Morton Feldman's "Short Trumpet Piece," a solo overture played by Marcus Goddard from the back of the auditorium, heralded bright sunbursts in advance of "Rain Coming," a short orchestral work by Toru Takemitsu that was as changeable in its tonality as Vancouver weather, and that put me in mind of the way the German painter Gerhard Richter is able to capture the complexity and startling vibrancy of so many shades of grey.
Next up was a 1915 cello sonata by Claude Debussy. In this intimate and playful work in three movements, the call and response between Ariel Barnes on cello and Jane Hayes on piano, particularly in the middle movement when both set about plucking their instruments in striking ways, conjured a dance of light and shadow, as when late afternoon sun filters through a leafy tree on a windy day and dapples the sidewalk in constantly shifting patterns.
Then came the centrepiece of the evening, the world premiere of Rodney Sharman's Chamber Symphony. Written in two movements, the first was a weird and wonderful jangle of dissonant sounds, like silvery icicles crackling in a wintry landscape that can't decide if it's warming up or getting colder. Things definitely get hotter in the second movement, a rousing take on the scherzo form, the strings now alighting a red flame beneath the other instruments.
After intermission there were two more works by Takemitsu and Debussy. Takemitsu's "Archipelago S." positioned the ensemble in five separate instrumental groups--including clarinetists François Houle and Caroline Gauthier in the upper balconies stage left and right--lonely islands connected by a deep blue sea of sound. And finally we heard Debussy's "Jeux," newly arranged by Michael Bushnell. Listening to its bright tempo changes (and influenced no doubt by the original Ballet Russes commission), I couldn't help seeing tennis whites, albeit requisitely dotted with strategic grass stains.
A most enjoyable evening of music, and a fitting tribute to Milton Wong, to whom the concert was dedicated.