Sonic Boom festival's second night lacking in innovation

A Vancouver Pro Musica presentation. Featuring the Nu:BC Collective. At the Western Front on Friday, April 9. No remaining performances

Plato famously noted that when the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake. Or rather, he didn’t: that’s a hyped-up interpretation of his comment that the laws of the state tend to change along with musical styles. Either way, we could be in for more dreary years of Gordon Campbell and Stephen Harper—at least based on the second night of the annual Sonic Boom festival’s survey of the local compositional scene.

The festival aims to showcase B.C.’s emerging and mid-career composers, who, at least theoretically, ought to be the ones most capable of supplying us with new musical modes. Instead, a packed Western Front was presented with some very accomplished writing—our schools, at least, are good—and a lot of recycled concepts.

Probably the most fully realized work came from Vancouver Pro Musica president Farshid Samandari, who’s had his scores performed by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, among others. Impetus afresh found the composer in typically aspirational mode, with upward-tending lines symbolizing a spiritual quest and a high drone suggesting an angelic choir. According to Samandari’s program notes, the work has to do with the search for utopia in “everyday mundane circumstances”. That’s a lot to convey in just a few minutes, but it certainly made this listener very happy.

Also impressive was Cameron Catalano’s All Colours Compliment in the Dark, which belied its title with its sunny evocation of a midsummer’s day, complete with a deep bee-buzz of cello and the tintinnabulation of bamboo wind chimes.

Other pieces were more problematic—not surprising with 10 composers, some of them relative novices, on the bill. Daniel Larraí­n must be a pianist: his Oceanography featured a great, splashy part for the Nu:BC’s Corey Hamm, but otherwise the writing was undistinguished and the cello part downright awkward. And Julio Torres’s Marsyas taxed both Paulo Bortolussi’s considerable skills and the audience’s patience with a long, rambling, and often rather unmusical exploration of the things a great flute player can do with lips and tongue.

The night ended with Lucas Schuller’s brief Isn’t That Beautiful, Bob?. Like many other pieces on Friday’s program, this little slice of show-tune klezmer was elegant and exceedingly well crafted—but for now, the walls of the city are safe.