Review: Lancette

Journal of the Arts

Eve Egoyan weaves music on the piano

By Alidë Kohlhaas
Eve Egoyan is the kind of pianist who excites the listener because of the total involvement she displays with whatever music she performs. My first encounter with this pianist was some years ago when she performed some work — which I can no longer recall — on TVO’ s Studio 2. Then I had the opportunity to review her CBC Records CD of works by Erik Satie. True, I can take Satie only in small measures, but Egoyan played so well, I could not but be impressed by her performance.
Now Egoyan has come out with a new CD featuring works especially composed for her. There are four works on this CD entitled ‘Weave: Eve Egoyan’, and they are all world premiere recordings. These are four very different compositions, yet there is a common thread to them in that they all invite one to meditate on, to contemplate on, not just the music but also what is around us. Egoyan’s playing seems to meld with the piano. She is one with her instrument and at the same time she is one with the music.
Hers is an extraordinary talent that concentrates almost exclusively on modern composers, especially living composers. She brings them to our attention as few other pianists manage to do. These composers produce works that for the most part appear inaccessible to the listener, but that changes when Egoyan performs their compositions. They suddenly lose their seeming distance from our musical experience, our surroundings, from our usual perception of what is music. They become accessible.
The four composers featured on ‘Weave: Eve Egoyan’ are Martin Arnold, James Tenney, Jo Kondo and Michael Finnissy. Their backgrounds are quite varied. Tenney is the senior of the group in that he was born in 1934 in Silver City, New Mexico. Finnisy was born in London, England, in 1946, Kondo in Tokyo in 1947.
Arnold’s age is not stated in the liner notes, but he appears to be Canadian-born. His piece is called Herl. Now, anglers will know what a herl is, namely the barb or barbs of feathers used to dress fishing flies, and anyone familiar with the Scottish dialect will know the word harl, which means to troll for fish. When I first listened to the piece on my portable CD player while travelling on the GO Train to Toronto, it induced in me just that sense of both calm and excitement that anglers feel as they spent hours on a river or lake hoping for that fish to bit. I did not yet know its name nor had any clue who had written the piece. Somehow Arnold’s choice of name, whether he chose it in jest or in earnest, fits the work well.

Tenney titled his piece To Weave (a meditation), thus inadvertently giving Egoyan the title for this CD, her fifth of music by living composers. Only 10:46 minutes in length, Tenney’s composition does have a sense of the weaver’s touch, but also, as its composer states, the music forms wave upon wave that escalate and then slowly recede, leaving the listener in contemplation. At the same time, as I listened, this piece seemed to capture the rhythm of the train’s wheels and so altered my perceptions of my surroundings inside the train and the view outside during my journey.
Kondo’s work is even shorter. He called it ‘Metaphonesis’, and in his words, he created “a web of intertonal relationships.” There is a strong correlation between his work and To Weave. When I first listened to it, it seemed to be a continuation of Tenney’s composition. This is perhaps why Egoyan called her CD Weave, for there is a tonal weaving between some of this music that is quite seductive.
Finnissy called his work ‘Erik Satie, like anyone else’. As the name implies, Satie was one of his early heros. He liked the idea of the Frenchman being a musical provocateur and renegade. Teenagers are that way, no matter where they live. In this work I found that the silences were as important as the sounds. It is a work that needs several listenings, at least for me, before it really sinks in. But again, like the previous three works, there is that invitation to meditate, although there are sudden moments when that mediation is ruptured by forceful chords. Egoyan, whose sensitive touch makes all four pieces take on their own life, surprises with her forcefulness when required. It is startling, yet refreshing, and she captures these moments to perfection.
The sound quality of this CD is even, but listeners must be warned that they have to raise the decibels a little as some notes are so gentle and quiet they can easily be missed if the stereo is set too low.