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New Music North Wired for Sound


THUNDER BAY, ON ---  March 11, 2011  ---  New Music North brought in one of the veterans of Canadian contemporary composition to the Jean McNulty recital hall, Lakehead University, Thunder Bay, Ontario,  Thursday night. The evening was dedicated to her music. A classically trained pianist she has evolved as a composer as well.

“You have to do your own thing if you are going to survive as a composer these days” she said to me after the concert. Indeed the music we heard is unlike any other coming from today’s contemporary composers.

If you like personal experiences or a good story then you have all the knowledge needed to appreciate her music. Using the piano, an assortment of percussive devices and electronic equipment she began her programme. Her music is distinguished by the theatrical elements she incorporates into the performance of each piece. Her music does tell a story. Now a veteran composer/pianist she reflects with hindsight, “I should have been an actress”!

Her compositions on this programme make extensive use of her own voice, both spoken and through the use of advanced vocal techniques. The spoken voice certainly conveys elements of the musical story, but the special vocal techniques add to matrix that forms her particular brand of sound.

As I was listening to the concert progress I could not help but think she must have been a very fun person to have around 30 years ago! In fact she still has plenty of sprit and humour in her playing today, proof positive that music can keep you young.

She was joined in the performance of “She Had Some Horses” by cellist Anthony Bacon, and Jean François Breton, percussion. Honourable mention should also go to Danny Johnson who leapt from the audience on occasion to rescue the electronic side of the performance. This piece like all the others on the programme presented a mature blend of electronic sounds, percussion and acoustic instruments.

When it comes to Canadian New Music Diana McIntosh is one composer that music lovers should come to know. She has an extensive list of commissions and is well known in Winnipeg’s New Music Festival. She has been honoured with many awards for her life time of performance and composition.

You can tell by the smile on Anthony Bacon’s face that he is really enjoying working with a living distinguished composer.  Many in the capacity audience were students from LU’s Department of Music. No doubt  they had never heard sounds like this before.

Concerts such as this one go a long way to help students and music aficionados a way to expand their horizons and to see new possibilities for their own music.

My last image is of the coffee cup amid the assortment of electronics, a concert grand and some cow bells used in one of the pieces. Creativity know no bounds, but in this case it is powered by coffee. New Music North presents once more on May 1st.

Bert Rowson

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