Review by Danny Gaisin
With just a year shy of six decades of writing about classical music; one feels as though one has heard just about everything euphonic… not so. An intimate proscenium-style almost chamber orchestra phenomenon was held in the Studio Theatre next to Hamilton’s Great Hall. It was audibly; physically; emotionally and sensually effective. HPO conductor/host Gemma New presented five novel and extremely contemporary compositions that incorporated the creative multi-media art of Tony Viera. Both orchestra and audience were impacted by light and projected imagery that accompanied the creative works being interpreted. The effect was a full dimension of impression and sensation.
The first piece was titled ‘Prelude to Dawn’ by Kevin Lau. This is a new dimension of sensual impression and musical notation interpretation. Like the rest of the audience, our attention was more than rapt — it elicited a concentration and total focus.
The next offering was called ‘Moon in the clouds’ but titled in French. The composer is Salina Fisher, a diminutive young lady from Wellington, New Zealand, and an old classmate of the HPO’s conductor. Utilizing exotic trumpet muting effects and clarinet fingering were complimented with projected screen imagery that was fascinating and personally evocative of past emotional experiences.
Ending the first half, ‘Ninaivanjali’ by Gabriel Dharmoo that incorporates some traditional Indian music forms. Ms. New described the work as ‘groovy’ (apologies to Paul Simon!). Seated as we were inches (centimeters) from the piano & percussion; observing the exertions and executions of and by the musicians had its own impacts. Performing on a less than state-of-art Yamaha, Talisa Blackman demonstrated a right-hand talent worthy of Anton Kuerti. This is a requisite because she seemed to concentrate & replicate on keys 81 – 88 (or F7 — C8 if one is pianist). We were also able to intimately follow the peripatetic ambulations and chores demanded of percussionist Timothy Francom. Constantly busy, this young man was in constant motion moving between a myriad of sound=producing items. This scribe kept thinking of the hoary old joke about “Push the button; pull the lever” etc. and its scatological punchline! Back in the day (my day) radio sitcoms required sound effects; Francom could have made a terrific salary given his agility, fantastic ear and understanding of sound.
Intermission was its own part of the evening. Audiences were enticed to experience some of the props placed around the room. One was a large red box reminiscent of the obelisk in ‘2001 — a Space Odyssey’ which had eye holes and hand access portals that offered users a touchy-feely sensation well as opportunity to determine the items being stroked inside. Then, there were bottles of diverse odors for folks to attempt to discover the sources. We heard interpretations as Vicks Vapor-rub© another as being cough syrup; one as coconut oil, and the last had the odor of “Cracker Jacks”. Great fun and a clever vehicle to stimulate audience members to socialize and discuss impressions.
Post-interval, Jose Evangelista’s “O Bali”; a melodic piece that was portrayed on-screen by kaleidoscopic images of terpsichore in an almost synchronized swimming sequence. The composition itself utilized exotic flute and piano emphasis, counterpointed by Erica Goodman’s harp. Finally, Jocelyn Morlack’s “ZART” that tributes and somehow even emulated W.A.M.’s compositions. The piece is dreamlike and very melodic, evoking mental images of Zauberflote. This piece was then delicately and sensually interpreted by a solo dancer in flowing toga who’s every movement toe to fingertip expressed something. Totally Hula-like in presentation.
There were some moments when the HPO and its maestra seemed a little out of synch, but given the challenges of conducting & performing such unusual and demanding works; perhaps one more rehearsal might have made a difference. Still, this was just a slight glitch.
Saturday & Sunday, our HPO conductor will own the podium of the Toronto Symphony performing among other works, a piece by the HPO’s composer-in-residence. Watch this space for a critical review of same!