Sunday, September 5, 2021

Oxonmoot and Banff, day 4

I heard a few papers at the very tail end of Oxonmoot early this morning. One presenter discovered, to her surprise and delight, that Tolkien's mythological depictions of light actually express wave-particle duality. Another noted the number of Tolkien's school and college textbooks that survive to this day and wondered, where did he keep them when he was off serving in WW1? He didn't have a family home to store stuff like this in. Unfortunately there isn't really an answer. And a third was a discussion of the geopolitics of Numenor chock full of terms like colonialism, imperialism, and exceptionalism, enough to cause the sort of people who objected to the diversity seminar to have steam coming out of their ears.

This was followed by the concluding ceremony of every Oxonmoot, which was successfully webcast to those of us not there in person: the placing of a wreath on Ronald & Edith Tolkien's grave, and the reading of appropriate passages from Ronald's works. This time TS chair Shaun Gunner read the memorial letter Ronald wrote after Edith's death to their son, and it didn't come without catches in the voice.

That was at 6 am my time, leaving plenty of time in the day for two concerts from Banff. First, the Viano Quartet, a winner of the last competition and one I remember fondly. Five short pieces by Erwin Schulhoff setting various types of popular music in 1920s modernism, requiring large grinding sounds the Viano is eminently equipped to provide. Then "The Evergreen," a new piece by the eminent Caroline Shaw, beginning with ethereally wispy rhythmic patterns overlaid on each other, then the same thing with Large Grinding Sounds, then a pizzicato overlaid interlude, and concluding with arpeggiated cadential phrases for one instrument over humming breaths for the others and sounding like nothing so much as the conclusion of Einstein on the Beach. Lastly, the quartet was joined by Marc-André Hamelin for the Dvořák Piano Quintet in A, which mixed slow parts as slow as possible with fast parts as fast, loud, and thunderous as possible. Dvořák Positively Pulverized.

The second concert was a small string orchestra of 16 players. Two Canadian composers, both immigrants, introduced the program. Dinuk Wijeratne's Letter from the After-life began with chittering sounds and evolved into a series of quotations from Schubert's Death and the Maiden Quartet. Not unwelcome, but for goodness' sake why? Marjan Mozetich's Postcards from the Sky had long flowing melodies, but any sense of neoromanticism was overriden by the light clean harmonies and the quiet underlying pulsing accompaniment. It was, in fact, postminimalism, and shows just how far that genre has evolved from its roots. The rest of the concert consisted of standard fare, Elgar's Serenade for Strings and the Barshai orchestration of Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8, played with Viano-like drama that overcame the awkwardness of blowing this intimate piece up to orchestral size.

Turns out that all the recordings from the festival will be up and free for another month, and you can find them here.

No comments:

Post a Comment