Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Janet Cardiff - Forty Part Motet @ WAG (to 28 April 2013)

You can hear the voices from the next room in the gallery, and are drawn in by the sound. Normally an avid reader of the gallery cards explaining the piece and its creator, I pushed past this, around the corner to the darkened room. A perimeter of speakers in an oval shape greeted me, with a group of benches in the centre. People sat, eyes closed, absorbing the sound, or moved through the space. My 8 year old daughter wanted to explore, so we circled the room, sometimes following the sound, and sometimes felt we were causing the sound to occur.

What was really remarkable was precisely what Cardiff desired the experience to be, the sensation of climbing inside sound. I've sung in a circle before, and even listened in a circle to others singing, however the sensation caused here felt different somehow. Perhaps it was just that - the sensory deprivation of a darkened room with no other objects, no colours. Looking at photographs, there have been versions of this in beautifully ornate churches, or more livened rooms, which I'm sure created another slightly unique experience.

I strongly recommend taking this in - the piece will be at the WAG until 28 April under regular admission.

For more info, check here:,exhibition/125/janet-cardiff-forty-part-motet

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Follies - Dry Cold Productions for SondheimFest 2013

Apologies, as this post is late-coming.

Dry Cold have made their name in Winnipeg for producing challenging and mature musical theatre (Read: mainly Sondheim) so when the festival was announced it was no surprise that they would opt to mount yet another production of his work. This time, the selection was for Follies - Sondheim's postcard to the glory days of New York Theatre. The show itself is not, in my opinion, Sondheim's strongest work. The piece comes through as a revue, mimicing the type of show a true follies would have been, however at the same time aims to give storyline, showing what occurs when two couples are back together with one another once again, and interested in the wrong partner. The music in Follies is memorable and challenging. Despite the play itself lacking in drive, the songs serve their purpose well. Significant pieces include Broadway Baby and Losing my Mind.

Dry Cold have assembled in this cast some of the serious heavy-hitters in Winnipeg's musical theatre elite. Donna Fletcher, Brenda Gorlick, and Carson Nattras sparkle, demonstrating their ability to commit serious emotion within a song. Patricia Hunter's cheeky rendition of Broadway Baby is the kind of "selling a song" that I only wish more performers were capable of. However unfortunately the strength of the production falls on the acting chops of the cast, and as a whole, becomes stilted. The feeing of cohesiveness one expects from a full length production is missing. Additionally, the pieces of the 2nd act which function as fantasy for the 4 lead characters were tough to distinguish from the style of the rest of the production, so this more clever piece of Sondheim's writing was lost.

Overall it was a master class in performance from some, but as a full production did not hang together the way I would want it to.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Steve Reich's Chamber Music - at WSO New Music Festival (Winnipeg)

Steve Reich is a name unknown to many, however his influence is heard in the music many of us listen to day to day. Considered to be a "father" of the minimalist movement in music, Reich's work has served as inspiration for countless numbers of the contemporary indie and dance music creators. He is, without exaggeration, one of the most exciting artists living and practicing today.

31 January the WSO New Music Festival featured 4 of his chamber pieces in concert, as part of their feature of Reich for this year's festival.

Opening with a performance of his piece, Clapping Music, the evening began with excitement. The piece, written for rhythms created only by 4 sets of hands, hearkens to folk music traditions such as flamenco or african drumming. As the rhythms depart from one another to syncopation, then intertwine seamlessly, the phasing of the same instrument making the same sound is almost trance-inducing.

Next, a quartet of string musicians from the WSO performed Reich's moving Different Trains. Reich is one of (if not the) first to begin experimenting with recorded sound and live sound in a musical setting, allowing the two to converse. Different trains begins with recorded sounds of America Before the War - train destinations, and a rhythmic chugging created when the recorded and live violins work together. Seamlessly, though, the trains and voice overs grow ominous, and the recordings are no longer happy destinations, but statements of fear. My 8 year old daughter attended the concert with me, and was moved to tears over the feelings of uneasiness induced by the second movement. The third movement's sounds reflect what we heard in the first, but our experience of them differs after having heard the second movement and its danger. Reich spoke in the subsequent Q & A about the desire to have rhythms change out of nowhere, and thus the role of the recorded strings. Their impact elicits a strange feeling of the impetus for change existing outside our own control, in my mind.

Next came New York Counterpoint, a clever and cheeky clarinet piece which counterpoints against several recorded saxaphones. Again here, the impact of phasing, the live mix of recorded and live sound causes an uncanny sensation of confusion in the ear, which is very satisfying.

Finally, In Tandem, which paired Reich's Double Sextet with choreography from Peter Quanz and outstanding dancers from the Royal Winnipeg Ballet. With the musicians on stage, surrounding the dancers, the 3 movements of the piece truly felt like an experience of the dance and music working together. Both could exist independently, however experiencing them together brought forward a heightened experience of the two. (more on this idea from me later...things are brewing). Quanz' choreography with its broken shapes and complex detail fit impeccably with Reich's music. To be honest, I have trouble finding sufficient vocabulary to express how outstanding this piece truly was.

Some more thoughts on the performance here: Winnipeg Free Press - Review

And a bit more about Different Trains here: CBC Scene - Different Trains