Music Playoffs with St. Crispin’s Chamber Ensemble

Six Team League
Presented by St. Crispin’s Chamber Ensemble
May 15, 2010  Muttart Hall, Alberta College

It was fitting to see a group of musicians in sports jerseys present the Six Team League project in the middle of playoff season.  As the name suggests, the concept behind the project goes back to the glory days of the NHL when only six teams made up of the best hockey players in North America fought each other for the ultimate title.

Working from this idea, Vancouver composer Jordan Nobles called up fellow musicians across the country.  He pulled together six of Canada’s best new music ensembles – groups dedicated to playing new compositions – and asked six composers from different regions of the country to write a piece for clarinet, percussion, piano, electric guitar, violin and bass.  On May 15, these six groups, based in Fredericton, Montreal, Toronto, Edmonton and Vancouver, each performed a concert of all six pieces.

I love going to new music concerts because they make me listen differently.  Sometimes this is a challenge, sometimes it’s fun, but either way my eyes are opened to new sounds and new ways of expressing ideas.  The musicians are often stretched as well, working from music that looks like nothing they’ve ever seen and playing their instruments in unconventional ways.  This concert featured marbles, a coffee mug, and quite a few chopsticks in combination with the other instruments on stage. 

Don Ross organized the Edmonton component of the Six Team League, as clarinettist and front man for St. Crispin’s Chamber Ensemble.  He did a great job of guiding the audience through a program that was diverse and interesting.  While the group on stage remained more or less the same, each piece of music was completely different. 

Each of the six composers treated their assignment differently.  Joel Miller wrote a four movement easy rock tribute to punk band Deerhoof.  Edmonton’s Dave Wall created the energetic and rhythmic Dance Monkey.  Inspired by female boxers, Juliet Palmer’s Bout reminded me of the alternation between combat and dance-like interaction in the boxing ring.  In Pangaea Ultima, Gordon Fitzell created a gorgeous, atmospheric depiction of continental drift over millions of years.

The concert started off with Jordan NoblesSimulacrum, in which an alternating lead instrument played a set musical idea while the other musicians picked their part from a variety of options on their music.  That may sound confusing, and my explanation is probably as clear as mud, but the performance was crystal clear.  It was obvious that the musicians were listening carefully to each other, fitting themselves together to create a unified whole.

This on-stage communication was most noticeable in Slippery Blades by Québec composer Michel Frigon.  Based on the concept of the teamwork required from hockey players, Frigon called on the musicians to work together while experimenting with new ways of playing their instruments.  Slippery Blades was the highlight of the program for me.  It was fascinating to watch the group communicate without words, watching and listening to each other carefully, responding to each others’ moves.  If St. Crispin’s Chamber Ensemble were a hockey team, I’ve not doubt they would get at least as far as the conference finals.


more in Music Feature     |     posted May 17th, 2010 at 9:39am     

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