Arts & CultureCampus & City

Review: U of A’s ‘Prism’

Back in 2014, the U of A Department of Music was faced with the possibility of losing the Winspear Centre as a viable performance venue. As a sort of last hurrah, it organized a monumental, all-cards-on-the-table concert titled Prism, showcasing every corner of the department.

The department has fortunately continued its relationship with the Winspear, and this past weekend produced the sequel to 2014’s concert.

Prism is co-produced by Angela Schroeder, symphonic wind ensemble director and conducting instructor, and Allison Balcetis, saxophone faculty member. This year’s Prism featured the symphonic wind ensemble, the symphony orchestra, the concert choir, the madrigal singers, the experimental improvisational group XImE, the West African music ensemble, the Bramwell Park Trio, several chamber groups and soloists comprised of members of the ensembles, and a few faculty members. All told, the concert included over 150 performers, nearly all of whom are current undergraduate students in the Department of Music.

Especially captivating was the performance by Sharmila Mathur of her own piece Raga Jansammohini for sitar, accompanied by Ojas Joshi and Kevin Johnson on percussion. Mathur leads the Indian music ensemble at the U of A.

The primary concept behind Prism is seamlessness; the concert was structured such that each piece transitioned smoothly into the next, with no room given for applause until the end of each half. The space within the Winspear was also used to its fullest extent, with performers playing and singing from the balconies and choir loft and even moving through the aisles; one moment all attention would be on the main stage, and the next the spotlight would move to a different location from which the next piece would be played. This was pulled off exceedingly well, limited only by the Winspear’s lack of so-called black box capability, which would have allowed for total darkness in all areas of the theatre not in use, and which would have made the effect all the more striking.

The concert sadly lacked the attendance it deserved, a fact which was made even clearer after the start of the show when roughly a third of the already sparse audience stood up and was revealed to be comprised of casually-dressed choir members.

Prism was a rare opportunity to see and hear the Winspear’s Davis Concert Organ in action, played by Jeanne Yang, a doctoral student at the U of A. The organ was built in 2002 and is comprised of 6,551 pipes; it is named for the late Stuart G. Davis, who taught at the University of Alberta for 40 years and was named Professor Emeritus upon retirement. Yang played Charles-Marie Widor’s Toccata from Symphony for Organ No. 5 faultlessly and to rousing applause.

The first half of the show finished with a stunning clarinet concerto — and an ensuing standing ovation — by living composer Scott McAllister, played by faculty member Don Ross and the symphonic wind ensemble. The concert concluded with a piece from the symphony orchestra, conducted by Petar Dundjerski.

Despite the limitations of the Winspear Centre and the relatively poor audience turnout, this year’s Prism constituted an unforgettable display of skill and artistry, both in its music and in its presentation. Prism will hopefully be returning again in the future for round three.

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