Egoyan signature concert intriguing, educational

Post image for Egoyan signature concert intriguing, educational

October 15, 2012

Pianist Eve Egoyan,
With David Rokeby
Works by Egoyan/Rokeby, Alvin Curran, Erik Satie, Per Nørgård
October 13, 2012, Phillip T. Young Recital Hall
Reviewed by Kelvin Chan

I must confess that I have never been the biggest, medium, or even smallest fan of Erik Satie. Known as one of the most eccentric composers in the history of Western music, he composed in a unique, daring, sometimes downright weird style that puzzles the listener. For instance, where would you find tempo markings like, ”Again. Better. Again. Very good. Amazingly. Perfect. Don’t go too high. Without noise. Far off.”? The answer is The Crooked Dances, one of the two sets of three miniatures from the Cold Pieces that Egoyan performed at her signature concert. Oh, and they are actually easy listening in comparison with a majority of Satie’s output—that is, their mainly consonant, slowly changing harmonies blend into one another, and their brevity gives listeners a clear enough sense of Satie’s style without irritating the ear-drums too much.

But that was the latter half of the concert. It was obvious that the first half, which featured Surface Tension, a multimedia collaboration between Egoyan and her husband David Rokeby, was the main feature of the night. The concept behind the piece is intriguing: a disklavier, or computer interface for an acoustic piano, is connected to a grand piano, whose sound production sends signals to the interface and the laptop computer connected to it (controlled by Rokeby), and those signals will then generate visual patterns that are finally displayed on a large projector screen on stage. Sounds complicated, but it was a remarkable attempt to extend the role of the piano to a visual, as well as acoustic instrument. The work is divided into five improvised movements, and each of them supplies unique visual material for the pianist to work with. My favourite was the second movement, where each pitch class on the piano was mapped to a different colour in the projection, and where different intensities of sound produced circular shapes of corresponding sizes. As Egoyan’s blazing flurry of octaves and cluster chords culminated in an enormous wave of sound, the circles on screen spiraled into a violent whirlwind. Unfortunately the performance was then briefly interrupted by a technical issue involving Rokeby’s computer, but it was sorted out promptly and all was back on track before the audience lost too much of its concentration.

The fourth movement was another highlight in the thirty-minute piece, as three-dimensional blocks were used by the piano to construct a massive tower of abstract geometrical shapes. Throughout the movement, Egoyan appropriately varied her impromptus in register, dynamics, articulation, and even playing techniques (there was an instance where she elbowed the lowest depths of the keybed furiously). Egoyan’s wide array of touch treated the audience to a visual splendour of stunning colours, textures and moods. It certainly helped that the Steinway grand she played on, which was supplied by Tom Lee Music, had been masterfully tuned and voiced beforehand. Never in my four years studying at the School of Music have I heard such a gloriously sounding instrument—not to mention it was three feet shorter than the full-size Model D’s that reside in the recital hall.

What to make of the night, then? It was a valuable experience for those who haven’t been exposed to many contemporary works and sound installations. If nothing else, the diverse techniques employed in these new works allowed the capabilities of a well-prepared Steinway grand to be showcased in full glory. That, in and of itself made the night stay true to its spirit as a remarkable celebration—Satie notwithstanding.

Kelvin Chan is a fourth-year music student at the University of Victoria

Previous post:

Next post: