Sunday, January 21, 2018

PuSh 2018: Radio Rewrite at the Norman Rothstein Theatre

At last year's PuSh Festival, Turning Point Ensemble Artistic Director Owen Underhill put together an amazing program of music that situated the compositions of rock star Frank Zappa alongside the work of Edgard Varèse and John Oswald. For this year's festival he's done something similar, pairing work by Radiohead guitarist Johnny Greenwood with pieces by Olivier Messiaen, Christopher Butterfield, and Steve Reich. The concerts just concluded a two-evening run at the Norman Rothstein Theatre last night.

I had no idea that Greenwood had such an interest in classical and orchestral music, let alone that he had composed numerous pieces for the ondes martenot, an early electronic instrument invented in France after WWI that Messiaen favoured, and which looks like a keyboard and sounds a bit like a theremin. Two ondes martenots were on stage last night and guest TPE artists Estelle Lemire and Geneviève Grenier were featured soloists on all but three pieces. These included a world premiere, Short Room, by local composer Christopher Butterfield, and a new arrangement by Lemire of a 1937 piece by Messiaen, Dieuxième Oraison.

I was most taken with the sound of the ondes martenot when it was paired with the wind instruments, especially the lone french horn in Butterfield's piece. It really is a remarkable instrument and once again I am grateful to Underhill and TPE for bringing to audiences' attention its unsung musical history and influence.


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