THUNDER BAY, ON ---- January 28, 2012 --- I it beginning to look as though the Masterworks series of the TBSO is going through a period of change. This is the first season where both the conducting and the Artistic direction is under Arthur Post. In the past a Masterworks concert consisted of one or two short orchestral compositions followed by a concerto then a full length symphony in the second half. This season we are getting something different, we still had the small orchestral piece in this case the “Helios Overture” by Nielsen followed by the six movement “Firebird Suite” composed in 1919 by Stravinsky.
At one time such a modern composition as the “Firebird Suite” would have represented the progressive modern composition style and was included on the programme to widen the listeners taste in music. Last Thursday this was seen as an old orchestral standard. The orchestra had enough extra performers on stage that it could really do justice to this music, and in my opinion the TBSO has never sounded better than in the performance of this music. Good musicians, superb direction, a wonderful concert hall all led to a great performance of this piece and it certainly earned the standing ovation it received at the end of the first half. Every year as I review concerts there always seems to be a concert or two that forms a lasting memory and this is one concert I will remember for awhile.
The second half of the programme shows the change in direction we are experiencing in symphonic programming of late. The “anchor” piece of the concert was by Tim Brady, a Montreal based guitarist. His piece “Amplify, Multiply, Remix and Redefine” was composed as a tribute to the late electric guitar builder Les Paul.
Tim Brady played the solo guitar for this piece, but he was backed up by about 20 others. His redefined orchestra now includes a 1st and 2nd guitar divisions as well as 1st and 2nd violins and the other divisions of the orchestra. There was more than enough amplification to drown out the orchestra.
The TBSO has discovered that there are a lot of guitar players in Thunder Bay, and by inviting 20 guitarists on stage for this performance they are using this piece as a marketing device to reach out to listeners and perhaps gain a few more seats for the Thursday night house. The overhaul of the CBC programming in recent years comes to mind when I see the change in programming, what! No Brahms or Mozart anymore? In the end the CBC now plays much less classical music than it did previously and it certainly records less.
I think the orchestra will continue to programme to reach out to others by adding popular elements to the Masterworks such as cross over artists, and compositions such as Tim Brady’s.
Brady’s composition used a lot of what is called minimalist technique. They consist of rapidly passing motifs that slowly change notes after several repetitions. When done nicely the listener will see or feel like the music is turning over. Another analogy would be watching the slowly changing colours of a chrysalis as it is rotated. This technique is also used to spin out the length of a composition in this case to something approaching a full symphony. Even in the most modern sense I do not think this is a master work for the orchestra, but a good idea that deserves to be explored. One thing that I have learned as an organist is that volume is no substitute for talent, and that sustained volume will kill audience interest. There was a lot of business in the music but the music to me lacked a sense of direction and clarity. I wonder what Stravinsky would have done with 20 electric guitars?