Classical Notes

The persistence of memory

Newspaper columnists feel lucky if their audience remembers them until the
next issue, whether that follows a day or a week later. The same is true of
musical performances. They are over so quickly, and even when the performance
is fine and the audience gives it their careful attention, the experience
seldom lasts much longer than the applause following the last note. Even the
congratulations of admirers and friends, the jollity of receptions and
parties, the relief mixed with joy and regret, is kind of anticlimactic.

Several recent performances deserve more than a brief mention before they
slip away. Bach’s Johannes Passion brought a capacity audience at Holy
Trinity Anglican Church to its feet on April 4 and earned conductor John
Brough, the choir, the orchestra and principals Timothy Shantz, Paul
Grindlay, Jolaine Kerley, Andrew Pickett and Robert King several curtain
calls. (Or it would have, had there been curtains—the concert was in
the sanctuary, where audience and orchestra were close enough to touch.)

Within a few days, however, this fine production and Brough’s final
concert requirement for his Doctor of Music degree in choral conducting was
superseded by Pro Coro Canada’s Good Friday production of Ivan
Moody’s Passion and Resurrection at the Winspear Centre. Moody’s
work, though contemporary (it dates from 1992), follows the pattern of
traditional Orthodox worship in telling the Easter story. The choir had a
supportive role while the cantor told the story. A Greek Orthodox friend of
mine was watching the audience reaction throughout. “I think they were
restless and wondering ‘When is the choir going to sing?’”
she said.

We agreed that tenor Timothy Shantz was convincing in the arduous role of
cantor. “A very good cantor,” my friend added ruefully. In
ordinary church services, cantors can be hard on the ears, but Shantz managed
to communicate warmth and meaning while intoning the simple, beautiful lines.
The medium-range tessitura was also a better fit for his voice than the
higher Bach setting.

Speaking of high and low notes, the Mother of God lines sung by Jolaine
Kerley, though brief, floated “higher than the heavens,” then
became mortal and emotional in some of the work’s most beautiful
moments as she grieves for her child, her beloved. Paul Grindlay, as Jesus,
forcefully delivered lines that would have bottomed out most registers. The
most dramatic moment in the work came after his “It is finished.”
Until then, double bassist Jan Urke and cellist Colin Ryan had maintained a
steady drone. The moment of silence was mesmerizing.

Though the audience will likely remember the Moody work the longest, the
first half of the concert was exceptional as well. Organist Jeremy Spurgeon
performed two intoxicating works by Olivier Messiaen that alternated between
heady and violent and solemn and tender while undulating lights lit up the
organ pipes. Between these organ bookends—justification for the Davis
Concert Organ if there ever was one—the choir sang “O sacrum
convivium,” also by Messiaen.

But even these memories will fade, as there’s more music to come.
The Music Wednesdays at Noon series at McDougall finished its 25th season
with a flourish, as flutist Harlan Green and pianist Roxanne Classen drew a
standing room only crowd for a concert that included three premieres by local
composers George Andrix and Roger Deegan. The CBC production Wednesdays at
Winspear continues the noon-hour tradition through April, however, and offers
its own set of premieres. Coming up on Wednesday is Joseph Lai’s
Pastiches, written for this concert. Lai describes the work alternatively as
“five parodies for alto sax and piano” and “six homages to
favourite composers: Ravel, Debussy, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich
and Gershwin.” Performing with him is Charles Stolte, known for his own
playful compositions featuring such special effects as tongue slaps. V

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