A Significant Premiere – Nov. 4, 2007

A Significant Premiere
Aventa Ensemble
Bill Linwood, conductor
Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, November 4, 2007
By Deryk Barker

“Conductor and composer Pierre Boulez was one of the most articulate members of the French postwar musical avant-garde, but now many music lovers believe his compositions are sonic sewage. Boulez played a role in driving contemporary music into a cul-de-sac.”

The above words were published in The New Statesman in March 2000, the year of Boulez’s 75th birthday. Frederick Stocken, the author, evidently has an axe to grind and is quite willing to twist the facts to suit his argument. The clear implication in the “but now many music lovers” is that these people have had some form of epiphany, causing them to realise that what they once considered significant, even great music, is actually “sonic sewage”.

What Stocken disingenuously ignores is the fact that “many music lovers” have always considered Boulez’s music to be “sonic sewage” (and that is the last time I shall employ that offensive phrase); good heavens, many music lovers have the same opinion of the music of Arnold Schoenberg and the Second Viennese School.

In rebuttal, I’d offer the fact that when rehearing the works which made Boulez’s name – notably Le Marteau sans maitre and Pli selon pli – I am once again struck by their power and beauty. No epiphany for this music lover.

And, to anyone who feels, like Stocken, that contemporary music is in a cul-de-sac, I’d suggest that the past several years of programming by Aventa indicate something altogether different.

Sunday evening’s concert concluded with a real coup: the North American premiere of Boulez’s Dérive II. For almost an hour, conductor Bill Linwood directed a performance as dazzling and scintillating as the music itself.

Boulez’s compositional fingerprints are write large on every bar and the music’s constantly shifting kaleidoscope proved absolutely mesmerising.

As we have come to expect, the playing of the ensemble was of a very high order indeed and Linwood’s control total.

Even by Aventa’s standards, this was a remarkable performance, a tour-de-force to match the music.

Kaija Saariaho’s Lichtbogen opened the evening, an eerily beautiful work. Although once or twice I was reminded of Ligeti (Atmospheres in particular), the abiding impression was of endlessly fascinating textures and sonorities.

Needless to say, it was beautifully played.

Gregory Lee Newsome has studied with Saariaho, yet there was no sense in which his in medias res sounded derivative.

With its varying tempos in the different instruments, pair of which sometimes engaged in conversation while the others provided commentary, the music rarely rose above mezzo-forte.

Of all the evening’s music, this was the piece I felt most needed a second hearing to make its full impact.

Fortunately the CBC were present recording the evening, so we should all have the opportunity for that second hearing at some point.

A truly remarkable evening’s music.