Ronen Givony (pictured) the impresario behind this season's new Wordless Music Series, told the mostly young and trendy crowd last night at the Good-Shepherd Faith Church that a big motivation for putting together this series was to shake up the standard conventions of music programming.
"The first group you'll hear tonight calls themselves an indie rock outfit," he said. "The second says they play chamber music. I've heard them both, and I can't honestly tell the difference. Maybe someone can explain it to me."
At first hearing, it's clear that our neighbours (sic) to the north are less concerned about musical genres than making cool sounds, regardless of whatever instrument they happen to be playing, or whether it's notated or improvised. I couldn't help but draw parallels to the Arcade Fire's sold out shows at the Village's Judson Church last month, and how their large ensemble also blends rock and acoustic instruments in powerful combinations.
The first group, Polmo Polpo, is the mostly solo project of Sandro Perri, who plays steel guitar and laptop. He was joined here by a small brass section, cello and electric guitar, adding a darker tone to his ambient compositions. The first piece, Like Hearts Swelling, took a long time to get going, but ended with a bowed guitar leading into what to me sounded like the Adagietto from Mahler's 5th Symphony. With one difference: after the instruments faded away, an unsettling electronic hum lingered for another full minute. Eerily, the lights flickered on and off, as if demon spirits had suddenly invaded the sacred space.
Toca Loca started their set with Georges Aperghis' Le corps a corps (1978) a rousing, almost primitive work for solo percussion and vocals, performed by Aiyun Huang. Next was pianist Simon Docking from Tuesday's MATA Festival performing Dai Fujikura's Half-Remembered City for piano four hands with his friend Gregory Oh. Docking said beforehand that Fujikura wrote the piece so that the two performers' hands would often be intertwined, hoping the performers would develop an "intimate relationship."
"Greg's a good friend," Docking joked, "but I'm sorry to say our relationship hasn't progressed beyond that."
Andrew Staniland joined the group to perform his own Adventure Music, which he accurately described as being like the sound of an ice pack breaking apart. They finished with Louis Andriessen's minimalist composition Workers Union (1975), which was written without specific pitches for "untrained musicians" of no particular instrumentation, other than they be loud and play "with conviction." As the title indicates, it is a politically motivated work, designed to give the musicians (i.e., the "workers") more freedom to play as they see fit.
Even more loose was the piece that concluded the program, Terry Riley's In C. Polmo Polpo and Toca Loco were joined by members of the Social Music Work Group, a loose organization of Toronto rock musicians who have been performing In C in various size ensembles over the past year. In C requires all musicians to play the same 53 "melodic patterns" in sequence, repeating each an unspecified number of times before moving to the next pattern. Riley doesn't tell the performers to play together, nor does he say if they should play loud, soft, slow or fast, the result being that the music often connects and contrasts in unexpected ways. I was often lulled into a state of submission by the hour-long performance, only to be jolted back to attention by a sudden unison or crescendo. When it finally ended, In C got the biggest applause of the night.
The next Wordless Music performance will be on Monday, April 2, featuring musicians from Iceland and Switzerland. Tickets are $15, and includes all the Two Buck Chuck you can quaff. (I saw several youngun's around me drinking straight from the bottle - you won't see that at Carnegie!)
Waiting on the subway platform to head back to Brooklyn, I was joined by a huge crowd that had just gotten out of the Met's new production Richard Strauss' The Egyptian Helena. No disrespect to the Strauss, which I wouldn't mind seeing, but I couldn't help smiling a little, thinking of who had the better night out.