A couple of weeks ago, I drove up from Boston to Montréal for a series of three concerts given by the Bozzini Quartet and Philip Thomas. (I missed the Wednesday night concert.) I was hard at work on a separate project as well, which had the dual effect of delaying this post and keeping me fairly tethered to my laptop during the days, rather than taking a good look at such a promising city. But I’m hoping to repair the first issue with this (late) post, and the second one in June when I return for the Bozzini/Wandelweiser immersion from June 14th to 17th.
Some highlights from the Friday concert included the last section of Michael Oesterle’s piece, Alan Turing — Solace for Irreversible Losses, called “Hyperboloids of Wondrous Light.” The chords had a luminescent quality which was, to my ear, tailor-made to a quality of playing that makes the Bozzini Quartet really special. Laurence Crane’s Piano Quintet was quite a surprise. It was clear enough to me that only he could have had that particular type of relationship to tradition to write it. The objects of tonality are treated as found objects. I don’t know how he (and the performers) keep finding them, but it’s a wonderful thing. But this piece was so audacious, so full of joy. No one else could have done it, but it was a huge surprise. I haven’t described the music, and I won’t. There’s nothing I can say about how it’s made that will shed any actual light on what it is. Here’s the program note, at least. The combination of discipline, great technique, and a genuine interest in taking this music on its own terms was remarkable from each of the members of the Bozzini Quartet and from Philip Thomas. That was the case on each of the concerts, but it all came together in that piece in such a clear way.
On the Friday evening concert, I found Cassandra Miller’s Warblework quite beautiful and compelling. I have the strong sense that this piece is, in the best sense, both hers and theirs. It takes place at a point of relation between Miller and the quartet. You can hear a section of it just below.
Tendrils is described by Howard Skempton as “a continuous movement of undulating lines. Although the piece seems to unfold, the impulse was lyrical and experimental. The first task was to compose the process.” Here is the first page of the score. The piece has a sense of inevitability about it, as if it predated the composition of it. It’s like a richly detailed, perfectly formed found object. Bryn Harrison’s Vessels was performed the next evening by Philip Thomas, and is, as Harrison explains, based on the techniques of Tendrils. It had a similar feeling of pristine formation about it, but a far more unsettled one. I had the feeling that everyone in that concert hall — performer, composer, audience — was balanced on the fuzz of a peach. One false move and we all would have fallen out of that space, but there was no false move. It stayed suspended within that very narrow space, which was not just defined by register or dynamics but by what I can only think of as a weather condition.
In fact, most of the pieces on the program evoked compelling atmospheric conditions. Christopher Fox’s L’ascenseur seemed to gradually but perceptibly chill as it ascended the full range of the piano. Martin Arnold’s Points and Waltzes started off with clear lines, almost metallic in quality, and suddenly shifted into the warmest embraces of chords. Cassandra Miller’s Philip the Wanderer didn’t relate so much to weather as to setting. At a very particular, inevitable moment, there was an opening, a clearing, a clarity. This moment was described in the program notes (which I have since lost—maybe someone can fill me in) and I think even in the section title, but it was immediately palpable in the musical presentation, irrespective of that preparation. There was also a wonderful moment when Clemens Merkel, who was page turning, stood up and whistled a beautiful melody which Miller had composed into the piece, using more vibrato than I for one have ever heard him use on the violin. That moment was one of many examples of a risk, or a departure from expectation that is possible when a composer works closely, and genuinely as a peer, with performers. The Bozzini Quartet and Philip Thomas have been fostering such relationships for years.
The annual Composers’ Kitchen is an aspect of that work for the Bozzini Quartet. The April 17-19 concerts which I’ve written about are part of the Salon QB, which launched the 9th Composer’s Kitchen. This year, this project is being done in collaboration with the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, and its second session will take place there. The Montréal workshop has been really nicely documented here and here by four communications students from Concordia University. The little video below introduces the participants, including the quartet, the mentors (Laurence Crane and Michael Oesterle), and the participants: Sean Clancy, Marielle Groven, Simon Martin, and Amber Priestley.