The Happenstancers strike again.
A shape-shifting ensemble of musicians formed around clarinetist (not to mention visual artist) Brad Cherwin recently concluded their first proper season with a concert on the theme of fugues: from the actual Bach fugues from the Well-Tempered Clavier transcribed for woodwinds and strings to the pieces by our contemporaries whose music, Cherwin argues, is in conversation with Bach. As you can see in the program, the fugues themselves tend to return, but as the evening progresses they are getting more and more unrecognizable. The next to last one is recomposed by Cherwin and cellist Sarah Gans in the manner of Terry Riley’s In C, and the very last one, the Whisperfugue, is played with minimum attack on each instrument (barely any breath coming into the clarinet, the lightest of touches on strings etc) and the phrase that repeats loses the note at the end each time it returns. This was quite a tense (and intense) experience, as everybody performed in an unnatural suspended mode.
The Augusta Read Thomas, Ann Southam, Vivier and Dusapin pieces were all extraordinary. Clearly no fillers in this program! Vivier’s and Dusapin’s pieces only posit one woodwind against one string instrument, but each teases out the difference in the colour of the sound and makes most of that difference. Dusapin’s (clarinet-cello) almost flirt with the klezmer and Piazzolla vibes and it has a certain heat (dare I say warmth) that not a lot of composers in the modernist tradition practice.
The concert started a little awkwardly with a stiff, brio-less rendition of the first fugue. Inordinate amount of time was spent on tuning before and after each piece, but with a program like this, you just can’t be irritated by it. Do whatcha have to do, I have all the time. The first piece had me wondering though if the instruments were period ones, and if that was the reason the thing sounded so somber and down half a step. Things improved immediately with the second piece when the ensemble found its electrical current and did not let it subside. The only contemporary piece of the evening that sounded ever so slightly dry and academic was Omar Daniel’s Giuoco delle coppie for two violins.
Cherwin creates visuals for each of the concerts — both the imagery and the musical programming are formed at the same time, as one entity. He explained in one of the intervals that what ignited (heh) this show of the superimposed and transposed and transcribed Bach was the Andy Warhol portrait of Friedrich the Great at the Sans-Souci in Potsdam. “As soon as I saw it, I knew: this is it, this is what needs to be done, Bach in electric colours”. The concert took place in the still not entirely gentrified but very popular Geary Avenue area, at the Costume House just east of Dufferin. It’s a new, relatively affordable loft place to rent and it has its charms (ventilation kicking in adds a layer of sound to the performance, as does the looong train passing on nearby tracks). The tinkered-with Bach faces (by Cherwin – pen tablet drawings) were looking at us from every corner. I’m really enjoying the four Bachs in outrageous colours that I brought home.
There will be new good stuff to announce in the next year, maybe even a mini-music festival, and an all-Dusapin evening. Let’s all stay tuned.