In review: Squeezebox

In review: Squeezebox

Greg Finney

Trinity-St. Paul’s never looks better than when it has a full house, and that’s what Soundstreams had Wednesday night in Toronto.

In an eclectic program that only an accomplished company like Soundstreams can pull off, we were treated to Squeezebox, a program of instruments from the accordion family, which is a thing, and includes one played with your mouth (think harmonica meets tiny bagpipes and has a threesome with an accordion.)

The night opened with a piece by R. Murray Schafer called La Testa d’Ariadne (The Head of Ariadne). A great theatre piece with one of our faves, Carla Huhtanen as the disembodied head of the Princess Ariadne. Accordionist Joseph Macerollo plays the role of a narrator/minstrel who beckons the head awake and together they launch into an eerie duets filled with lots of long tones and various vocalizations from Huhtanen and masterful clusters from Macerollo. Standard Schafer fare, the piece uses a wonderful demonstration of the beautiful yet unorthodox sonorities from these two instruments.

Next up a piece for saenghwang and marimba. Korean artist gamin and percussionist Ryan Scott played a sort of antiphonal tag with each other in Duologue by Korean composer, Taejong Park. The sustained chords and clusters provide a sensual landscape for the woody airy-ness of the marimba with each bursting occasionally into fits of rhythmic fervor.

Saenghwang player gamin.

The first half of the program wrapped up with a rousing quartet called Dance of the Blind by Italian Marjan Mozetich. A quartet of two violins, cello, and accordion the music seemed to evoke a chaotic grace that one would assume the title to look like. Timothy Ying and Sheila Jaffe played off each other seamlessly and David Hetherington’s cello was delightful. Michael Bridge who studies with Macerollo, played an astonishingly complex array of colours, textures and rhythms. This piece definitely made me want to hear more from the composer, and this dashing young accordionist.

Hector del Curto, bandoneón, and Timony Ying, violin.

The second half started on the adventurous side with the world premiere of a commission by Soundstreams from composer Anna Pigdorna. On the Courtship Displays of Birds of Paradise, for accordion and saenghwang, was the musical depiction of the mating rituals of these exotic birds, in which the male can spend up to 7 years perfecting the rituals before a female can even consider them worthy. Bridge and gamin played the courting birds believably, and in what made the piece a little more dramatic, gamin would move between different stands to show the ladybird’s varying levels of interest.

Next up was probably the most challenging piece of the evening as an audience member. Alexina Louie’s Refuge for accordion, harp, and vibraphone was an examination in tension and release with Erica Goodman’s harp and Bev Johnston’s percussion railing against the accordion’s lush harmonies.

Then, after some delicious wine in the first five numbers, it’s time for some top-quality cheese - and I mean that in a positive way as anyone who knows me can attest to my feelings for cheese.

Accordionist Michael Bridge.

The night ended with Hector del Cuerto on the bandoneón, the accordion’s ultra-sexy South American cousin and Tania Gill on piano. First we were dazzled by a lively, jazzy dance routine between the two. In Milonga para Hermeto by Quique Sinesi, Cuerto’s nimble digits and sense of dynamic married elegantly with Gill’s subtle but driving piano. Then they were joined by Ying on violin for a thrilling performance of Astor Piazzola’s Revirado. Clean, precise, rhythmic and visceral. Exactly what I love best in a squeezebox and fiddle combo.

A great evening that may have been somewhat marred by a distracted audience. I hope the performers were immune to the cell-phones, candy wrappers, sniffles, coughs and sometimes straight-up conversations and critiques about how they didn’t understand the weird* music. Luckily, the crowd was very appreciative and showed their gratitude and celebrated these talented performers properly.

They had a great house, and continue to provide unique creative programming year after year. Keep up the amazing work, Soundstreams, can’t wait for the next one.

*read: Complex, difficult, non-western, or non-neoclassical.

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