Volume 26 Issue 2 - October 2020


Following the Goldberg trail from Gould to Lang Lang; Measha Brueggergosman and Edwin Huizinga on face to face collaboration in strange times; diggings into dance as FFDN keeps live alive; "Classical unicorn?" - Luke Welch reflects on life as a Black classical pianist; Debashis Sinha's adventures in sound art; choral lessons from Skagit Valley; and the 21st annual WholeNote Blue Pages (part 1 of 3) in print and online. Here now. And, yes, still in print, with distribution starting Thursday October 1.



It’s been a couple of months since I last mentioned New Music

Concerts, my day job until retiring last year, and I thought perhaps

I had gotten it out of my system. I guess it’s not surprising that it is

hard to put two decades of history behind me. While general manager

at NMC I had the opportunity to work with the JACK Quartet on two

occasions. The first was early in my tenure, and very early in their

career, back in 2003 when I organized a masterclass with Helmut

Lachenmann for the members of the quartet who were then studying

at the Eastman School in Rochester. The quartet returned to Toronto in

January 2016 for a concert co-presented by NMC and Music Toronto.

In the pre-concert talk with Robert Aitken, they spoke about just

how influential that afternoon spent with the German avant-garde

composer a dozen years ago (and later attending NMC rehearsals

for the Lachenmann portrait concert) was to their development as

an ensemble, solidifying their commitment to contemporary music

and their understanding of the importance of working directly with


That program at the Jane Mallett Theatre included works by Xenakis,

John Zorn, Rodericus (a 14th-century work adapted by violinist

Christopher Otto) and John Luther Adams (b.1953). It is the latter

which gives occasion to today’s reminiscence. On that concert they

performed the American composer’s first string quartet The Wind in

High Places, about which Adams says, “I imagined the quartet as a

single sixteen-string Aeolian harp, with the music’s rising and falling

lines and gusting arpeggios coming entirely from natural harmonics

and open strings. Over the course of almost 20 minutes, the fingers of

the musicians never touch the fingerboards of the instruments. If I

could’ve found a way to make this music without them touching the

instruments at all, I would have.”

JACK’s latest CD Lines Made by Walking

(Cold Blue Music CB0058

coldbluemusic.com/new-releases-2) features

two subsequent quartets by John Luther

Adams. His string quartet, untouched (2016),

is a further exploration of the delicate and

ethereal sound world of harmonic overtones,

with the fingers of the musicians still not

touching their fingerboards.

Compared with the two quartets described above, Lines Made by

Walking (2019) is a veritable torrent of sound. But in reality, when

taken on its own, it is a dreamy, contemplative work which proceeds

at a gentle walking pace. Adams says “I’ve always been a walker. For

much of my life I walked the mountains and tundra of Alaska. More

recently it’s been the Mexican desert, mountain ridges of Chile, and

the hills and canyons of Montana. Making my way across these landscapes

at three miles an hour, I began to imagine music coming

directly out of the contours of the land. I began work on my fifth

string quartet […] by composing three expansive harmonic fields made

up of tempo canons with five, six, and seven independent layers. (This

is a technique I’ve used for years, in which a single melodic line is

superimposed on itself at different speeds.) Once I’d composed these

fields, I traced pathways across them. As I did this, each instrument of

the quartet acquired a unique profile, transforming the strict imitative

counterpoint of the tempo canons into intricately varied textures.” The

work is in three movements and their titles – Up the Mountain; Along

the Ridges; Down the Mountain – are aptly depicted by the music’s

endlessly rising, and later falling, canons.

Although there have been personnel changes in the quartet since its

first collaboration with Adams – only two original members remain

– their understanding of and devotion to his music remains intact and

undaunted. I can only imagine the patience it takes to master this

gradually unfolding music in which seemingly nothing happens, but

in which a marvellous stasis is achieved.

As Terry Robbins says a little further on in

these pages, “It’s been a simply terrific month

for cello discs.” There are three that I scooped

up for myself, beginning with De l’espace

trouver la fin et le milieu: Dan Barrett plays

Dominique Lemaître – solos and duos for/

with cello (New Focus Recordings fcr276

newfocusrecordings.com/catalogue). French

composer Dominique Lemaître, born the

same year as John Luther Adams (1953),

studied humanities and musicology at the University of Rouen and

later electroacoustics and composition at the Paris Conservatoire.

Infused with the music of Bach, Debussy, Varèse, Ligeti and Scelsi, but

also with extra-European influences, Lemaître ‘s works blend superimposed

metres, polytextures, looped repetitions and an underlying

modality. American cellist Dan Barrett, creator and director of the

music ensemble International Street Cannibals (ISC), has been hailed

as “a brilliant and driven cellist, composer, and conductor” (Huffington

Post), whose instrumental playing is described as “fire and ice” (The

New York Times).

The disc begins with the cello duo Orange and Yellow II, performed

with Stanislav Orlovsky. It pays homage to Morton Feldman and is a

transcription of a piece originally written for two violas in 2009. The

title makes reference to the eponymous painting created by Mark

Rothko, to whom Feldman himself paid homage in Rothko Chapel,

composed for the meditation room of the building of the same name.

Although purely acoustic in nature, the layering and looping of the

two instruments, and the reverberant space in which it was recorded,

give the impression of electronic enhancement. Thot, referring to the

Egyptian god Thoth, is an earlier work dating from 1994. It is a duet

with clarinetist Michiyo Suzuki that begins from silence with a gradually

building clarinet tone reminiscent of the Abîme des oiseaux

movement in Messiaen’s famous Quatuor pour le fin du temps. The

contemplative mood continues throughout the six-minute work,

intermittently interrupted by bird-like chirps. The next piece, Mnaïdra

for solo cello, opens abruptly and almost abrasively, although it, too,

gradually subsides into warmer tones. Mnajdra is a Bronze Age temple

situated to the south of the island of Malta, the isle of bees or the isle

of honey, as it was called in ancient times.

Pianist Jed Distler joins the cellist in Stances, hommage à Henri

Dutilleux, the famous French composer from whom Lemaître

received both encouragement and compliments. It was written in 2015

and is dedicated to Barrett. The disc ends with another solo cello

composition, Plus haut (Higher), which, although still in a quiet way,

is the most virtuosic piece of the collection. Barrett shows himself

astute across the spectrum from the softest nuance to the soaring


Renowned Canadian cellist Ofra Harnoy and

husband/collaborator Mike Herriott have

just released On the Rock, celebrating the

music of Newfoundland (Analekta AN28909

analekta.com/en/albums). With 43 previous

recordings, five JUNO awards and the Order

of Canada to her name, Harnoy needs no

introduction to the discerning readers of

this magazine. The same can be said of

multi-instrumentalist Herriott whose accomplishments in both the

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