Victoria’s (secret) Guitar Trio steals into Mount Pleasant

The Victoria Guitar Trio stole into town last week, and kept things percolating with a thoughtful programme accessible enough to anyone out for an evening’s walk in Mount Pleasant.

Victoria Guitar Trio

The Victoria Guitar Trio stole into town last week, played a concert to too few to mention, and then departed back over the water before anyone could shout “Segovia!” To be honest, I’ve seen better marketing campaigns for a garage sale, and that’s a shame because guitarists Michael Dias, Adrian Verdejo, and Bradford Werner (who comprise the Victoria Guitar Trio) are excellent musicians.  

Last Monday the trio kept things percolating by performing new works they’d commissioned of living composers (including Rodney Sharman, Jordan Nobles, and Benton Roark on hand to speak about their works). While new (and therefore risky for some ears), the programme remained accessible enough to anyone coming upon it by chance while out for an evening’s stroll in Mount Pleasant.

Victoria Guitar Trio

Temporal Waves

Local composer Jordan Nobles’ “Temporal Waves” (reworked from two previous versions: one for four guitars, and another for vibraphones) stacked up overlapping rhythmic patterns in a way that reminded me of light refracting from suspended mirrors. As each guitar went in and out of phase, new patterns emerged and our listening deepened. Unlike music that may set out to be meditative (er, most New Age music) Jordan’s rhythmic sound shifting captured the busy mind, and then left it in a state of serenity.

Conversations for Three Guitars

Not all the New Music was as serene as Jordan Nobles’; in fact, some was downright dowdy. “Conversations for Three Guitars” by John Weinzweig smacked of mid-century self-consciousness in its attempt to extricate itself out from the shadows of Stravinsky and Schönberg. Perhaps music professors ruined Weinzweig for me, because none could ever mention Weinzweig without adding the epithet “Canada’s Dean of Music” (no doubt invented by the composer himself). The Victoria Guitar Trio took pains to introduce some unobtrusive choreography (for sonic variety) to these six little pieces, which mitigated the starchiness of Weinzweig’s writing (and prevented me from engaging in an in-depth examination of my cuticles).

Mystic Veil

To introduce “Mystic Veil” (the concert’s namesake piece), composer Benton Roark said that he'd not taken any cues from extra musical sources—it was pure music. But then he admitted to including inspiration from Mystic Vale, the hiking trail through a wooded ravine at the University of Victoria. I didn’t know what to believe.

As the music started, I feared something smacking of a film travelogue. But then just as Benton was about commit to some familiar West Coast clichés, he suddenly made an about turn. Clearly, Benton has a rich palette of colours to play with and he’s not content to draw pretty little wild flowers. Instead in almost self-satire, he took his opening material and wove it into rich and divergent shapes that rose above the opening visual imagery like a theme and variations.

As “Mystic Veil” was premiered that night (and not recorded), the following String Quartet (recording in 2011) provides a glimpse into his emotionally penetrating style.

The beauty in small

Concerts like Mystic Veil are a real treat in Vancouver and ones that need more attention than they otherwise get. Perhaps a few sign boards in the blocks surrounding Cambrian Hall in Mount Pleasant might have brought in some evening strollers, much to their delight. Anything! These guys are not your average wedding guitarists; they’re highly accomplished musicians with thought provoking yet accessible music. 

Victoria Guitar Trio.

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