Concert intriguing, if a bit too ambitious.
If ever there were a King Lear of contemporary music, then Iannis Xenakis would be it: infinitely engaging, yet difficult to stage. Ever since hearing Joël Cormier demo a selection of Xenakis’ Rebonds at the Faculty Gala Concert last September, I was eager to hear more of the Greek composer’s experimental work. Unfortunately, it appears that even the most avant-garde pieces have their limits. In an impressive demonstration of Cormier’s musical talent, the Mt. A percussion instructor held a Faculty and Guest Recital last Saturday dedicated to four of Xenakis’ pieces. With the help of guest accompaniments by David Rogosin, Christian Hébert and Christian Thibault, Cormier brought the composer’s sporadic sounds to life on the Brunton stage. If only said stage were larger. Assembling the massive arrays of instruments between performances took up nearly half of the evening’s two-hour timeframe. The last performance, a rendition of Komboï, consumed the entire stage and utilized everything from a harpsichord and a vibraphone to conga drums and clay pots. The performance was ultimately more interesting to look at than to listen to, as the combination of sporadic percussion sequences and a spattering of harpsichord runs was simply too busy and complex to be enjoyable. While this is more of a critique of Xenakis’ work than the concert itself, it seemed overly ambitious to include this piece when the evening’s most riveting performance was Okho, which required only four drums distributed amongst three performers. The piece’s collaborative element was brilliantly executed, as Cormier, Hébert and Thibault built upon each other’s djembe drum beats with palpable chemistry. The trio also took turns for solos throughout the piece, allowing the audience to identify each performer’s distinctive style. With each resonant layer and intricate rhythm of the performance, one could feel that its success lay in its simple, if slightly less spectacular, instrumentation. Despite these logistical criticisms, Cormier’s immense technical skill should not be understated. In Psappha, the evening’s third performance, Cormier demonstrated his mastery of Xenakis’ challenging and experimental style. Armed with four mallets and a miscellany of bongos, wood blocks and bass drums, Cormier skilfully navigated the multi-dimensional piece while maintaining its mysterious and suspenseful tone. All things considered, Cormier’s performance of Xenakis’ percussion music was intriguing and entertaining, if a bit too ambitious for one stage.