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When Musicians Don't Play Music

I know I usually write about visual arts, but this concert I attended on the weekend was so artistically random, I feel it deserves a special note. I am keeping it in Visual Arts for you can try to visualize what I heard.

People usually go to concerts that they are going to like. Or at least that they hope they will like. What do you do when you go to a show that you know beforehand that you will not like, mostly because it is not supposed to "sound good"?

That's how I spent my Saturday night. At the Scelsi Centenary Project held at the St. George the Martyr Anglican Church (197 John Street). And did I like it? Ummm...

I'm here at Wallace Halladay's show, listening to three violins and a cello squeak. They aren't squeaking together and there appears to be no pattern or rythmn. Imagine 100 squeaky doors blowing in the wind. They build and die down inconsistently. They are the Penderecki String Quartet and they are playing String Quartet No. 4 on what would be Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi's 100th birthday.

Wallace Halladay plays the tri tempi for saxophone in the next piece, "Kya". There's hope that the mood will be melancholy and pleasantly nostalgic. I see mountains and prairies and feel relief from the chaos. But I do get the feeling that it's only building - as much as each of the seven instruments sound lovely and create a pleasant mood, they each play as if they can't hear each other.

The tension is increasing and somehow it's not sitting right, like the notes are just off from what they need to be for it to sound comfortable and easy on the ear. I am consistently just on the brink of wincing. I look for ease at the conductor, but none of the notes I hear seem to coincide with his movements. In actuality they are following him, it's just impossible to tell when there's no rhythm to be had.

But, as much as it might seem like it, this is no child's music lesson. These musicians were highly skilled with their instruments. The Quartet is an extremely highly celebrated ensemble, and the packed over capacity church was proof. Wallace Halladay, 27, and the organizer of the event, is already breaking down doors and turning heads in the contemporary music scene. These musicians all have mastered their instruments as though beyond sound - they know how to use them to their full capacity, not just play them.

I am not even going to attempt to explain the whys and whats of this 'three-dimensional' performance or the composer on the brink of maddness (so that's what inner dialogue driving someone crazy means!).

But do check out Saturday's Globe and Mail article to help understand why such a bizarre show was packed with an audience brimming at the church's seams.


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