The 21C Music Festival: Giving Wings to the Better Angels of Our Nature

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The Royal Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Zane Dalal. John Patitucci on contrebass. Photo credit: The Royal Conservatory/Koerner Hall; Lisa Salulensky
The Royal Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Maestro Zane Dalal. John Patitucci on contrebass. Photo credit: The Royal Conservatory/Koerner Hall; Lisa Salulensky

The results of 2016 US election seems to have unleashed a fresh and near-violent wave right-wing resistance in that country. With even enlightened politicians and parties seemingly unable to stem this fear and hatred, the artistic community from Brasil, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Colombia to the US and Canada seems to have taken up arms by composing and performing works that are not only more socially-conscious in theme, but often atmospherically dark, with melodies, harmonies and even lyrics that make the case for human rights and justice with a great deal more force.

On January 24th we heard one of such piece of music – Hypocrisy, composed by John Patitucci and performed by him with the Royal Conservatory Orchestra conducted by Maestro Zane Dalal. The work assumed its power from the immense gravitas of Mr Patitucci’s contrabass, an instrument on which he performs with extraordinary virtuosity, musicality and passion. As far back as 1992, Mr Patitucci had distinguished himself with a largely through-composed work principally for electric and contrabass entitled Heart of the Bass (Stretch Records).

That album centred round Mr Patitucci’s performance of a concerto for bass and chamber that sets up the title track of the disc – the “Heart of the Bass”. The disc also features an interpretation of Bach’s “Prelude in G major” from the master’s Cello Suites and five miniatures reminiscent of the work of Chopin. It is a magnificent disc featuring eloquent performances by bassist and orchestra.

Mr Patitucci’s magnum opus must surely be his extended work for contrabass and orchestra – Hypocrisy, a major work that comes from a very deep place. Reflecting the mood of the USA in which society has degenerated into something phlegmatic – even hateful. It is one where the rise of Fascism is rampant; a dark and dystopian world full of Dickensian reality that seems to flood the media outlets day after day, where civility has been abandoned and sanctimoniousness seems to have gripped civil society. Mr Patitucci’s title captured this duplicitousness where the most heinous social and political behavior is condoned in the name of acceptable and even “good” politics.

As an artist with a social conscience Mr Patitucci shows a deep aversion for all of the above and his work is a diaphanous canvas on which the moving image of society is painted in molten notes that leap off the page as contrabass and full orchestra interpret feelings of hope and despair, frustration and elation. The progress of Hypocrisy is a tempestuous affair. It demanded – and received – a flawless technical performance both on the part of the contrabassist and the full orchestra, masterfully conducted by Maestro Zane Dalal. Mr Patitucci’s naturally, showed sublime command of his instrument playing music that demanded structure and momentum, as well as fingers of flexible steel. At times in the heart of the piece, when the musical mood demanded deeply meditative moods and emotions, Mr Patitucci wielded his bow with great eloquence throughout the movements played con arco.

The members of the orchestra responded to the music and the bassist’s vaunted cadenzas with a great and empathetic performance supplanting ostentation with a performance of breathtaking detail. Zane Dalal was masterful in guiding this orchestra of young performers. His conducting brought to the work an intensity and commitment that was electrifying throughout and in the end he contributed significantly to providing a sense of genuine shape and structure to Mr Patitucci’s beautifully-conceived work.

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