Monday, January 30, 2017

PuSh 2017: Zappa Meets Varèse and Oswald

Who knew that Turning Point Ensemble Artistic Director Owen Underhill was such a Frank Zappa fan? Or that Zappa, who apparently kept putting out rock and roll records (first with his band the Mothers of Invention, and then as a solo artist) so he could keep composing his orchestral works, was so influenced by French composer Edgard Varèse, one of the pioneers of musique concrète? In fact, the answer to both questions forms the basis for TPE's latest concert, Zappa Meets Varèse and Oswald: The Present Day Composer Refuses to Die, presented with the PuSh Festival at SFU Woodward's this past weekend. The third composer in this equation of influence is Canadian John Oswald, whose early experiments in "plunderphonics" prefigured contemporary sampling practices, and who was commissioned to write a new work, Refuse, for this concert.

I don't think I've ever seen so many musicians on stage at a TPE concert, and in the large ensemble pieces by Zappa especially one really felt the swing and rhythm of the wind instruments and percussion (there were three artists overseeing that section) and, of course, guitars. Indeed, the last piece on the program, G-Spot Tornado, was accompanied by a brisk, mamboesque duet choreographed by my colleague Rob Kitsos and performed by dancers Diego Romero and Anya Saugstad. The commission by Oswald, in "emulating Varèse's ascending octaves and fifths, and incorporating Zappa's rapid-fire collage of disparate genres," takes as its starting point some of the pop songs that were at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 list in January 1966. It also blends in references to other recognizable television and movie theme songs in order to suggest that in the detritus of musical history one can also find a shared signature that transcends time and place and narrow and isolationist ideologies (Varèse, who spent many years in the US teaching and conducting, was a committed internationalist, once proposing a "League of Nations of Art").

In these bleak times that's an idea I can snap my fingers to.


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