Tuesday, January 24, 2012

PuSh 2012 Review #4: Eve Egoyan at Heritage Hall

Classical music is the one performance modality about which I have always felt reluctant to offer critical commentary. I simply lack the knowledge and technical vocabulary to describe it accurately and in depth. But I do know what I like, including the repertoire of contemporary minimalist composers like Arvo Pärt (everything) and Philip Glass (not quite everything). I admit that I am shamefully ignorant of much of the oeuvre of the late Canadian composer Ann Southam, who blazed a trail both acoustically and electronically for women composers in this country until her untimely death in 2010. Last night that was remedied somewhat as the PuSh Festival, partnering with the amazing Music on Main series curated by David Pay, presented Eve Egoyan playing "Simple Lines of Enquiry," a piece composed for her by Southam in 2007.

"Simple Lines" is a 60-minute piece structured in 12 movements, each exploring what Southam calls "the emotional possibilities ... and the sonorities" within a 12-interval row. It is a gently contemplative piece; there is no percussive banging of the piano keys, and the spaces between the notes are as important as the notes themselves. Indeed, watching Egoyan's body as it rose and fell with each intake of breath, as her hands seemed to glide over rather than press upon the keyboard, and as she applied more or less pedal, reminded me that there is more than one way to create resonance from such a magnificent instrument (a Fazioli grand in this case). The ambient sounds of Heritage Hall and Main Street inevitably became part of the piece as well, with the clock tower's striking of 9 pm creating an especially wonderful counterpoint around the same movement in the work. However, I was less taken with some of the sounds created by my fellow patrons: I understand why drinks are served at such events, but can we not restrict them to beer and wine? Ice clinking in plastic cups is the last thing one wants to hear during a work like this.

Though beautiful to listen to, I wouldn't say that "Simple Lines" is the easiest work to sit through. In my struggle to make as little noise as possible, I found myself holding my breath and my limbs cramping at certain points. But, strangely, this disciplining of the body opens up further avenues into the music, almost like chakras traveling up one's spine, reminding one that the sound and silence are part of the same continuum.

Egoyan plays "Simple Lines" again this evening at 8 pm.


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