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.
Lang Lang on the Goldberg trail continued from page 9 ! Recently, piano icon Lang Lang “realized a lifelong dream” and recorded not one but two versions of the Goldbergs. The first is a one-take, live performance from a recital at Thomaskirche in Leipzig. The second, recorded soon after in studio, was made in seclusion. I was full of curiosity to hear Lang’s Goldbergs and was certain he must have brooded on the project for a while and approached it with careful consideration, aware of the extent to which it would be a departure for him in many ways, and would be scrutinized by the numerous discerning ears that know – almost by heart – the interpretations that have come before his. At once, we notice Lang’s personal brand in this recording. He is singing from his beating heart and occupies a seemingly new space in this music. An individual kind of phrasing unspools, buoyed by unusual contrapuntal directionality and dynamic scope. His awareness of previous performance practice is sometimes notable and sometimes not. Nevertheless, he won’t let us perceive it as a hindrance in either direction: the listener is offered new glimpses of what J.S. Bach in the 21st century might be. Even at times where he pushes the historically accurate performance envelope, he remains convincing – his customary demeanour of endless elan and visceral expressiveness a reassurance. Underlying Lang’s individual approach to the Goldbergs, there is a bedrock of reference to those greats that came before him. For example: he has Peter Serkin’s delicacies in his ears, Gould’s formalism on his mind and Perahia’s precision in his heart. Some of his variations build upon preconceptions in performance practice, likely accumulated from those who came before. And then there are other moments, free and searching, springing forth with freshness and elation. He swims his way through this familiar music, taking it all in as a snorkeller does the first time he dips beneath the water’s surface: all is bright and beautiful, strange and luminous, experienced and expressed only by the swimmer and not by, or for, anyone else. Lang’s aquatic ecosystem is not without murk nor weed however, and at times he seems entrapped by microcosms of harmony or crossing of musical line. Occasionally, some thorny bit of coral gets tossed out of place but we are still along for the ride, convinced nonetheless. There is voyeuristic delight in the pianist cherishing his special designs; one can be charmed by the novelty on display. It’s as if Lang were discovering some of this music for the first time. He knows just how to turn in the water for us, just which treasures to reveal. As he shapes and cajoles the magnificent Goldbergs, a confidence and focus emerge that is by turns curious and admirable, and eventually, beguiling. From our vantage point in <strong>2020</strong>, we have as many ways to access this music as there are notes in Bach’s score and, increasingly, as there are artists who record the work. One must find their own catalogue of access points, as listener and as artist. Lang has clearly found his. Born of an international sense of Bach and the world’s collective appreciation for this music, Lang leads us on a journey to a highly individual state of being – but one with which we can identify. In the before time, when I was travelling or living abroad and began to miss my own home, it was Gould’s 1955 recording of the Goldbergs that I turned to, not to O Canada as an anthem It was Gould and Bach that offered me a sense of place as few other pieces could. I used to think such sentiments were germane to a large northern American country with a small, friendly population who claimed an artist, Glenn Gould, to be their own. I don’t think that now. Lang Lang’s new Goldberg recording is a case in point for finding your way home musically and understanding better the many access points that can get you there, wherever there may be. Adam Sherkin Concert Note: At time of going to press, American superstar organist, Cameron Carpenter, was scheduled to perform The Goldbergs at Koerner Hall on November 7 on his Marshall & Ogletree mobile, digitized, International Touring Organ, the culmination of a decade-long project for the organist, and now the exclusive organ on which he performs. According to Carpenter’s website, the instrument follows the musical and design influences of American municipal pipe organs from about 1895 to 1950 – organs built to support a vast range of classical and popular playing styles in concert halls, theatres and other public venues. It can be installed at a concert venue in three to five hours by its crew. The November 7 concert marks Carpenter’s return to Koerner Hall after his first appearance in 2016, the same year his Sony CD, All You Need Is Bach, was released. 50 | <strong>October</strong> <strong>2020</strong> thewholenote.com
DISCOVERIES | RECORDINGS REVIEWED DAVID OLDS 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 composers. 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 heights. 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 thewholenote.com <strong>October</strong> <strong>2020</strong> | 51