Real tears were shed on stage at the Music Gallery on Friday night, during the final set sung by the young mezzo Marta Herman in an intense and raw performance. After the elaborate “Lonh” by Saariaho (a version different from the one contained in her opera Love from Afar) in which the singer, negotiating with the pre-recorded abstract electronic soundtrack, combined the sung and the spoken word both amplified and unamplified, a more quiet and acoustic set followed, Sokolović’s “Love Songs”. So acoustic was it that it went without music altogether at moments – the singer spoke the words by Barrett Browning, parts of the Eluard’s “Ma morte vivante” (in French) and Catullus’s Ave atque vale (Hail and Farewell) in Latin and had to give them musicality without resorting to music. Petite in physique, Herman showed bold artistic instincts and was unafraid of emotional exposure and risk-taking.
The evening opened with Stephen Tam who played a set of four contemporary pieces for solo flute, many of which required extended techniques. There was a Sequenza by Luciano Berio, and a piece trying to imagine the sound of an exploding atomic bomb by Dai Fujikura, but what wowed me the most was “Pwyll” (1954) by Giacinto Scelsi.
The concert was part of the Music Gallery series dedicated to emerging artists (EMERGENTS I) , curated by Gregory Oh. The Music Gallery is in effect a secular name for a sanctuary of a small church downtown, an intimate space where, when the in-house lights go down, the night lights of the downtown fill the stained-glass windows. It’s also a space that welcomes experiment, the crossing of boundaries among musical genres, and freedom in musicianship. With its focus on contemporary music, living composers and emerging singers, it reminds that culture is not something that took place in the past, but something that is happening right now.
The dreamy photography that conveys exactly the atmosphere of the Friday night is by Tara Fillion.