Untapped potential

This past Tuesday evening I witnessed a rarity — the recorder (that instrument you probably played in elementary school music class) used in a contemporary chamber setting.

Michala Petri is a recorder virtuoso. It was quite the sight watching her approach the stage with an armload of recorders and proceeded to demonstrate her appreciation for them, as she treated each one with the same amount of respect and decorum as befits such a noble insturment.

The concert began with Elgar’s Serenade for Strings in E minor. This was an excellent opener as it changed the usual format of classical music. The cellos and basses dominated the string section forcing the violins to play a supporting role.

The next two pieces featured Petri.

The first, The Ancient Chinese Beauty, by Chen Yi, was an absolutely riveting piece. Totally twenty-first century, it required the violins to use their highest voices while the bassists used gut-bucket style thumping. Riding on top of this dissonant wave was the recorder — and what a recorder. Did you know that you can perform multiphonics (where a single instrument produces several notes at once) on a recorder? In the hands and mouth of a talent as incredible as Petri’s the trill emerges as a complete vocabulary along with its own musical dictionary.

The second piece, by Canadian composer Gary Kulesha, Concerto for Recorder and Small Orchestra, stayed firmly planted in the twenty-first century.

The full house audience was completely taken by surprise when the harpsichord bench was taken not by Eric Lussier, usually the harpsichordist of choice, but by the individual who has become known as one of Winnipeg’s (and Canada’s) finest jazz pianists, Will Bonness. In a later conversation with Bonness he revealed that Lussier has been his piano teacher for about ten years — and apparently his harpsichord teacher as well.

Given the quality of talent that the audience was treated to, a standing ovation was deservedly given. In response, Petri returned to the stage and provided an encore. This consisted of a series of Danish folk tunes with her own variations. Her command and control of her instrument was amply demonstrated through an assortment of trills, one so fast that it was impossible to believe a tongue could vibrate so quickly. Absolutely breathtaking!

Not to be outdone, the MCO returned to the stage following intermission to perform Haydn’s Symphony No. 45 in F Sharp Minor. The four movements were beautifully handled. Manson demonstrated that she was relaxing into her role as conductor as she performed the magic of having her orchestra slowly dissolve, plunging itself into darkness as first one group of musicians and then another turned off the lights on their music stands, picked up their instruments and left the stage. This left only concertmaster and principle violinist Karl Stobbe and one other violinist (by that time even Manson had left) to conclude the piece. The audience ate this up, finding the proceedings, as was intended, extremely comical.

This was a truly delightful concert with the guest artist and the members of the MCO at their musical best. Your last chance to catch the MCO this season is at the end of this month when, on May 25, James Ehnes, always a crowd pleaser, will be the featured artist in a program of Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Vivaldi.