Sunday, January 29, 2012. Glenn Gould Studio, Toronto.
I would change the event subtitle, “Fashion as Art,” to “Chamber Music as Happening.” And if the question ” Can Fashion be Art?” asked by the charming and literate host Deidre Kelly were changed to “Can Fashion make a Chamber Music Concert Totally Happen?” then the answer would have to be TOTALLY!
Atelier Rosemarie Umetsu’s fashion show–a dozen drop-dead striking gowns paraded on stage before each piece of music by guest performers and Ford Agency Models —raised the emotional key of the event (before the music started) from the usual B flat bar wine to G sharp vintage champagne. Then came the music, three impeccable performances of three uniquely wonderful pieces of music—one of them amazing beyond words.
That was Trio for violin, clarinet and piano by Galina Ustvolskaya (1919-2006). The etherial voice of Amici Valdepeñas’ clarinet looses an extended solo flow of floaty eccentric intervals for a while. Then Amici Kradjian’s piano puts a staccato walking bass under it, and after a while, guest Lara St. John’s violin comes screaming in. We hear three separate lines moving past each other in the space with perfect articulation and timing (without any tempo indication from the score), sometimes crossing on a common note or phrase, sometimes contrapuntal, most often on their own paths, now quiet, expressive, now rigourously motorized, floating together like a cloud of birds riding an updraft.
The second movement, marked “Dolce”, pits the double-stopped violin attenuated to an orgasmic intensity against the melancholic serenity of the clarinet. The finale raises all spirits on a hectic klezmerish theme where strong, repetitive, percussive piano riffs hammer through to a serene but enigmatic close.
Ensemble members Valdepeñas and Hetherington (cello) were joined by accordionist Joseph Petric to premiere the commissioned work Breath of Fire, by Alice Ho. We were treated to many meanings during Ms. Ho’s introduction of the work including that the title indicates Qi; the three instruments could be manifestations of Qi—breath, air, and spirit— and there was the colour symbolism of the dresses. Very entertaining, but forgotten once the music began to happen.
Breath of Fire is a light, charming, melodic work, that burbles whimsically along by fits and staggers. It yields associations with natural movements like the scampering of rodents, the flitting of bats, the goofy jellywalk of pigeons, the fluttering of starlings, and the pursuit of squirrels. Into all this naturalness, Ms. Ho blends a winning, cosmopolitan touch in the style of Ravel and Poulenc. Brava! Brava!
Intermission included a fully backdropped and lit LIVE! fashion shoot by Bo Huang (Credits: Hair & Makeup Ivy Lam; Stylist Cameron Alexander). That made the lobby so crowded that in the excitement I almost put my drink down on Glenn Gould’s childhood piano.)
Ernest Chausson (1855-1899) wrote a gorgeous, quite crazy work in 4 movements—Concerto for piano, violin and string quartet, Op. 21. It has been aptly described as a “friendly competition between heterogenous elements, a solo violin, a string quartet, and a piano.” In our case, Serouj Kradjian at the keyboard looked like he was having a good time, and proved again that his musicality and sensitivity are second to none. The string quartet was the Cecilia, four women with firm control to follow Chausson’s leaps, acute on the details and going with the flow effortlessly. Lara St. John returned to the stage wearing Umetsu and gave an uninhibited, commanding account of the solo violin part. Together they gave the Chausson a more modern reading than I have ever heard: they brought out the freshness of his ideas and made the whole seem somehow more bountiful, like Paul Gonzalves’ 27 chorus sax solo at Newport ’56. Standing ovation.
Amici Ensemble’s next concert CAPRICCIO, Painting the Music, is on April 22, @ 3 pm, and will feature live on-stage painting and the music of Schulhoff, Debussy, Schoenberg and Janacek.
To see what we saw, check out Atlier Umetsu’s website.
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