I am writing this on the train to Montreal, the first leg of my epic 29-hour journey back to Halifax (still not sure how a train can take longer than a Greyhound bus). Last night was the final concert of the NAC Composers Program featuring five premieres by workshop participants (Lesley Hinger, Adam Scime, Patrick Giguère, Nicholas Omiccioli and me). The concert finished with a piece by Chen Yi, something with ‘Happy Rain’ in the title and the sound of a heavy metal band transcribed to Pierrot ensemble (it was extremely disorienting coming from a composer with such a bubbly and motherly personality).
The concert took place in a 2,000-person auditorium at the National Arts Centre. To avoid the awkwardness of spreading a tiny new music audience through such a grand space, they did the whole concert right on stage, audience included. The ensemble faced backwards with the audience looking past them at the empty multi-tiered hall. I was expecting the whole arrangement to be really sad, only highlighting the fact that this sort of show attracts so few people. But, it was actually surprisingly intimate. The audience and performers were very connected, while at the same time the empty hall added a kind of surreal grandeur to the whole event.
Gary Kulesha put on his filtered, public face and did a fantastic job running the pre-concert chat and leading the concert itself. The composing fellows were perched on stools facing the audience and Gary asked questions that were meant to draw the audience into the whole process of composing making us seem more human. During the show, he asked each of us one or two questions specifically designed to inform the audience about the single most important thing driving the piece. It was very educational, but personal at the same time. I think it helped the audience to connect with the composer and appreciate their intent, even if they didn’t get the soundworld of the piece.
The ensemble lead by Jean-Philippe Tremblay was fantastic. By that point they knew the pieces well enough that it felt like they were really performing them rather then just fingering the notes and counting rhythms. There was more of them in the music, more drive, more intention. It was very satisfying.
We were also fortunate to have all these well-known composers from all over the country at the concert and to have a chance to chat with them at the closing reception. It was interesting to hear the perspective of people who never heard anything from me before and also those, like Alan Bell, who have been watching me grow for some years. We were lucky that they happened to be in the city.
Most of us were leaving early in the morning so the sad hour of 3 am saw all of our drunkenly sentimental goodbyes. It is always devastating to leave such experiences. You are thrown together for this intense week seeped with creative and personal sharing. What in the ordinary course of life might have been months of social and professional interaction is super-concentrated into almost countable hours. You come out feeling like you’ve known these people for years, you are invested in them. Then the group suddenly breaks up and scatters all over the world, and all you are left with is a fattened Facebook friends list. Till next time, everyone!!