Wu Review: SEQUENZA 21


Friday, May 13, 2005

Along an Overgrown Path With Rudoph Komorous

Earlier in the week I received in the mail two new CDs from the Canadian pianist Eve Egoyan, who specializes in the performance of new works. I popped the first one into my disk drive and I haven’t been able to listen to anything else since.

The recording is a single, hour-long solo piano piece called Wu by Rudolf Komorous, who describes himself as “an old composer, born and educated in Prague.” Komorous moved to Canada in 1969 and was appointed Director of the School of Music at the University of Victoria and later Director of the School for Contemporary Arts at Simon Fraser University. He is now retired and lives in Victoria, British Columbia.

Wu is a Zen concept that means the “not” expected and the experience of listening to Komorous’ mesmerizing meditation is rather like sitting in a quiet park on a spring day watching a cherry tree and waiting for a blossom to fall…or not fall. This is the sort of thing we Americans do far too little of; we have little tolerance for silence or unpredictability.

But, there is element at work here that goes well beyond style. If you listen carefully, you realize that the notes are not random at all; they are stories, fragments of memory, drawn from some other place and some other time, told in no particular order or, in some cases, in whatever order the performer chooses. Here are Komorous’ instructions:
Notes for the performance:

Wu is a piece in one movement. However, it comprises 31 segments which are divided by rests (from one to four beats). The rests should be performed exactly in the tempo of the segment they end.

The segments are to be played in the following order:

* number 1

* numbers 2 – 10 (in any order of the performer’s choice)

* number 11

* numbers 12 – 20 (in any order of the performer’s choice)

* number 21

* numbers 22 – 30 (in any order of the performer’s choice)

* number 31

The tempo throughout is slow, yet it varies from segment to segment. The tempi are given by the duration times (including the ending rests) which are given at the end of each segment. The indicated durations should be considered average times. In the performance they may vary according to the player’s temperament and feeling of the music. It is fully acceptable if segments of the durations from 15 seconds to 1 minute 15 seconds are performed up to 6 seconds shorter or longer, those of longer durations up to 12 seconds either way. The tempo is expected to fluctuate slightly within the segment.

Dynamics of this calm piece are left to the performer’s imagination. Pedalling should be used to enhance the quality of sound, NOT to let consecutive notes sound together.

The music is often written on one staff only. The player can use either hand, or both, as convenient.

Duration: about one hour
Imagine a 70-something composer sitting in a porch swing, daydreaming of his childhood, drawing out of himself-in a kind of free associative manner-the pre-urban, rustic sounds and folksongs and lullabies that comforted him as a child. Having reached the age where such memories are frequent and bittersweet, I recognize all too clearly Kemorous’ longing to walk, once more, along a certain overgrown path. Wu is the spirtual heir to Janacek’s great paen to memory and aging and a masterpiece in its own right.