Ensemble Paramirabo, a young and highly talented contemporary music ensemble based in Montréal, offered the final concert of their first season tonight at the Chapelle Historique du Bon-Pasteur. Their group is comprised of the standard Pierrot Lunaire instrumentation for which so many 20th-century works were written: flute (Jeffrey Stonehouse), clarinet (François Gagné), violin (Aysel Taghi-Zada), cello (Viviana Gosselin) and piano (Gabrielle Gingras). In their first season Ensemble Paramirabo has already performed over 30 works, including five commissions.

Ensemble Paramirabo
Ensemble Paramirabo

Tonight’s concert featured the work of seven different composers, all but one of the works having been written in the 21st century. As usual, Ensemble Paramirabo displayed their immense professionalism as well as their impressive commitment to distinctive and highly engaging programming. The music they chose was highly imaginative, rich with suggestiveness and musical complexity.

The first piece on the program, Gates of Light by Canadian composer Kevin Lau, exploded with a savage intensity. Right away the cohesiveness of this ensemble was apparent—they danced lightly over an extremely thick web of rhythmic complexity, each player aware of the score’s nuances, providing the listener with a feeling of complete ease despite such tangled intricacy. Lugubrious and dizzying lines wound themselves ever upward as Lau’s music gained complexity and strength, and, at times, strains of tango music seemed to appear. In Lau’s own words, he experimented with new techniques including “an adventurous rhythmic drive, saturated counterpoint, and a generally ‘spiky’ pitch palette, all contributing to an aggressively non-tonal discourse.” This “saturated counterpoint” created an unending stream of energy and tension, often setting the piano against the rest of the ensemble with such elaborate rhythmic patterns that one single misstep would have caused disaster. Lau’s piece was a highlight of the concert, and a fine way to open the program.

Moon Young Ha’s Fairy Tale and Gabriel Dharmoo’s Sur les rives de were the most suggestive works on the program by far. Ha’s Fairy Tale began in complete simplicity, framed by childlike pentatonic wandering lines, illustrative and pointillistic in nature. The sharp texture quickly melted into lush tones underscored by a babbling piano accompaniment. A theme appeared in the clarinet, resembling quite closely Saint-Saëns’s The Swan, but was immediately interrupted by an explosion of low sixteenth-note runs in the cello and piano. The texture became increasingly thick and distorted, and with each repetition the clarinet theme became more and more deformed and mutated, evoking an image of the nastier parts of popular fairy tales, when the antagonist is introduced. Childhood dreams and imagination became more sinister, as if suddenly Hansel and Gretel realized they were lost in an ominous forest. Finally, Ha’s music arrived back at a place of simplicity, the texture similar to the opening of the work, but this time tinged with the experience of a perilous journey. Ensemble Paramirabo’s playing was inventive and colorful, deftly guiding the listener through an imaginary landscape.

Frequent guest and percussionist Krystina Marcoux joined the ensemble for Sur les rives de (“On the rivers of”). Evocative of eons past, Dharmoo’s music was incredibly original. Powered by an almost incessant rhythmic backdrop, vague mumblings from a seemingly ancient world were punctuated by the use of stones as percussion instruments, at first only by the pianist, but finally by all the players in the ensemble, implying a world devoid of humanity and civilization.

Ensemble Paramirabo has a firm commitment to quality chamber music, which, in the world of contemporary music, equates to total fearlessness. In order to successfully perform works of such complexity each musician must be firmly aware of the score and perform the various tasks of a conductor throughout any given work. Their ability to do so was most clear in Yannick Plamondon’s Autoportrait sur Times Square. The work, which is the composer’s way to come to terms with the insane chaos of New York City, opens in complete tempestuousness—Aysel Taghi-Zada and Viviana Gosselin ripped into the strings of their instruments which moaned and hissed, reminiscent of fingernails on a chalkboard. What ensued was a shrieking, tangled mass of overwhelming musical mayhem. The agility of the group was on full display here, as they deftly maneuvered amidst the maelstrom of sound. However, despite the turbulent nature of the music, it was never pointlessly ugly, but always illustrative and characteristic of that overwhelming pace of life in a metropolis.

Ensemble Paramirabo will embark on a Canadian tour in their next season, and we can only hope that they will continue to present engaging and original programs for years to come. This ensemble is rare gem in the city—born solely of creative inspiration, and their evolution as an up-and-coming musical force is not to be missed.

****1