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There were some big draws to the September 30, Soundstreams’ season opening concert at Koerner Hall. For one, famed British violinist Daniel Hope was in town to present the Canadian premiere of contemporary music superstar Max Richter’s The Four Seasons Recomposed. There was also a rare performance of 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner John Luther Adams’ piece, Dream in White on White. Montreal-born composer Paul Frehner, was also there to premiere his new work, Mojave Dreaming – a piece inspired by nature, weather, the seasons and atmospheric phenomena.
The occasion started with a slow passage through “a treeless windswept landscape of Western Alaska.” Composed in the early 1990’s by US-based composer John Luther Adams, Dream in White on White is essentially an early sketch for an idea that was later realized in 1998 as In the White Silence. It was curious that Soundstreams chose to program the early draft over its more mature form, but it certainly has it charms.
Adams’ music is always a commitment to process, and the Soundstreams Virtuoso String Orchestra – conducted by Joaquin Valdepeñas, seemed to be at a loss as how to interpret its austere, glacially slow temperament. Valdepeñas conducted it with a dry mechanical distance, and focused on exploring the vast background string clusters, leaving the foreground material to fend for itself against the Yukon timber-wolves.
Despite the disappointing start, Paul Frehner’s Mojave Dreaming was the redemption we were looking for. The piece was totally vibrant and alive with imagination. Scored for string orchestra and tape, it was loosely inspired by Vivaldi’s Seasons. Instead of focusing on depicting all four seasons, Frehner fixated on an endless desert summer, with melting trees, hypnotizing mirages, and swirling sand storms.
This was a psychedelic affair, akin to trying to find the time of day on Dalí’s melting clock. Valdepeñas seemed to have great fun exploring the various programmatic elements which came in-and-out of focus. First violinist, Stephen Sitarski was particularly impressive with his near-flawless high register intonation and fancy fretwork.
After an intermission, the evening was just getting started with Max Richter’s Recomposed Vivaldi: The Four Seasons (2012), under the bow of the great British violinist, Daniel Hope. The piece is a kind of avant-garde classical remix of Vivaldi’s iconic masterpiece.
Let me start by saying a lot of people confuse Max Richter’s Recomposed project as being about updating the Four Seasons for a contemporary audience. There is a kind of intellectual hurdle to overcome when first hearing the premise of the piece. Daniel Hope told the story before the Koerner Hall crowd of how he first responded to the idea of the piece saying “what’s wrong with the original?”
Nothing is wrong with it. The Seasons is so much more than a mere piece of music. It has become an idea, a musical symbol that has richly benefited from the early music world’s constant redefinition of period sound and style. Richter’s reworking is in fact a baroque idea – an exploration of repetitive sequences and variations. Not minimalist per se, but close. Richter shares a similar spirit of baroque passion and sensibility, with a twist of late-romantic Korngold film music. If you allow yourself to hear the work through the filter, it works. Richter’s remix plays with your musical expectations and acts like a cut-up collage, composed of recognizable clips and cuts of an image being assembled in real-time.
Hope makes it entirely his own, and plays the achingly lush lines – that sound very much like Purcell at times, with an extraordinary poise and depth. This is at once a celebration of spring’s rejuvenation. It’s endless summer days give way to the smell of burning leaves and dim-lit autumn mornings. The season ends with a whimper – a winter’s sigh that brings to a close what was once alive with boundless energy.
Richter is a polymath, who rides the cleavage between classical music’s future and past. Vivaldi is lovingly remembered not through another endless re-re-interpretation, but from the point of creative genesis. The composition itself. Why not?
*A special mention regarding the superb sounding harpsichord, performed by Gregory Oh. It sounded unusually wonderful.
A well deserved standing ovation – bravo.