The shock of space and the weight of the image

The start of this season unlike any other of the Contemporary Music Society of Quebec (SMCQ), which will see the transition from the Walter Boudreau era to a new era, took place on Sunday with a musical portrait of composer André Hamel.

The SMCQ thus inaugurates a highly instructive programmatic vein which will mark this season: the concert-monograph. Default for the organization: contrary to the usual multiplication of names within the same program, this allows to flatter fewer people in the community. Essential advantage for the interested music lover: it is possible in 90 minutes to get an idea of ​​the style, the major concerns, even the evolution of a creator. It is exactly this didactic approach in the promotion of its talents that one expects from a “Contemporary Music Society”.

The spatialization of the show

So André Hamel in a nutshell, at least in the portrait drawn on Sunday? Spatialization. “Spatialization calls for everyday listening. This way of listening is ancestral to us, ”says the composer at the back of the program. If the live webcast that we followed is a little reductive from this point of view, it nonetheless allows us to grasp the meaning of the process, especially since the positioning of the cameras made the layout and layout very clear. the involvement of instrumental groups.

Spatialization has been an axis of musical research for a number of eminent creators. We think of Stockhausen with groups, Boulez with Answer or Xenakis with Persephassa, but also contemporary composers from another obedience such as the Finnish Kalevi Aho in the 1990s.

The first piece, for violin and piano, cultivated but academic, was not of this obedience and above all allowed to see on stage the composer’s daughter playing, excellently, a work by her father composed 11 years before her birth. The performance was dressed by a video just like that of In the auditorium. In fact, the superposition of video creations by Sylvain Marotte was one of the concepts of the concert.

The SMCQ wanted to make In the auditorium (1998) the afternoon nerve center. It is therefore that the work is considered emblematic of this “spatialist” André Hamel who, very surprisingly, has very little to say about it. In the auditorium is marked by sound downpours from brass and percussion. It’s essentially spectacular in its burst of energy, startling at the start of the piece. At the time, there were colossal means for this kind of experiment, since it was the musicians of the OSM themselves who had dealt with the matter.

The structuring space

With video Night interior An equally promising and significant path is opening up: the use and mastery of electronic music. Precisely in Morning mists and urban textures, for saxophone quartet and electronics, the sounds of each other manage to merge and merge in a whirlwind that is that of life. It is interesting to compare Boulez’s conception: “The spatial distribution is not a staging with a view to more or less spectacular effects, but a structural necessity”.

The composer, member of the Unlimited Sound Spaces collective, returns in 2017 with Being and reminiscence, composed for the NEM, to more acoustic spatialization and means, but also more refined and essential than 20 years previously. The composer is also more talkative about this work than about In the auditorium, he talks about Buddhism and reminiscences and, in this regard, musically quotes snippets of Mozart. In the notice, he apologizes for having made a mistake: “I wrote as is what I had in mind, learning later that it was the Quartet with clarinet “. The confession is all the more tasty as Mozart never wrote a quartet with clarinet, but a famous Quintet. The error in correcting the error is therefore greater than the basic error which would have gone unnoticed!

All these works, beautifully filmed for Internet capture, it has been pointed out, were therefore ready for the cause of videos. The concept is very interesting, but deserves a separate critical discussion. Because, except for Night interior, and unless I am mistaken, no video is linked to the original work and this music was never written to dress up these videos.

Unless André Hamel himself wants to give a second life and a second meaning to his works, it is therefore a very risky gamble to impose such a partial view of a person (for example his frantic obsession with the hands can end up boring) by superimposing it on an abstract artistic creation which, according to listeners, violently stimulates the imagination or leaves them frozen.

It is indeed very distracting to have images to look at, the process raises many questions. Do we think we can get across something deemed dry or difficult – in other words, is it the recognition of the need for a sweetener to “get the potion through”? Have we not imagined that by diverting the attention from the music, we transform it into “accompanying music for a film” (nod to Music to accompany a movie scene, work of Arnold Schoenberg, 1930), something that was not its primary destination?

And, in the end, will all the composers agree?

Portrait of André Hamel

Piece for violin and piano (1984). In auditorium for 31 spatialized musicians (1998). Interior night (2006, music video André Hamel / Guylaine Savoie). Morning mists and urban textures, for saxophone quartet and electronics (2007). Being and reminiscence for 15 instruments (2017). Anne-Claude Hamel-Beauchamp (violin), Louise-Andrée Baril (piano), Sylvain Marotte (video), Sixtrum, Quasar, Ensemble de la SMCQ, Cristian Germán Gort. Videos: Sylvain Marotte. Salle Pierre-Mercure, Sunday September 26. Free live webcast available 6 months.

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