Spectrum Music

Last weekend Marion, my partner, and I attended a concert presented by Spectrum Music entitled “Tales of the Deep Blue.”

Spectrum is a Toronto-based composer collective formed in 2010 that presents “genre-defying,” themed concerts, this time the theme being ‘the ocean,’ a delectably wide open and inspiring theme if there ever was one.

The artistic director, Shannon Graham – also one of the composers on the program – is a classmate in the M.A. program at York.  I think she’s a part of something special on the local music scene and I was very happy to support her.

Shannon describes Spectrum’s focus as “chamber jazz” and, since the jazz-classical hybrid realm (itself as wide as the ocean) is the focus of my own research, the collective appeals to me on a very deep level (in this case on a deep blue level, wah wah).

Spectrum creates a theme for the concert – a very listener-friendly thing to do – then hires musicians, most often in an ad hoc instrumentation, and commissions composers to write for that ensemble.  This time around they recruited an established group, the Shaw Street Collective, formed in 2014.  Shaw Street is wonderfully poised and polished for a group so young, and also fresh and unusual for their set-up: marimba played by Anthony Savidge, cello by Alyssa Ramsay, trombone by Mikolaj Debowski and trumpet by Emma Rowlandson-O’Hara.

The concert was a spate of world premieres, six of the seven total being brand new.  Often one is wont to express what pieces come off as favourites but it was difficult here.  Perhaps, Shannon’s piece Azulada, Anthony’s Grasslands and Jay Vasquez’s La Sirena (Ventura) seemed the most polished and mature pieces, but, honestly, they were all engaging.  Overall, the music presented was accessible, yet refreshing, leaning towards the conservative side of things but avoiding cliché.  The exuberant cheers and whistles from the audience confirm my thinking.  This is music sought after and enjoyed by those who manage to ‘turn off’ both their passive access to music and their well-worn paths of seeking, and, instead, go out and give new stuff a chance.

I was struck by how many young people were in attendance in the (well chosen) theatre at the Alliance Francaise centre.  It appears “classical” music, if you can indeed call that, is alive and well (and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise).  The abundance of new music being churned out maybe doesn’t match the output of the pop music world but it’s robust and I hope it only expands as more and more people get exposed to the likes of Spectrum.

Next presentation is “Tales of the Unconscious” on March 4th at Knox Presbyterian Church, 8pm.  It features a chamber choir called Musicata – Hamilton’s Voices and a trio of improvising jazz musicians, including saxophonist Mike Murley.






Bringer of War

Recovering emotionally from the results of the U.S. election,  I figure it’s a good time to turn attention to some appropriate “doomsday” music.

Various bombastic movie scores might do, Desplat’s Godzilla, for instance.  I’m sure there are tons of options given the popularity of apocalyptic and dystopian films.

However, as I write this I’m listening to Holst’s “Mars: The Bringer of War” from The Planets, Op. 32 suite for orchestra.  It is totally fitting.