Monday, November 21, 2011

Gig: Pemi Paull

Pemi Paull

The Music Gallery. Thursday, March 3, 2011.

Decided to head out to the Music Gallery for a different sort of show than the sort of thing I usually attend. Maybe I was in the right "classical" mindset due to the stuff I'd been thinking about all week at the New Creations Festival, but I was in a mood to put my MG membership to good use — it meant this show was only five bucks for me to get into and explore something off the beaten path.1

Or very off the beaten path, as the case may be. When I showed up, I looked to be the first and only patron on hand. I was feeling slightly awkward until someone else showed up, and then a slow trickle of people a few minutes later. As the house opened, there was a crowd just shy of twenty.

It felt weird to see absolutely no gear in front of the stage at all — just a music stand. This would be most definitely "unplugged", with Pemi Paull's viola amplified only the by reverberations from the church ceiling. Paull, from Montreal, emerged and engagingly chatted a bit about the pieces he was going to play. Memorably, he talked about the descending four-note bass riff as one things that draws the history of music together, a connective thread drawing together his first selection, H.I. Biber's "Passacaglia" (from the 17th century, and one of the first-ever compositions for solo violin) to, say, "Hit the Road Jack".

Paull then played a piece by Michael Finnissy, whose work is part of a school known as "the new complexity".2 No surprise then that this required a lot of focus from Paull, and as he got into it, the only sound besides his music was the whoosh of his breath and an occasional creak from the spot of the floor he was standing on. On completing the piece, he looked quizzically at his music stand, as if he was unsure he was done — a little punchy, like a boxer after an intense round.

Slightly less taxing, the rest of the first set was dominated by "Garrowby Hill", a new work in four movements by Canadian Michael Oesterle, with a definite vibe of a bleak rural night. There were some "fiddle"-y elements in the first movements that had echoes of Celtic reels before it headed further down a darkened backroad.

Then a much-needed intermission, given how much Paull was putting into it. It was amusing to watch him play in an "action stance", leaning into a semi-crouch when he was really getting into the music. Before the second set's closing partita, he joked to the crowd, "Now I'm warmed up" for the dexterous, challenging finale. By the end, loose hairs from his bow were lashing around. Wonderful stuff to listen to, and a more-than-worth-it change of pace.

Genre notwithstanding, it's quite pleasing to see that Paull operates much like any other "indie" musician, with a full online presence — not just a website, but a well-written tumblr, twitter account and a lot of videos on his youtube channel — all of which is rather helpful in the never-easy quest to pull in people from outside the narrow "classical music" community.3

1 Seriously! Five bucks! You can't beat that. If you're not already, you should really consider becoming a Music Galley member today. And in a similar vein, I note that the first programme in this season's "Emergents" programme (coming up Friday, November 25, 2011) is similarly $5 at the door for members.

2 I'm sure, like me, that you just added that to your list of potential future band names.

3 Paull is a busily-working musician in Montréal, but it should be noted he'll be back in town in a couple months, playing a couple shows — including an interesting-looking chamber music trio gig at Gallery 345 on Saturday, February 4, 2012.

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