… Hosted By Glenn Gould. Art of Time Ensemble. Harbourfront Theatre. Nov. 2. Repeats to Nov. 4.
Two great works, first-rate musicians and an extraordinary host combined for a compelling evening of music in The Art of Time Ensemble’s season-opening concert at the Harbourfront Theatre on Thursday night.
Artistic director and pianist Andrew Burashko was inspired by what would have been Glenn Gould’s 85th birthday earlier this fall to present an evening of chamber music that Gould himself had performed and introduced many decades ago on CBC TV. This program, which repeats to Saturday (and gets an additional performance in Orillia on Nov. 17), picks up Gould’s background remarks via a big screen on the back wall of the Harbourfront Theatre stage. But the music is performed live.
It’s a conceit typical of The Art of Time Ensemble, which has been presenting creative mixtures of media and musical styles for 20 years now. There was even an element of humour involved, as the concert opened with Gould intoning in black-and-white how he detests audiences. “They are evil,” he said to the camera, eliciting a round of laughter from the live bodies present.
Decades ahead of his time, Gould managed to stick his fingers into that strange gap between an artist’s natural need for someone to behold their work, and that same artist’s need for freedom from the demands those viewers or listeners or readers bring to the exercise. That gap has widened since Gould’s day, becoming the home of social media where the public and private become permanently intertwined and blurred.
Gould’s prescience was repeated in the clip that opened the second half of the concert, when we heard him speak about how, thanks to technology, people will one day be able to mix their own music in “pseudo-creative” acts. He could see mashups and samples coming well before they hit our horizon.
But Gould’s peculiar clairvoyance aside, the evening was really about music making an impact in the here and now. Burashko chose two particularly fine examples of chamber music that defies conventions while containing all the elements to move its listeners: Ludwig Van Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 3, in A Major, Op. 69, and Dmitri Shostakovich’s G minor Piano Quintet.
Both pieces of music sit among the masterpieces of their genre. Both are built on classical forms, and both break or modify those forms in compelling ways.
The great Leonard Rose was Gould’s cellist partner in the 1950s. In these performances, Burashko is joined by Thomas Wiebe. Together, they made nice, clean work of Beethoven’s Sonata, with Wiebe clearly at ease in the music, shaping it gracefully and forcefully against Burashko’s more buttoned-down piano playing.
In the Shostakovich, Wiebe and Burashko were joined by violinists Stephen Sitarski and Sheila Jaffé, as well as violist Steven Dann. This truly is a Canadian super-quintet, and they lived up to this promise, bringing the Russian composer’s dramatic work to vibrant life, milking the constant passages from darkness to light, and then back into the gloom with vigour and élan.
As beautiful as the Beethoven Sonata is, Shostakovich’s Quintet is so attuned to life in uncertain, worrisome times, that it resonates powerfully to this day, 77 years after its composition. It speaks to the age of Trumpery as potently as it did to the age of Stalinism, and how regular people just have to muddle along anyway.
This is a concert program that satisfies on every level, and Gould’s slightly rambling but deeply penetrating introductions add a further level of insight not just into the music, but of this peculiar and remarkable Canadian artist.
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