Volume 28 Issue 1 | September 20 - November 8, 2022

Our 28th season in print! “And Now, Back to Live Action”; a symphonic-sized listings section, compared to last season; clubs “On the move” ; FuturesStops Festival and Nuit Blanche; “Pianistic high-wire acts”; Season announcements include full-sized choral works like Mendelssohn’s Elijah; “Icons, innovators and renegades” pulling out all the stops.

Our 28th season in print! “And Now, Back to Live Action”; a symphonic-sized listings section, compared to last season; clubs “On the move” ; FuturesStops Festival and Nuit Blanche; “Pianistic high-wire acts”; Season announcements include full-sized choral works like Mendelssohn’s Elijah; “Icons, innovators and renegades” pulling out all the stops.


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Russian composer Nicolai Korndorf (1947-

2001) was a co-founder of the “new” ACM

(association for contemporary music) in

Moscow in 1990, but upon the dissolution

of the Soviet Union he emigrated to

Canada the following year. Russia’s loss

was Canada’s gain and for a decade, until

his sudden death in 2001, Korndorf was

an associate composer of the Canadian

Music Centre and an integral part of Vancouver’s contemporary music

scene. The Smile of Maud Lewis (Redshift Records TK516 redshiftrecords.org),

released to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the

composer’s birth, features three works “that mark a creative highpoint

and artistic rite of passage from his native Russia to Canada.”

As the liner notes point out, all three are based on thematic material

from earlier works. The booklet includes notational examples of these

themes from Con Sordino for 16 strings and the included Lullaby,

both dating from 1984, which became a sort of signature for Korndorf

in his later works.

The disc begins with the title work, a tribute to the Nova Scotia

folk artist who lived from 1903 until 1970. Korndorf said in an interview

in 1998: “Discovering the art of Maud Lewis was the most

important cultural experience for me since moving to Canada.” The

Smile of Maud Lewis captures the sunny disposition and sense of

wonder inherent in Lewis’ paintings, with a joyous ostinato of mallet

percussion, celesta, flute/piccolo/recorder and full strings underpinning

long, melodious horn lines. Somewhat reminiscent of early

John Adams, with swelling cadences à la Philip Glass, the work

builds dynamically Bolero-like throughout its quarter-hour length,

only relaxing in its final minute to a glorious, gentle close. Conductor

Leslie Dala captures both the exuberance and the nuance of this

sparkling work.

Triptych for cello and piano opens abruptly with raucous chords in

the cello which gradually resolve into an extended solo Lament in

which Ariel Barnes is eventually joined by pianist Anna Levy. Levy

begins the second movement Response with an ostinato once again

drawing on Korndorf’s signature themes, this time supporting an

extended melody line in the cello. Quiet pizzicato opens the final

Glorification before arco cello and piano counterpoint gradually grow

into celebratory ecstasy. Jane Hayes joins Levy for the final two tracks,

Korndorf’s above-mentioned ebullient, though quiet, Lullaby for two

pianos, and the gentle half-light, somnolent rains for piano duo by his

former student Jocelyn Morlock, written in tribute to her mentor on

the fifth anniversary of his death. These marvellous performances are

a strong testament to the importance Nicolai Korndorf and his legacy.

The title of this next disc, ppp (i.e. pianississimo),

led me to expect a quiet and contemplative

experience; it turns out, however,

to be an acronym for the last names of

the Latvian composers involved: Pēteris

Plakidis, Kristaps Pētersons and Georgs

Pelēcis. ppp features Gidon Kremer and his

Kremerata Baltica (LMIC/SKANI 139 skani.

lv) in works for various chamber combinations and for full ensemble.

It begins with Little Concerto for two violins (1991) by Plakidis (1947-

2019), a three-movement work performed by Kremer and Madara

Pētersone, which reminds me of Bartók and Berio violin duos with its

folk-like idioms and exuberance. Pētersons (b.1982) performs his own

craggy Ground for double bass solo and is joined by Iurii Gavrilyuk

and Andrei Pushkarev for π = 3,14 for two double basses, percussion

and recording, a work somewhat suggestive of a sci-fi soundtrack.

Pētersons’ Music for Large Ensemble is performed by Kremerata

Lettonica, a nine-piece string ensemble supplemented with electric

guitar played by the composer. This too seems to have electronic

aspects, presumably executed by the guitarist since no recording is

mentioned. It is in three movements, the last and lengthiest of which

is nominally minimalist and features violin solos themselves reminiscent

of electric guitar lines.

Three pieces from Fiori Musicali (2017-2022) by Pelēcis (b.1947)

prove to be the most traditional on the album, the use of vibraphone

as soloist with string orchestra notwithstanding. Pelēcis named his

“blooming garden” after a collection of liturgical organ works by

Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643). The middle movement Dance of

the Peonies has definite shades of Respighi about it. Cosmea

Melancholy features Kremer as soloist, and once again we hear the

vibraphone in an unusual context in this gloomy finale to a somewhat

surprising disc.

Speaking of string ensembles, the

All-American Cello Band performs the

title track of the CD The Strange Highway

featuring music by Iranian-American

composer Gity Razaz (b.1986) (BIS-2634

bis.se). (I feel compelled to point out that

this so-called all-American band includes

the Halifax-born Denise Djokic of the

famed Nova Scotia musical dynasty, and

also Icelander Sæunn Thorsteinsdóttir, although admittedly they both

currently reside in America.) The Strange Highway takes its title from

a poem by Chilean writer Roberto Bolaño: “You wish the angst would

disappear / While rain falls on the strange highway / Where you find

yourself.” Razaz says she was “moved by the potent sense of desolation

and vulnerability expressed through the poem’s imagery.” The cello

octet she has created, beginning with a driving, almost violent, moto

perpetuo that gradually shifts into lyrical melancholia before coming

full circle and effectively “capture[s] and recreate[s] these emotions.”

The next three works are for smaller forces – Duo for violin and

piano, Legend of the Sigh for cello and electronics and Spellbound for

solo viola – composed in 2007, 2015 and 2020 respectively. Francesca

daPasquale and Scott Cuellar shine in the two movements of the Duo

that explores contrasting aspects of a single melody. Inbal Segev is

the dedicatee of Legend and he performs the challenging yet lyrical

live and pre-recorded cello parts against an eerie and effective electronic

backdrop. Katharina Kang Litton is the soloist in the haunting

Spellbound, based on an original melody that “evokes the improvisatory

lyricism of traditional Persian music.”

The final work, Metamorphosis of Narcissus for chamber orchestra

thewholenote.com September 20 - November 8, 2022 | 47

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