Published Oct 17, 2015X Avant's second night produced a feast of past Music Gallery commissions, premieres and other works by a cast of allies and other community members that have been in the MG's orbit throughout its 40 years of operation.
Collected by Chelsea Shanoff, the Gallery's post-classical curator, the night featured six performances of works by Martin Arnold (Rubber Wain), Allison Cameron (Retablo), Linda Catlin-Smith (Zart), Nic Gotham (Miniature Pieces), Erik Ross (Flame Fracture and I Am Concrete) and Ann Southam (Remembering Schubert) — all important composers spanning decades of Toronto's new music communities.
Originally commissioned through the Canada Council for the Arts in 1998 by classical music quartet The Burdocks (capital "T," Burdocks artistic director Martin Arnold insists) and premiered at the Music Gallery, then at its Richmond Street location, it was a particular delight to hear and see Allison Cameron's Retablo, a chamber piece for clarinet, violin, cello, piano and percussion revisited in this context.
Today, Cameron gets a lot of local face time making exhilarating atonal music on small, crude instruments like plastic ukuleles and thumb pianos in improvisatory contexts — situations like c_RL, her trio with Nicole Rampersaud and Germaine Liu, who released their excellent Friends CD earlier this year — so it can be easy to miss that she is classically trained and continues to compose for traditional ensembles.
Retablo still has its quirks — illustrated last night (October 16) by pianist Wesley Shen, who otherwise spent the bulk of the night helming solo piano works by Ann Southam and Linda Catlin-Smith and assisting others from a comfortable bench, but for this one reached into his instrument to glide Baoding balls across its strings; percussionist Dan Morphy broke from conducting the performance to disrupt it by abruptly shaking a toy piano to jump its metal bars — but it's primarily delicate, spending most of its time building an atmosphere that is gorgeous if curious.
Martin Arnold's Rubber Wain was another treat, swapping out the piano and second clarinet for a reed organ and a melodica in favour of Arnold's appraisal of the version commissioned by the MG in 2007 as having a "fatter," "overly ripe" sound than he intended.
In discussion with Chelsea Shanoff and Music Gallery artistic director David Dacks before the event, Arnold and Cameron spoke to the necessity of commissioned works for those working in unpopular formats such as theirs.
"It's still the way you get paid if you write a piece of music," Arnold said. He explained that both he and Cameron make their livings gardening rather than writing or playing music. "There's lots of music that I've always written that I don't get paid for."
The evening concluded with a performance of departed Toronto new music scenester Nic Gotham's hypnotic work for piano, clarinet, cello and percussion, Miniatures. His final piece before his death, this work was previously never connected to the Music Gallery, but Shanoff included it in the MG Encore program as a "way of paying tribute to a wonderful composer, musician and new music enthusiast."
Drawing attention to a critical way in which the Music Gallery has continued to facilitate, document and archive innovation and experimentation in music across its 40 years, it was an evening that didn't just celebrate, but extended the institution's legacy as a stage for creative music makers, and an important reminder of its community's need for such support.