Saturday, March 9, 2013

Vabeni: Ritual of Prehistoric Fossils of Man

No flash photography allowed! Otherwise I may have been able to take my own pic, and it would show this formally dressed choir tapping the side of their cheeks, rapidly fluttering their hands over their mouths, grunting, and sniffing with exaggeration... and using kazoos. Every once in awhile the tenors pulled tuning forks from thin air, tapped them against their kneebone and then laid the metal to their ear to help them sound a perfect A.

Fifty singers were accompanied by winds (piccolo, flutes, oboes, horns, slide whistles, clarinets and bass clarinets, bassoons and contrabasoons, horns, trumpets, tuba); percussion (timpani, kettle drums, wooden xylophone, drums); and orchestral strings (harp).

The Toronto Symphony was performing Vabeni: Ritual of Prehistoric Fossils of Man, with our own Peter Oundjian conducting.
The musical framework of this piece is woven like a ritual experienced in real time, like a ceremony we are witnessing from beginning to end... The choir is the work's soloist and its role is crucial. Its virtuoso character sculpts dramatic situations by evoking archaic beings whose fossils are reborn and speak through intense ritual... The function of the choral part's text is one of pure sonority... 
Not a typical night at the symphony. This was part of the New Creations Festival, a platform to showcase fresh work by living composers.  The composers were all in attendance and each came up for a chat with Peter before the orchestra started. I couldn't help but think it would be a rarity for these creators to see their work performed. Watching from the audience must have been very satisfying but challenging, too.... after creating the work they must literally leave it to the conductor and musicians to orchestrate. I wonder if any of the composers wanted to call out... "wait! you need to punch that up a bit there.... that bar needs more tremulo...."

Vabeni was written in a language entirely devised by the composer, Krystof Maratka. Throughout the performance I kept glancing over and he was rapt. When the music stopped, I expected him to immediately leap from his box to the stage but it seemed to take him a few moments to return to reality and find his legs.

Definitely a mixed reaction from the audience. Many left before the 50 minute piece was complete. There were sometimes giggles, especially when the chorus took out their kazoos. Hearing this on the radio would not have been the same experience whatsoever. Watching music being made is like being able to touch a sculpture. Not always possible, but when it happens, it really helps me to more fully connect to the experience.

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