When planning to mark the 10th anniversary of JWR’s on-line presence, a number of possibilities immediately came to mind. Everything from stepping back onto the podium for a concert of best-loved favourites (from Charles Ives’ Unanswered Question through Schubert’s Fifth Symphony to an eclectic arrangement of “Happy Birthday”) to a country-wide tour assessing the current state of various performing/film arts was considered. In the final analysis, due to challenging logistics in the former and a lack of time to do justice to the latter, it seemed the most fitting way to mark the past decade would be to sponsor a live performance of a musical organization well known to these pages.
Having first heard The Gallery Players of Niagara in 2002 (a barn-burning performance of Brahms’ C-minor Piano Quartet, cross-reference below) and avidly followed the intrepid musicians ever since, it became the ideal solution to the milestone fest (publishing any sort of critical work—much less specializing in independent, off-the-beaten-track material and performances—for such a period of years is a minor miracle in itself) was to get behind a concert and hope that its content would, somehow—the choices were, as usual, the exclusive purview of the artistic trust, headed up by artistic director Margaret Gay—resemble the same sort of eclectic mix found here.
Glued together around the theme of New York, New York!, yesterday’s performance captured the essence of new, unjustly forgotten, exotic, revisited and “what on earth was that?” work in a manner totally at one with JWR’s goal of shining the spotlight on creative excellence.
Ferruccio Busoni’s Piano Sonatina No. 4 was a veritable mirror of his frequent moves between Europe and America, searching in vain for his personal comfort zone. The depth of despair on Christmas Day 1917 gave this brief, intense work a universal appeal that will only seem out of place when the world finds the collective peace that so apparently eluded Busoni’s private life. Little wonder he found solace transcribing the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Canadian composer Martin Arnold was engaged by The Players to put a new coat of musical paint on a pair of George Gershwin standards. “Someone to Watch Over Me” had a certain hypnotic effect, serving as an early novelty. But the second half’s “I Got Rhythm” (which couldn’t buy a modulation for all the ill-gotten treasure in the world and featured intentionally stillborn riffs à la Charlie Parker) proved emphatically the truth of another jazzy standard, “It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got That Swing.” ‘Nuff said.
Gabriela Lena Frank’s Two Pre-Inca Sketches was a truly marvellous oasis of colour and craft that demonstrated uncanny understanding of the flute and cello coupled with a reverential expression of her mother’s Peruvian roots. Oh, to have a full-length commission from her for The Players!
All three performers, Doug Miller, Gay and Karin Di Bella dug deep into Norman Dello Joio’s Trio for flute, cello and piano, combining to demonstrate succinctly that his three-movement gem deserves a more prominent place in the chamber music repertoire. The subtle sliding double stops in the “Adagio” set down a magical bed of sound over which the carefully crafted lines could readily make their marks.
How absolutely amazing that the concert finished up with a delectable arrangement of Billy Joel’s “And so it Goes.” Almost certainly unknown to Gay, there is a JWR review of an album with the same title (cross-reference below). Baritone Giles Tomkin’s 2006 “cross-over” CD lets the classically trained singer strut his considerable talents in a more popular vein. Like The Players, he shows considerable promise on the other side of the street but few will hope that he abandons his first love in favour of a frequently more lucrative, often fickle way of employing his gift.
Merci mille fois to all concerned at The Gallery Players of Niagara. What might the next decade bring? JWR