Tag Archive for Music Matters

Lori Freedman and the beauty of extremes

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If there were some sort of measuring tool that could compare Classical music with cheeses of the world on a one-to-one basis — where Pachelbel’s Canon would be Cheez Whiz and Stravinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps would be some strain of blue that took you twenty years to work up the nerve to try — well, Lori Freedman’s “Virtuosity of Excess” tour would have to be well off that scale out beyond the farthest margins of Epoisse (a curd so odorous, it was banned from public transport in France), or perhaps even further — can one make cheese from platypus milk?

That’s not in any way to suggest that Lori’s music has anything malodorous about it. Pas du tout. It’s more a comment on her audience, which for deeply nuanced individual reasons has come to revel in her extremes.

It’s arguable that what she’s doing isn’t Classical music anyway. But it draws from many of the same roots, and being a fellow clarinet player who once played bass clarinet alongside Lori back in the last century (it was Le Sacre, which is scored for two bass clarinets), I know her roots. Now I’ve come to get to know her routes.

What is virtuosity?

LoriFreedman-side

photo credits: Jan Gates

I had the good fortune to sit with flautist Mark McGregor who’d come out to the Fox Cabaret to hear, above all else, the Brian Ferneyhough work. He explained Complexity music, which I paraphrase here broadly: The composer, without going beyond the instrument’s physical capability, employs myriad layers of complexity (such as assigning individual contrapuntal lines to different fingers) in an attempt to present to the audience a picture of the performer either breaking down or breaking through psychologically. “So, it’s sort of like a snuff film” I asked and Mark snorted with laughter, “I guess you could put it that way.” The title of Lori’s tour “The Virtuosity of Excess” is a quote from the French composer Raphaël Cendo, referring to the exploration (and sometimes exploitation) of the beauty of extremes.

Enter the “Virtuosity of Excess” tour

And then, before anyone could say, “Release the Kraken”, onto the stage strode Lori brandishing her contra-bass clarinet like a kalashnikov.

As we listened to Brian Ferneyhough’s Time and Motion Study #2 for bass clarinet, I started to get the full measure of Lori’s virtuosity. She puts her entire body, voice, and being into her playing. It’s so immediate and raw because what she’s after is emotional virtuosity.

Paul Steenhuisen’s Library on Fire for bass clarinet followed in what was by now an established pattern of extremes. This multi-movement, multi-music-stand work again showed how Lori transcends the cerebral by laying bare her humanity. Steenhuisen is a deep thinker able to layer complexity with the best of them, so it’s to Lori’s credit how she also brought warmth and humanity to the work — whether mumbling feverishly sotto voce or sucker punching us from the stage.

Steenhuisen’s Library on Fire as performed live in 2015 at The Music Gallery in Toronto

There’s something funny about Lori’s stage presence too—on account of its emotional ferocity. After screaming, squawking, and committing every excess imaginable, she always finished with a perfect little smile and thanked us all for listening. The contrast suggests some sociopathic older sister who’d just strangled her kid brother and now stands before us with one of those can-we-go-for-ice-cream-now smiles. Perhaps that’s why her own composition, Solor for bass clarinet (which she played from memory) lined up best for me. It certainly had its wild and raw moments, but overall I think it came from a more meditative place in her.

What is excess?

Raphaël Cendo’s Décombres for contrabass clarinet and live electronics was the coup de grâce of the evening. It was also the death knell for my ears, but I stood there anyway basking in the sheer monstrosity of it all like I was taking on Niagara Falls full force. To be in the presence of someone so beautifully uncompromising, so committed to her art — what glory!

After the show when people were mobbing her, I went up with the intention of saying something all-encompassing about what it means to be that emotionally revealed in art, but I couldn’t find the words and instead blurted out some nerdy clarinet-player nonsense about how “underneath everything, I could still hear a solid good clarinet sound”. It was entirely true of course — so always tactful — she laughed kindly as if I’d said, “Gee Mr. Pollack, you shure know how to mix them colours good.” It’s probably the most douche-baggey thing I’ve ever said…

How it ends…not with a bang, nor a whimper…

Scientists speculate sometimes that an asteroid impact would be what it would take to throw us all back into the Stone Age. But no one ever imagines that the end of modernity could actually turn out to be something much less dire…

How it turned out was a coronal mass ejection.

With our power grids destroyed, modernity as we knew it came to an abrupt end. Lacking satellite communications, international travel, automated traffic systems, and mobile phones, we could do nothing but gather with our friends around the piano, singing by candlelight.

Instead of the Stone Age, we’d been thrown back into the Biedermeier.

“They all agreed that they could scarcely remember the time when ceaselessly checking their iPhones seemed so important.”

Stefan Hintersteininger, cellist/composer

Spot-on analysis of my piece (last Friday’s Colin MacDonald Pocket Orchestra concert) in this review!

—Stefan Hintersteininger, composer

What’s Your Calling?

Addiction

My friend, Todd, made a commitment to quit smoking this month. To support him, several of his friends ante-d up with some form of commitment of their own. I don’t smoke, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have some addictive behaviour—everybody does. For me, it’s a nasty little computer game called Civilization, in which an hour of relaxing time can (and does) easily spin out of control into seven-hour marathons that leave me sleepy, unproductive, and somewhat guilty about not achieving the goals I’ve set for myself.

The only way I can think it’s possible to thwart addiction is to overcome it with something more attractive. That would be, something non addictive, that’s more attractive. Without the usual outlet to steal myself away, I’ve discovered something much more attractive than a computer game—people.

Since I’ve declared war on my addiction, not only am I going to more events (last week three concerts, the Tweed Ride, a francophone barbeque, a birthday banquet, and a new course I just signed up for at BCIT), but I’m also using these events to branch out more connections. That is, I’m meeting more and more interesting people.

Todd is back to smoking sadly, but I ensured my commitment was not contingent in any way on him keeping his (that wouldn’t do our friendship any good). I’m beginning to see what even a smallish addiction is costing me in terms of, well, life. Who knows, it might be my term to inspire him the way he initially inspired me.

 

Your calling is where your deep gladness
and the world’s deep hunger meet.

—Frederick Buechner

Readiness

tarogato-Jason-HallJason_Hall_clarinetsLast week was my birthday and, in the spirit of simplicity, I sent out a single invite through Facebook to my nearest and dearest friends to drop by my place for drinks.

Several drinks into the evening, somebody said “Play us something on the tarógató” and the crowd chanted “Jason, Jason, Jason”. Last year, I had a tarógató hand made for me in Budapest. A tarógató is a Hungarian form of clarinet with a melancholy sound somewhere between an English horn and a soprano saxophone (nothing like a clarinet).

My background is classical music (although I’ve been exploring improvised types such as jazz, blues, and Balkan music in the last few years), so playing spontaneously isn’t something I’m accustomed to. Nonetheless, I had several little ditties to play along with  stories of their origins:

  • “Kuruc dalok”, a Hungarian recruiting song used to entice young men off to war.
  • “Margot Labourez La Vigne”, a humorous medieval French song that admonishes Margot to keep working the vines and to stop flirting with local soldiers.
  • An old dance written by none other than King Henry VIII

It’s music performance the way I like it best—warm, intimate, and in the company of friends. There was much cat calling and hilarity too, especially around how Henry VIII could find time to write music whilst chopping off the heads of his wives. “He didn’t chop their heads off himself—someone else did that. That’s how he had time to write music”, one of my friends said.

I was happy that I had a few tunes that I could play (and stories about them) on a moment’s notice. Later, I got thinking about how great it would be to have other “party pieces” ready that describe who I am and what I do. If anyone asks me about what I do as a marketing/technical writer, I should have a story to tell him or her.

Last year, I wrote a winning award application for Webtech Wireless. The fallout from that was a stream of related documents and the CEO saying, “Now, we can now call ourselves an award-winning software company”.

Now, I have a handy one-pager to share about how I helped Webtech Wireless win its first-ever technology award.

 

A music endorsement

“I’ve had the distinct pleasure and honour of playing music with Jason Hall for much of the past year. Jason’s musicality and unquestionable ability wonderfully combines sensitivity with humour and vitality with compassion.”

—Jason Jones, Musician

Linda Solomon, Managing Editor – The Vancouver Observer

Jason,
You’ve outdone yourself.  Tears of joy in my eyes.  …  I love this story.  Really beautiful and quirky and unexpected.  It’s a huge story on the front page right now.

Pedal power and the builders of musical instruments in Vancouver

Last December, I developed an interest in Vancouver’s hidden music makers—the builders of musical instruments. I wrote a double-barrelled story about natural fibre horn maker, David Gowman, and harpsichord maker, Craig Tomlinson.  Now, let me tell you about the Furnaphone, and why “anything’s a potential instrument.”

Drummer Dan keeps his carbon footprint small getting to his next gig.

Drummer Dan keeps his carbon footprint small getting to his next gig.

With Bike to Work Week, Velopoloosa, and the In the House Festival all converging this weekend, the stage is set to highlight another fascinating musical instrument maker, Daniel Lunn.

Daniel is making a name for himself as a drummer (and guitarist) around town, but for someone who plays an instrument that is legendary for its lack of portability, it’s his mode of transportation that caught my attention—by bicycle.

» Read more..

Music Review: Ederlezi strikes gypsy heart in Strathcona

I was at a Balkan music festival and was compelled to write a review (compelled and too stoked to sleep). Below is an excerpt from the review posted on the Vancouver Observer site.

Orkestar Slivovica

Orkestar Slivovica at the Russian Hall

Tonight, I attended part one of the two-part concert week-end known as Ederlezi – Balkan Brass Festival (6-7 May at the Russian Hall). Billed as a “Roma Spring holiday”, it features no fewer than three Balkan-style brass bands: Orkestar Zirkonium from Seattle, Brass Menazeri from San Francisco, and our own Orkestar Slivovica. There were also two lovely belly dance troupes, (and assorted vendors of Balkan eats and drinks), but the stars of the show are the brass bands.

The evening began with Orkestar Slivovica, which I thought was playing a little more up tempo than the last time I heard them at the Ukrainian Hall. Perhaps, they were intimidated by the quicker and sharper performances of their American counterparts. Gradually, they eased into their signature pelvic back beat and things began to heat up. That’s the thing about this music: if you’re not willing to let go with the hips, you’re not going to enjoy it. But they let go, and so did we—especially as the Šljivovica (Balkan plum brandy) started flowing.

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