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  Arts Culture Analysis  
Vol. 15, No. 2, 2016
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music reviews by



Performance at Usine C, May 16th, .2016

SMCQ presented a dissonant but interesting multi-media sound and visual event of tragic overtones in the main work featured. Titled, "Le Petit Livret des Ravalets,” what we witnessed was inspired by a true shameful story. Originally written in the 19th century by French novelist Barbey d’Aurevilly (1808-89), the subject matter was daringly exposed. In the 20th century, the event was turned into theatrical work by Mignolet Brochocka. Its third reincarnation we saw with SMCQ, a sparse opera of sorts where ancient instruments and a completely modern score utilized two singers, two readers and a narrator and a projection of two lovers moving in slow motion to recreate this love story of incest: two nobles – a brother and sister broke the taboo of love and eventually were hung for their wrong deed.

Modernized in music (John Rea wrote this opera in 1983) and text, Brochocka cast his own moral views in the text while condemning the Inquisition that was happening during the time of these doomed siblings. So from the 16th-century all the way to the present, the story has endured. I did not care for the story nor the opera, but Walter Boudreau conducted a marvellously atonal and skittishly rhythmic piece that required all kinds of ancient instruments and weird ones, including a tubular swing in the air thing that resembled 'snake' floater for swimming. Suzie LeBlanc has a lovely soprano voice, but Marie-Annick Béliveau who performed Harry Somer’s piece “Twelve Miniatures”of Haiku poetry – offered thin mezzo-soprano vocals. In fact, in this piece, she rarely looked up from her music lectern; no eye contact was made with us.

On the contrary, Ms. LeBlanc who performed“Feygl Oyf Di Tsvaygn” (2008), a moving Yiddish poem about death at the hands of the Nazis was haunting, and she knew the music; whereas in the first opening song, “Per Trop Talor se Perigola,” which featured both singers with baroque recorder and harpsichord showed the mezzo singer’s weakness. Composed in the 14-century (Anonymous), it was lovely, but LeBlanc certainly shone over Béliveau.

More on the program proved to me that turning old music into a modern compositional remixing does not work. Then again, in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m not a fan of taking a Shakespearian play and modernizing it where set, costumes and accents have deviated from the original.



SMCQ’s concert in Pierre Péladeau’s Pierre-Mercure Theatre on May 21st was an unabashed display of wildly brazen sounds that stunningly reflect how cacophonous modern music dramatically impacts on and excites the listener.

The program featured five outstanding works of which the first three made the last two (Ebony Concert) by Stravinsky and Bernstein (Prelude, Fugue and Riffs) sound like tamed passé pieces promoting more harmonic appeal despite daring moments of razzle-dazzle big band sounds. Certainly Bernstein’s piece held familiar melodies that sounded like they were lifted from the score of West Side Story, and Stravinsky’s interesting work had his iconic staccato 12-tone instrumental interplay with bouncy ragtime parts and smooth moments of a slow trudging melodic line. Contrast and lightness was most effective in this work. But for the entire evening, it was Bernstein who lit the fire with his dashing composition which was masterfully conducted by SMCQ’s brilliant Walter Boudreau. He was honoured post-concert by Quebec’s Conseil des arts et des letters). Clarinettist, André Moisan was awesome on his instrument, poignantly soaring in ways that would have delighted made Woody Herman proud.

However, it was Ballet mécanique – the opening piece that held us in a shock-and-awe vice. Composed by the enfant terrible – a name dubbed by Stravinsky himself and his contemporarily pals, George Antheil composed an astoundingly innovative work of epic proportions. At the piano wearing earphones was Guy Livingston playing to 4-taped pianos and other instruments to create a chaotic clash of percussive noisy music simultaneously sounding off to an amazing assortment of images flashing on the projected back wall screen. Akin to this hyper kinetic visual was a Dadaist post-Cubist film called Ballet created by Fernand Léger and Dudley Murphy. Akin to Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis, the hyper kinetic visuals of humans, geometric shapes, axels and all kinds of activities were in complete sync with the music. The piano playing was a staggering feat that demanded herculean octaves, trilling, percussive punches that scaled up and down the piano – and all in super fast-speed motion to match the film’s own flash of images.

Star of SMCQ -- along with Boudreau -- is the genius composer John Rea. Two of his compositions were featured: Big Apple Jam was a 4-saxophone sensation that conjured up all of New York’s disparate vitality. The piece comprised 12 musicians adhering to instrumental quartet grouping; so along with the saxes were four clarinets and four strings. Gershwin’s "I Got Rhythm" interceded a moment in the work – a composition that certainly showcased the brilliance of the musicians and how incredible their timing was and experience to produce that boisterous big band sound.

In 1982, Rea composed Treppenmusik. He revealed this work was inspired by Escher, the artist and his legendary staircase drawings. Rea likened the structure to spiral music as he was attempting to morph the artist’s visual into sounds. I loved this piece, as it offered images of running up and down staircases and feelings of fatigue having to walk up them. The great amount of trilling on the instruments conveyed repetitive ascending along with the constant mundaneity of stairs and our interaction with them. In fact a labyrinth of textures, rhythms and melodies within the contemporary musical vein offered excitement and excited our imaginations.

Being a lover of classical music, personally, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the concert. The performance of these musicians and their virtuoso attack made me realize just how difficult it is to master all the syncopations, instant mood changes and techniques contemporary music demands



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