Life on the (Cutting) Edge – Nov. 15, 2009

Life on the (Cutting) Edge
Müge Büyükçelen, violin
Aventa Ensemble
Bill Linwood, conductor
Phillip T Young Recital Hall
November 15, 2009
By Deryk Barker (Music in Victoria)
“You would not think to look at him / But he was famous long ago / For playing the electric violin / On Desolation Row.”

While not making any comparisons between the expanded Aventa Ensemble and the bizarre cast of characters who inhabit Bob Dylan’s fictitious street, nor between soloist Müge Büyükçelen and Dylan’s “Einstein disguised as Robin Hood”, there was undoubtedly a touch of the eclectic about Yannick Plamondon’s La Fenêtre II, an Aventa commission receiving its first performance on Sunday night.

Scored for solo electric violin (the electricity is for amplification rather than effects), strings (two violins, viola, cello and doublebass), brass (two each of horns, trumpets and trombones), piano and a large battery of percussions, Plamondon’s new concerto made an immediate impact – as did Büyükçelen’s remarkable playing.

Although there were passages which occasionally summoned up other composers (Stravinsky in the opening section, Copland at the close) these influences are thoroughly absorbed into a work which grabbed the attention from its opening whiplash chords and never once let up.

<blockquote>Büyükçelen has never impressed more than she did here, producing a far more attractive tone than one might have expected from the electronics, displaying a formidable rhtymic vitality in the quicker music and a delicious lyricism (with, at times, a huge vibrato) in the slower.</blockquote>

My only previous encounter with Plamondon’s music (almost four years ago, also at an Aventa concert) left me somewhat ambivalent; that ambivalence was swept away on Sunday night. La Fenêtre II is a tremendously exciting and involving piece and I cannot imagine a more idiomatic or persuasive performance.

There was just one aspect of the music which, for me, did not work. Towards the close, percussionist Corey Rae began striking what looked suspiciously like one of those metal covers you sometimes see covering plates of food in restaurants. It made a very unsatisfying sound (which I personally would render as “thunk”) which did not seem quite to fit.

James Beckwith Maxwell’s intueri, which opened the programme, was another immediately attractive – albeit perhaps not in the conventional sense of the word – piece.

Its most memorable music was probably in the two quick triple-time sections – dammit, I am going to call them waltzes, because that is how they felt – which were intense, loud (oh yes) and marvellously engaging.

There was also a lengthy piano solo with much tuned percussion accompanying, interesting antiphonal brass effects and much more. This was music which did not even come close to outstaying its welcome.

George Benjamin’s At First Light was both the oldest work on the programme (dating from 1982, by Aventa’s standards this is almost historical) and the toughest nut to crack, alternating, as it did, between passages of luminous beauty and others of earsplitting busy-ness, with the occasional texture which reminded one of Benjamin’s teacher, Olivier Messiaen.

All of this music – of varying difficulty for the listener, of almost unrelenting difficulty for the performers – was played with an almost frightening accuracy, despite the presence of at least half a dozen non-regular members of the ensemble.

And, it almost goes without saying, Bill Linwood directed performances which not only hit all the notes, but also – by turns – excited, entranced and even danced.