Two recent musical events bring front and center the disconcerting and provoking reality of remarkable creative powers attracting minuscule attention. Now, we’re all well-versed in the cliche that every contribution along these lines can be “personally” rewarding. But that truism should not be allowed to sedate the violence being done to that range of nature thriving on more than one (or a few) movers and shakers.
The picture above shows Superstar cellist Yo Yo Ma and a group of virtually anonymous colleagues, with whom he produces innovative music which does not speak to a large market. Though he may maintain that such work is of special interest to him, it is with his far more familiar repertoire that he has made an impact that touches millions of listeners. His fame, it can be argued, has made possible the modest exposure his colleagues benefit from. But the incongruity of these forces impresses all the more, into the venture of illuminative art, a gulf by which those fully committed to unprecedented musical dynamics have to be constantly consulting and questioning.
The double bassist of Yo Yo Ma’s reconnaissance troupe, namely, Edgar Meyer, is a thrillingly formidable performer and composer; and, the other night, we were treated to his visit to Toronto to perform, with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and his friend since school days, the Superstar violinist, Joshua Bell, his Concerto for Violin and Double Bass.
Like Yo Yo Ma, Joshua Bell (recently occupying the Music Directorship of the august (and perhaps a bit geriatric) Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, is a virtuoso who understandably capitalizes on the remarkably attractive qualities of his playing within the classical repertoire. His work on Meyer’s invention, though full of gorgeous touches, comes under the aegis of the avant-garde strangeness intrinsic to the work—a strangeness only exacerbated by bluegrass and jazz priorities. I love Meyer’s marshalling of tempo and timbre to an upshot of Big Bang sprays as pulling themselves together into goldmines of sleek and deep spaciousness.
Though overshadowed by those havens of inflated personality which classical compositions tend to depend upon (while pushing the envelope a bit through the sensuality of progressions), a career like that of Meyer does cogently look toward younger listeners and toward a future more inured to the uncanny.
Far from the corporate dazzle into which Meyer has played his cards, there is Toronto indie rocker, Jessica Stuart. She, too, proves to be a far-reaching composer as well as virtuoso performer, in singing and guitar and koto playing.
Though a gifted poet and harmonist (seizing on throwaway phrases like, “a question well-worth asking” and “two sides to every story”), she first came to our attention belting out scorching interludes in the parking lot of a West End Beer Store (we heard her long before we saw her).
Among the many endearing qualities of her work there is her naming her trio, The Few. What a sharp and punchy allusion to the vicissitudes of reaching an audience! “Few” implies lacking a critical mass; and this is the order of the day for all artists. The lazy reference to waiters being largely unemployed actors—a bourgeois shorthand redolent of, “Why do they bother?”—does not begin to get to the fascinating and punishing trial of seeing struggle and accomplishment coming to naught.
Perhaps the objective of widespread interaction by way of trenchant art is inappropriate to the social realities. In light of this possibility, the whole outlook of world history becomes more mysterious and more fun. I think artists like Edgar Meyer and Jessica Stuart know this and delight in it (somewhat, anyway).
Tune in to the musicians!!