As readers of these pages are aware, your reporter disparages frequently on the intrusion of electronic phones, beepers and “phhmphs” into concert life. Happily, these past three weeks at the Palm Springs and Sundance Film Festivals (cross-references below), the ratio of interruption-to-moment-of-art has dropped considerably. How sad, then, to return home where the very first live performance was marred nearly continuously by the incessant chatter and paper rattling from the very students who hope—one day—to share their artistic gifts with an appreciative audience.
Worse, the sentiment from the pre-concert remarks espoused by Brock faculty that “We know you have to be here” further adds to the notion of art-as-chore for the students (who were the overwhelming majority of the crowd) but also unsettled those of us who ventured out to this “Professional Concert Series” program because we wanted to hear the music. At a time when grand plans are afoot for expanded teaching facilities and a proper concert hall, being witness to such unbelievably rude behaviour (including feet on seats and sitting in the aisle) and the inability to take in, evaluate (the students must make some sort of a report as proof of attendance) and—hopefully—learn from the experience, it is to wonder why anyone in their right minds would invest vast amounts of money to produce the next generation of artistic misfits.
Of course—as in all things—it is, in this case particularly, the not-so-silent-majority that ruin the potential for a positive artistic experience for the remainder. But rather than sit by, some leadership on both sides of the stage and within the seats would have been most welcome.
In the case of the performers, their decision to begin Beethoven’s Trio for Flute, Bassoon and Piano without demanding silence only validated those who may not realize that music was first created in the completely quiet confines of the mind. Surely its recreation can only have a chance to find the same truth if only the music is heard. Sadly, since all three performers (Fiona Wilkinson, flute; James McKay, bassoon; Stephan Sylvestre, piano) are themselves post-secondary teachers (University of Western Ontario), one can only assume that—in their considerable experience—the level of racket was acceptable. To his credit, Sylvestre did attempt a “hand shush” prior to his passionate, at times zesty reading of Ravel’s Alborada del Gracioso, but the offenders likely interpreted that slight gesture as a classical “High Five.”
Overall, the performances—with a few notable exceptions—slipped into the “good enough” mode with a few technical blemishes finding their way into the mix. After the interval (where we hoped the loudest would have called it a night and left to go somewhere they wanted to be) the music-making and the amusical accompaniment improved and lessened respectively. McKay’s impressive tone production and bend/slide ability were heard to good effect in Milton Barnes’ Anerca I. The sea-inspired poems (read between movements) were also well-delivered, setting up the brief jazzy moments and musically economic lines effectively. Yet, in his introduction the comments “Not many, I am sure, have heard a piece for solo bassoon before” does little to bring the students into the tent and virtually ignores the music-loving, paying customers who may well have heard a bassoon seul; “No one had ever heard them before”—referring to the Inuit songs that when “discovered” by Barnes and McKay became the basis for the work—implies that nothing is truly heard until a white man has listened. Astonishing.
The Sonate en Concert moved steadily forward as its sections easily intertwined. Its relatively small dynamic plane may well have been one more casualty of the unwanted cacophony. Morley’s well-crafted Tango seemed to tame the wild beasts at the opening, but as its volume grew so did that from the restless throng. Not surprisingly, the feeling of improvisation and sultry lines were as absent as the requisite rose. At the double bar, it was as if the “change class” bell had sounded: the majority of the crowd immediately headed for the exits even as they acknowledged the considerable talent before them in a most perfunctory manner.
If this concert was—in fact—just an unfortunate dream, I was sorry not to have been awakened much sooner. If not, then it’s time for some academic leadership if respect and understanding for the arts and their creators is to become the norm rather than the exception. JWR