Monday 28 January 2013

Un Jour Infini: a Samson Marzbani premiere

An infinite day.

Performed last night at the RoyalCollege of Music Amaryllis Fleming Concert Hall by three quarters of the Brodsky Quartet Daniel Rowland (violin), Paul Cassidy (viola) and Jacqueline Thomas (cello) and flautist Wissam Boustany,  Un Jour Infini was a breath of fresh air. Samson Marzbani is a self-taught composer interested in improvisation. In a short talk he described how, at age seven after hearing a pianist, he passionately believed that one day he too would be able to play piano. It was several years before he had the opportunity to learn, and several more before he worked out the skills necessary to improvise at the keys. But since then he has become more and more interested in improvisation and live composition, and both of tonight’s pieces were rooted in informality and freedom of expression.

Samson himself played three live compositions, Danses d’un Papillon, on the piano. Described as being dedicated to the flight of a butterfly, and to his mother, Samson explained that this work was entirely improvisational and that he went where the music took him – and he managed to convey his emotion very effectively. The first piece was resolutely in a cheerful major key, and was very evocative, crescendoing throughout as the butterfly aimed for the skies. It could have been used as music for a film or television. The second piece had a distinctly Persian flavour, full of minor seconds, thirds and sixths, which then moved through bitonality, before a reminder of the soaring flight of the first movement. The final section was a cycle of moods, with stops and starts, gradually becoming a whisper and returning us to where he began.

The improvisation which gave rise to Un Jour Infini was notated by Samson, as he played, by linking a computer to a digital piano.  But this project has been a long time in reaching fulfilment – 12 or 14 years.  Once he had decided to transcribe it for string trio and flute Samson then studied string quartets, such as Mozart, to get a feel for the medium. Eight years ago he found Wissam Boustany from an internet search (‘Flute’ and ‘Europe’) who brought together some string players to make a preliminary recording. ‘Un Jour Infini’ then continued to sit around waiting. Samson tried some different ideas with it, for example trying to put together some words to make a children’s story, but found this just got in the way of the music. Now with Wissam and the Brodsky trio, Samson is planning a recording of the final version – which he explained is pretty much the original improvisation.

Nine movements in all, Un Jour Infini was a good hour long and a continuous play, especially for Jacqueline on cello who provided most of the left hand of the piano thoughout.  The very nature of the composition defined the instrumentation, which was more about colour than competing themes. Solo passages flew over the bass background and contrasted with dense colours provided by doubling of instruments on the upper line – flute and violin, or with viola in a different octave. Daniel’s interpretation gave a definite French flavour to the first movement.

The second movement was faster, but similar in style, and included some dancing tunes from Wissam, while the third movement was a complete contrast. A pizzicato, chordal viola line by Paul provided the background to Persian-influenced melodies which rotated around the instruments. As the violin joined in the sweeping pizzicato the music became more frenzied, but calmed to finish on viola flourishes.

The next section was watery with lots of descending lines, followed by a haunting lament on the flute. During this a distant drummer could be heard practising, but this in no way detracted from the experience. Movement six began with chords but returned to the style of movement one with spare passages contrasting against denser instrumentation. This structure was exaggerated in section seven to a discordant start blending into a dreamy almost lullaby feeling.

The beautiful, folk-music style of the next movement reminded me of Twelfth Day, and if they had stopped there I would have been happy enough. But there was one last movement to bring this infinite day to its close. The final movement was in two parts. It began as a conversation between viola and flute expanding to encompass the other instruments, while the second half returned us to the dawn of the beginning by thinning out the chords supporting the flute, to viola alone

While last night’s performance was filmed, Un Jour Infini is to be recorded next week (produced by Chris Alder) along with piano compositions for an upcoming CD. 
review by Hilary Glover

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