Modulus Festival: September 27 – 30

I have a confession: I become a monstrous slob when my schedule gets busy. And given that this September has been one of the craziest months ever for me, I think it’s safe to say I’ve degenerated into the world’s worst roommate. As I type this I am snugly nestled between precariously piled towers of dishes, music scores, CDs, instruments, and the occasional beer bottle. But I’m happy to say that it’s all for good reason: this week is the Modulus Festival, and I’m so thrilled to be a part of it. Brought to you by the ingenious folks at Music on Main, the Modulus Festival runs from Sept. 27 – 30 at Heritage Hall, Main Street, Vancouver.

This year’s programme is particularly dear to me: on Thursday the 27th I’ll be teaming up with violinist Müge Büyükçelen to give the world premieres of two works by the internationally acclaimed British composer Michael Finnissy. The first, entitled Mercy and Mankind, is inspired by a Medieval morality play in which Mercy instructs Mankind to resist the temptations of the flesh, warning of the “battle betwix the soul and the body” (Mankind quickly fails in his endeavours to remain virtuous and eventually falls in with the less-than-reputable Three Vices). Mercy and Mankind is at times playful, at times darkly ominous — and the sudden changes from one character to another can be both amusing and disconcerting. Finnissy’s second work for us, Sesto Libro di Gesualdo, is a two-movement character sketch of the great Italian Renaissance composer, Carlo Gesualdo. Gesualdo remains one of the more outrageous figures in the world of classical music: returning home early from a hunting trip, he discovered his wife in bed with another man. Consumed by jealous rage, Gesualdo brutally murdered his wife, her lover, and some accounts say he even murdered his infant son, doubting the child’s paternity. To make matters worse, the corpses were publicly displayed on the steps of his palace. Being of nobility, Gesualdo could not be prosecuted for crimes of passion, but the murders would nevertheless haunt him for the rest of his life. Finnissy’s new work presents two chilling portraits of the man: one quietly plagued with doubt, obsession, and guilt; the other engulfed in blinding rage.

September 30th’s concert celebrates the music of another of my favourite composers, Kaija Saariaho. Featuring soprano Robyn Klassen, violinist David Gillham, cellist Becky Wenham, pianists Rachel Iwaasa and Corey Hamm, percussionist Brian Nesselroad, harpist Albertina Chan, and myself, this programme deftly balances warhorses and rarities by this incredibly innovative composer. Personal highlights include Oi Kuu for bass flute and cello (a piece that is at once both incredibly strange and attractive) and Terrestre for solo flute and chamber ensemble — a stunning showpiece that has the flutist not only playing, but shouting, screaming, and reciting text. If you know Saariaho’s music, you know that this isn’t a show to be missed; if you aren’t familiar with her music yet, you’re in for a treat: this music is complex, delicately nuanced, intensely coloured, and utterly delicious.

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