Montreal Mirror: Wine bottles, wedding bells and warrior women

November 5, 2009

Photo by Martin Laporte

The exciting eccentricities of November’s classical music programming at eXcentris

McGill music professor and renowned cellist Matt Haimovitz—who now adds artistic advisor and artist-in-residence at the recently repurposed eXcentris to his CV—has made it his mission to expand the parameters of classical music, what it is and who it’s played for. In that spirit, his latest album, Figment, covers a good part of the spectrum of what can be done with a cello.

“And then,” says Haimovitz, “it starts to introduce the technological aspects of what you can do, in terms of processing the sound, as well as a variety of extended techniques and roles you don’t associate with the cello, in terms of it being such a lyrical and human instrument.

Over the last decade, Haimovitz has been drawn to works by living composers for solo cello, an interest that zoomed in on American works post-9/11. “Figment is in a way a third step in the process, bringing technology into it, and new composers that I’ve come into contact with who I really appreciate—Quebec composers like Gilles Tremblay, Serge Provost and Ana Sokolovic particularly. Also, it continues my—I guess I could call it an obsession with Elliott Carter.

“It’s a nice time to celebrate his achievements,” Haimovitz says of the titan of inventive, modern classical music, composer of the album’s title piece. “He turned 100 years old last year and is still totally uncompromising.”

Kung fu and Kent Nagano

Other contributors to Figment include Socalled and duYun, who’ll join Haimovitz at eXcentris on Saturday, Nov. 7 (emerging young cellists Chloé Dominguez and Elinor Frey perform as well), and Luna Pearl Woolf, who’s also the artistic director of classical and contemporary programming at eXcentris. She’s cooked up quite a spread for November, indicative of what to expect at the elegant yet inviting and flexible space in the months to come.

On Sunday, Nov. 15, the Boston ensemble Devil Music accompanies Red Heroine, a silent, black-and-white Chinese martial arts adventure from 1929. “What’s really exciting about it,” says Woolf, “is that it’s also a feminist film! The plot is that this young girl is abducted from her village, and the experience turns her into a mighty warrior. She comes back with a vengeance to right the wrongs that were done to her community and family.Figment

“The ensemble is extremely diverse. They’re using instruments from China but in a context that’s somewhere between art pop and contemporary music. They have their feet in both sides, new classical and new pop.”

Nov. 22 sees internationally admired Montreal pianist Louise Bessette presenting Eternal Bells, a program of short works “that all depict in some way how bells mark the periods of our lives,” says Woolf, “the hours of the day, wedding bells, funeral bells—and the composers range from Liszt to Arvo Pärt.”

Nov. 26 offers an intimate evening with MSO conductor Kent Nagano, a wide-ranging, casual conversation with the president of Espace Musique, Christian Leblanc, bookended by a video montage and a chamber recital, conducted by Nagano, featuring his wife Mari Kodama at the piano.

Vineyard variations

The month wraps up with Haimovitz again, in a string trio with Jonathan Crow and Douglas McNabney, tackling J.S. Bach’s famous “Goldberg Variations.” Woolf explains that every third movement is a canon, an incremental shift in pitch. “It’s a fascinating mathematical sequence that Bach has woven into the fabric of these 33 variations, and because you’re hearing these canons done on separate instruments, as opposed to one piano or harpsichord, they’re more distinct. There’s a stereo effect, quite literally.”

Equally effective is the conceit of making the performance a wine-tasting session as well—one glass, from aperitifs though white, red and possibly dessert wine, for each of the nine canons.

“What I’ve experienced in the last eight or nine years, playing alternative venues,” says Haimovitz, “has been a renaissance, to be able to challenge and experiment and push the boundaries of the repertoire and presentation—and going back to the origin of the tradition, how this music is meant to move people and communicate on a fundamental, personal level.

“With eXcentris, it’s a celebration of that tradition. It’s a multidisciplinary venue with music at its heart. Things can constantly evolve and stay relevant to our community and what’s going now, locally and around the world. The seeds of that are reflected in the early programming, but it’s just the beginning.”

FOR FULL INFO, GO TO   EXCENTRIS.COM

by Rupert Bottenberg

Montreal Mirror

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