On Sunday afternoon, Glenn Gould Studio became host to a professional photo-shoot as well as the Amici Ensemble’s feature concert, “Fashionista: Fashion as Art.” The unique theme featured elegant gowns by Rosemarie Umetsu, demonstrating what one can draw and create from such elaborate musical selections. First on the programme was Galina Ustvolskaya’s Trio for Violin, Clarinet, and Piano. Prior to the commencement of the Trio, the host, Deirdre Kelly, had three models take the stage, allowing them to bask in the spotlight. These were three of nine gowns being premièred at GGS and they were inspired by Ustvolskaya’s work. The dresses were basic yet elegant and focused more on simplicity than embellishment, very much like the Trio.

Lara St. John, © Twain Newhart
Lara St. John,
© Twain Newhart

The piece opens with Joaquin Valdepeñas’ elusive clarinet solo floating over the depths of Serouj Kradjian’s dark piano bassline. Guest violinist Lara St. John came in with a powerful, stately tone, surpassing both the clarinet and piano. Seamless passing off of melodies and masterful techniques gave the first movement a crisp identity.

The second movement featured a sweet and subtle clarinet and violin duo. Kradjian’s entry assimilates the mood and tone set forth by Valdepeñas and St. John, maintaining the ambiance of the Dolce movement. The true feat of this movement was the strength and fluidity in dynamic contrast by St. John. Her crescendos were vivid and colorful, and her sustained notes were well-defined and effortless.

Kradjian set the tone for the Energico movement with heavy piano embraced by a violin vibrato resonating the piano. Kradjian’s display of dynamic mastery was emphasized with a magical touch. From hard, heavy chords to soft, light ones, he led the trio convincingly. St. John followed suit with an almost inaudible pianississimo which captured the nuances of Ustvolskaya’s composition.

Following the first selection, Deirdre Kelly welcomed composer Alice Ping Yee Ho for the world première of Breath of Fire. She commented on the composition as combining air and energy, and being inspired by ch’i (powerful force). The three entities, air, breath, and body, are symbolized by the three instruments. The three gowns that were inspired by the piece were much more intricate than the first group, and one fierce red one, with a flame design on the back, stood out in particular.

The ambience was set by creating darkness in Glenn Gould Studio, accompanied by the soft sounds of the clarinet, sustained accordion and cello as well as heavy breathing. The tone shifted from an expansive style into short abrupt melodies exemplifying that sense of ch’i. Guest musician Joseph Petric displayed a sense of ease, passing through accordion ornamentations with great energy and meticulousness. David Hertherington’s cello pizzicatos were emphasized with style and precisely intertwined with the clarinet and accordion. Valdepeñas’ sotto voce trills were well balanced with accordion flourishes. The piece plays well on suspense and the trio captured that with great emphasis through the ascending and descending scalic lines.

The final piece of the evening was Ernest Chausson’s Concerto in D, featuring violin soloist Lara St. John, Amici pianist Serouj Kradjian, and the Cecilia Quartet. The final three gowns were unveiled and, as stated by Deirdre Kelly, they resembled the sexy and romantic themes embedded in the Concerto. They were very elegant and glistened under the spotlight.

St. John was not on stage for the beginning of the first movement, but when she joined the musicians, she blended as though she had been playing with the Cecilia Quartet the whole time. This amalgamation resulted from pristine intonation and tone. The climactic solo high register took some time to resonate with the accompaniment; however, St. John’s sound recovered to end the movement.

The second movement started “un po’ rubato” with the melody. Kradjian took over and added substance to drive the solo and quartet. This piece embodied a multitude of colors and tones that made it difficult to focus on one sound at a time. The progressive decrescendo provided a subtle and effective transition into the third movement.

The Grave movement commenced with a delicate piano part accompanying long, drawn-out violin melodies. This movement was most notable for impressive dynamic contrasts by constant subito crescendos and decrescendos prior to chord changes. The movement’s theme was well characterized towards the end with shrill violin vibrato accompanied by hefty piano chords and the ascending and descending motive in the quartet.

The final movement was animated and fierce, and brought the cozy studio to life. Amidst all the musicians on stage, pianist Kradjian’s technical mastery stood out through fun, vivacious, and vibrant lines performed with swift fingers. The two contrasting motifs of upbeat versus sustained melodies drew out Debussy’s influence in Chausson’s composing. The final elaborate diminuendo led into a romantic waltz-like theme and concluded with St. John’s resilient cadences.