniel’s Prologue, Entr’act and Postlude (2012). As they arrived, audience members were encouraged to play around with bells, which were later integrated into Daniel’s work.

The program was intense, as contemporary music can be. The pieces, written or revised in the last few years, reflect the composers’ responses to a variety of materials. Some are politically inspired; others are rooted in religion or ancient civilizations.

We all have visceral reactions to newly composed works, and while this may sound like skirting judgment, I feel strongly that there is no right or wrong way of responding to or feeling about them.

Music is a form of human expression, and new works arise from new issues that previous composers did not or could not have encountered. Sometimes, but not always, composers explicitly state the intentions behind a composition. Others prefer not to, and I can see why; it can be difficult for a listener to separate the subject (if there is one) from the music.

History tidies itself up as the debates and struggles of past eras fade away, leaving us with a general impression as to how everything unfolded. The present is far more messy; the issues are too close for us to have any kind of objectivity, a cacophony of voices and ideas compete for your attention.

It is almost certain that you will not connect with every single piece of new music that you hear, but the most important thing here is that we keep getting this steady stream of creation.

As many of the pieces on the programme demonstrated, music has the power to move, and if you give it a chance, you may find a contemporary composer who speaks to you.

Here’s to another 30 years of Soundstreams, and to a new generation of composers, supporters and audiences who will find ways of keeping creation alive.

Margaret Lam

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