Music and Dance in Different Rooms

Last night, we went to the sec­ond in a series of three con­certs by the Van­cou­ver Sym­pho­ny at the Round­house, a Com­mu­ni­ty Cen­ter in Yale­town. It’s an appeal­ing venue, because it’s unpre­ten­tious, and clear­ly busy doing what com­mu­ni­ty cen­ters do; host­ing bas­ket­ball, ping-pong, hock­ey and oth­er sports, pro­vid­ing class­es for arts, crafts and learn­ing an instru­ment, etc.

For these con­certs, they’ve been using one or more of the black-box the­atres (with bleach­ers) for cham­ber music up to cham­ber orches­tra con­certs. If some­one was wor­ried that clas­si­cal music con­certs were bor­ing or stuffy, these con­certs are an anti­dote for that per­cep­tion. While just on the edge of being ‘gim­micky’, both of the con­certs so far have had lots of extra-musi­cal attrac­tions. The first one, back in Jan­u­ary, includ­ed Voic­es from the Gallery by Stephen Paulus, with dra­mat­ic read­ings by an actress who spoke for var­i­ous works of art (pro­ject­ed above). We got to hear what per­haps Bosch’s Gar­den of Earth­ly Delights, Christi­na from Wyeth’s Christi­na’s World, the dour look­ing farmer from Grant Wood’s Amer­i­can Goth­ic, and even the Mona Lisa might have to say for them­selves with some colouris­tic, if a lit­tle over­whelmed music by Paulus.

Last night’s con­cert was sim­i­lar­ly full of non-musi­cal ele­ments. It was actu­al­ly a Dance pre­sen­ta­tion as well, with the VSO col­lab­o­rat­ing with the Koko­ro Dance Com­pa­ny. The most inter­est­ing part of this com­bi­na­tion was per­haps its logis­tics: the live musi­cians per­formed in one room (again, black box with bleach­ers), while the dancers per­formed in anoth­er (same set­up). If you chose to sit in the room with the dancers, the music was piped in. If you chose to be in the room with the orches­tra (as we did), the dance was pro­ject­ed on a large screen above, as seen by 3 cam­eras, some­times super­im­pos­ing dif­fer­ent views. For one of the works, In Mem­o­ry by Joan Tow­er (a poignant and at times rest­less trib­ute to a friend who had died as well as a reac­tion to the attacks of 9/11), the dancers and musi­cians switched rooms. I found the dance ele­ment some­what inter­est­ing, but much of it seemed extra icing on a cake that did­n’t need it, at least for me. Pam felt dif­fer­ent­ly, and was more drawn to the extra visu­al ele­ments. I sus­pect that her opin­ion was clos­er to the oth­er audi­ence members.

For me though, the high­light of the con­cert was the last piece on the pro­gram, a piece called Mon­day and Tues­day by Michael Torke. I knew Michael as a fel­low stu­dent back in the 80s at the East­man School of Music in Rochester, NY. It was a time in my life when I was pret­ty depressed (I lat­er learned that I was prob­a­bly suf­fer­ing from Sea­son­al Affec­tive Dis­or­der, as Rochester is one of the dark­est cities in North Amer­i­ca), so I don’t remem­ber much from those years. He was a bright spot amongst the com­posers back then, and I even went so far as to tell him after I heard his ground-break­ing Vana­da (a cham­ber piece based on Nabokov’s Loli­ta for elec­tron­ic key­boards, winds and per­cus­sion) and that I thought he was ‘the future’. He went on to work as a suc­cess­ful com­pos­er with rel­a­tive­ly lit­tle aca­d­e­m­ic work (some­thing that is almost unheard of in Clas­si­cal Music cir­cles). He wrote sev­er­al com­mis­sions for bal­let music, two ora­to­rios, orches­tral and cham­ber works, and a few operas. He was first Asso­ciate Com­pos­er with the Roy­al Scot­tish Orches­tra in 1998 and has since start­ed his own record label, Ecsta­t­ic Records, which is car­ried by the iTunes music store. Mon­day and Tues­day was writ­ten back in 1992, and had its first per­for­mance that year in Lon­don with the Lon­don Sin­foni­et­ta. It reminds me some­what of the music he was writ­ing when we were stu­dents togeth­er, and if any­thing, sounds even more strong­ly influ­enced by Steve Reich, who we were both fas­ci­nat­ed with at the time.

Actu­al­ly, I do remem­ber Michael hand­ing me the ear­phones in his dorm room to hear Reich’s Ver­mont Coun­ter­point and me grin­ning like an idiot as I heard it for the first time. I also remem­ber him say­ing ‘It’s like heav­en would sound like, isn’t it?’ I also can recall the two of us try­ing to explain to his clar­inetist girl­friend why a par­tic­u­lar har­mon­ic pro­gres­sion in the slow move­ment of Poulenc’s Clar­inet Sonata thrilled both of us.

I’d like to hear what he’s writ­ing these days, because I found many of his orches­tral works of the late 80’s and mid 90’s (Bright Blue Music, Javelin for the 1996 Olympics) bland and dis­ap­point­ing. He’s been busy in the inter­ven­ing years, and strange­ly enough, the last time I heard his music played live was back in school; It’s tak­en over 13 years and a move to a dif­fer­ent coun­try for me to hear a con­cert with a piece by Michael Torke on it again.