Canadian tour a real treat – Jan. 4 2011

Aventa Ensemble tackles difficult music with skill and passion
Aventa Ensemble
Bill Linwood, conductor
Mark McGregor, flute
Music Gallery, Toronto ON
January 4 2011
From Thursday’s Globe and Mail

<strong>Victoria band’s Canadian tour a real treat</strong>

Aventa Ensemble
At the Music Gallery in Toronto on Tuesday

At a Toronto concert last month, two pieces were repeated as soon as they were done, because they were new, short and “fun to play.” If the old tradition of audience-prompted reprises had been in effect during the Aventa Ensemble’s Tuesday concert, I would have gone for a second helping of André Ristic’s Six apparitions de Lénine sur un piano.

The piece, which takes its title from a painting by Salvador Dali, bustled into the Music Gallery like a collection of homemade contraptions of sure but whimsical purpose. They would work together for a while, setting up little routines in woodwinds or strings, till a loud drum tattoo or piano chords silenced them and set off a new group of mechanisms. The piano often made its points violently, marching up and down pungent scales, loosing an enraged commotion after violin and viola broke from the prevailing percussive temper to launch a lyrical duet. Rude blasts from what sounded like a toy horn punctuated a peppery section for woodwinds.

The piece’s overt clowning was matched by the ingenuity of Ristic’s transfers of energy and material from one section or instrument to another. However abrupt or surprising his next move, it always found a logical place in this buoyant, sportive music. It seems less pertinent to talk about style than character – the piece had a real personality, fractured and eccentric, but fun to meet and remember.

Jordan Nobles’s new In una rete di linee che s’intrecciano took off from some pages by Italo Calvino, though its musical atmosphere seemed at least a half-century older than Calvino’s earliest writings. A languid Art Nouveau feeling dominated the piece, which made much of a silky chromatic figure reminiscent of the one that begins Debussy’s Prélude a l’après-midi d’un faune. With no conductor, and hardly any fixed tempo, the players adroitly followed each other’s cues to bring off a fragrant and pretty premiere that, for me, vanished without trace the second it was over.

Piotr Grella-Mozejko’s new Tombeau sur la mort de Monsieur Gorecki was a concerto of sorts, for alto flute and small orchestra. Mark McGregor’s flute pushed and pulled at the pitches it arrayed above the ensemble’s slow prismatic chords, at moments sounding like a very low, slow siren. The solo part gradually grew busier and more vehement, a change that, given the subject – the death of an admired fellow composer – might be taken as a kind of a graveside protest against mortality. That’s always an awkward form of address, especially if you’re not the one making it.

The concert closed with a performance of Pierre Boulez’s Dérive II, in the revised and extended version Boulez completed four years ago. Imagine a Rubik’s cube, constantly changing its surface patterns and constantly expanding, adding new combinations every moment. That gives you an idea of the restless concision and prolixity of this 45-minute piece, drawn from a handful of chords based on six pitches. <blockquote>It was by turns fascinating and exhausting. I sometimes felt I was being held captive inside a giant musical brain; but Boulez is too sensual, and too much a man of the theatre, to let any moment go by without some sensory thrill or dramatic flourish.</blockquote>

I can hardly give enough praise to the 13 players of Victoria’s Aventa Ensemble and conductor Bill Linwood, who tackled all this difficult music with skill, passion and dedication. How lucky for all of us that this band is able to tour the country, for the second time in less than a year.

The Aventa Ensemble plays McGill’s Tanna Hall in Montreal on Thursday, Muttart Hall at Edmonton’s Alberta College on Friday, and Calgary’s Rozsa Centre on Saturday.