First on the program was Quatuor Bozzini, a Candian string quartet, three parts woman one part man. The program describes the group as “an original voice in new, contemporary, experimental and classical music.” Their first piece Contact; Vault (1997), despite indecipherable program notes by the very talented Canadian composer, Martin Arnold (who is also a landscape designer but, perhaps, not a writer) was an intensely moving composition with a single melodic line extended over the entire piece. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a softer piece played in a concert hall. It reminded me of an Agnes Martin painting where the stillness and quiet of her delicate pencil marking bring a much-needed sense of calm to our boisterous, exterior world. Even at its loudest, the piece never graduated beyond a quiet piano, and I particularly liked how the first violin played the subtle but angular melody while the second violin doubled the first using softly plucked pizzicato, the plucked sound disappearing instantly while the bowed notes lingered in the air.
For their next piece, the members of Quatuor Bozzini all put in earpieces which were clearly connected to two toy pianos on stage (there was a second, black piano that, in my panic, I had not seen). OK, I told myself, Remain Calm. You are facing not one but two amplified toy pianos. Stay strong.
I was happily surprised. The piece, Hitchcock Études, turned out to be a multi-media composition, about as contemporary as it gets, and yes, it was about Hitchcock! Projected on the screen behind the players was a mashed up, Vine-style sequence of well known scenes from the British master of suspense: The Birds, Psycho, Vertigo, the familiar images playing over and over, in slow motion, backwards and forwards, cut up and re-cut, complete with a sliced-and-diced Bernard Hermann score playing while at the same time Quatuor Bozzini played Nicole Lizée’s equally arresting score, punctuated by — here it comes — the childish plunk of amplified, twin toy pianos. And surprise of surprises, the toy pianos were a wonderful addition to the string sound of the quartet (played by Clemens Merkel and Alissa Cheung, momentarily putting down their violins) and the string orchestra of Hermann’s score. This piece had the players (and composer) interact with “the lost, forgotten or even dead icons, simultaneously breathing new life and emotions in the function and storyline.”