VSO New Music Festival – Second Night – Water Music Redux


It’s a dark tale to be told, and what the Maestro may have left out in his opening remarks was that not only does music give us subtle glimpses of our “inner narrative” but also sometimes straps us to it’s back as it throws itself desperately off the roof of a burning building. Despite the fact that they’re from opposite sides of the world, Jennifer Butler and Brett Dean both managed to pen works addressing concerns about global water calamities in direct and uniquely foreboding ways.

Jennifer’s piece, Under Bleak Skies, opens up on a dark sea of sunken open intervals in the strings. Amidst this churning, we’re introduced to a pair of protagonists played by the piccolo and violin. The story’s dark turn-of-the-tale happens when a calamity occurs, and following a hysterical cry from the ensemble, the violin plummets into the sea leaving the piccolo heartbroken and hunting for her lost companion. The elegance and directness of heart-ache meted out by the piece is a familiar affect and is an effective way of localizing an emotional response to ecological catastrophe.

The closing movement of Brett Dean’s three-movement work Water Music; which bears the moniker, Parched Earth, bring us away from the ocean to an arid desert landscape. I found this movement to be the most exciting of the three as it gave us, not only the greatest variety of texture, but also gave visiting ensemble, the Raschèr Saxaphone Quartet, their best and most exposed moment in the whole work to shine. Like Jennifer’s piece, Brett was inspired by water-woes close to his heart. In Jennifer’s case, the music surmised a tangle of ecological foreboding that would be familiar to most British Columbians. Brett’s music addressed water shortages and drought in his native Australia that have broken long standing records in the recent decade.

As I was consulting the contemporary music concert rule book I noted that, while it’s not quite explicitly stated that one is never to perform music by dead composers in encores, I was elated to hear the Raschèr take on a selection from J.S. Bach’s Art Of The Fugue. Not only do they make a blissful sound together, but the way they took ownership of the music and made it their own made me extremely excited about hearing them take the stage again on Monday.

Great concert, where were you?

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