Vastek, too, offered a variety of takes on minimal music in her April 4 recital, “Transition in Perception,” which she mounted in collaboration with the talented and industrious young composer Michael Vincent Waller – fixture of many a downtown event these last several seasons. But instead of works of extended duration, Vastek focused on miniatures: a notion that, Waller explained in his introductory comments, had arisen in a conversation he’d had with the composer Michael Byron.
From musical connections that surfaced in that exchange and others, Waller wove a gossamer web of brief, subtle pieces that followed in the footsteps of Satie and early Cage. The 75-minute program included 11 works, clustered in two shrewdly sequenced groupings.
Vastek opened with Byron’s As She Sleeps (2000) – a work strongly and sublimely redolent of Satie, and the first of several works that seemed to end mid-utterance rather than mustering some grand final flourish. The Canadian composer Linda Catlin Smith – whose profile has risen sharply over the last year thanks to exemplary recordings of her music issued by Another Timbre and Earwitness Editions – likewise looked to Satie in Poire (1994). Vastek’s left hand frequently wheeled and curled sympathetically in space while her right hand consorted instead with the sustain pedal.
Jo Kondo, a Japanese composer and Cage associate with whom Smith studied in British Columbia, offered stark, unsentimental chord progressions in High Window (1995), the results crystalline and finely faceted. Smith’s The View from Here (1992) hewed closer to Kondo’s planes of chords than had Poire, but with greater variety of gestures and motion. The first part of the program closed with Waller’s Early Night (2017): raga-inflected, picturesque, and more florid than anything that had come before.
After a brief pause during which Vastek prepared the piano’s innards, she opened the latter half of her program with Allison Cameron’s Corals of Valais (1997), a deceptively simple, quirky piece structured something like a slideshow: flashes of bright color framed by frequent, sharp silences. Cameron’s Chive Noses (2004), a world premiere, combined and reworked gestures from pieces by Schoenberg and Ives into a playfully aphoristic riddle.
Nick Storring, a compelling composer, cellist, journalist, and Canadian-music advocate based in Toronto, provided one of the evening’s highlights with Scarp (2017), another premiere. Opening with a staccato B-flat obsessively repeated, Storring vividly conjures a sparse landscape in economical strokes, dispensing color in daubs and sweeps; now and again some representative of Messiaen’s aviary might alight at the keyboard’s high end.
Michael Jon Fink, a California composer long linked to the eminent post-minimalist record label Cold Blue Music, emphasized simplicity and brevity in Two Etudes (1995-96) and Sunless (2014): the first a pair of evocations of a single mood apiece; the last, only slightly more elaborate, one of more than 120 pieces commissioned by Nicolas Horvath for a program honoring Philip Glass.
Closing the program, Waller’s Roman (2017) paid poignant tribute to the composer’s recently deceased father-in-law. Unabashedly heartfelt and sentimental, the music had more in common with Debussy, perhaps, than with anything that had preceded it here. This wasn’t the first time I’ve felt Waller’s music to be slightly at odds with the more experimental works he champions, but when faced with a composition as lovely and persuasive as this one, this hardly qualifies as a problem.
A wholly commendable enterprise, all told, and I now find myself eagerly anticipating Histories, Vastek’s upcoming recital disc of works by Cage, Michael Harrison, and Donnacha Dennehy (due May 26 on the Innova label). Both her event and Lee’s concert provided ample cause for concern over the potential loss of Spectrum as a home amendable to such intimate, thoughtful recitals – this despite the unavoidable incursion of car horns, conversations, and other noises seeping in from the street outside. One hopes fervently that a suitable solution arises to preserve this venue and safeguard the invaluable niche it fills.