Review: Gryphon Trio, Nordic Voices shine in performance of Ryan and Redhill’s Scar Tissue

The Gryphon Trio is Annalee Patipatanakoon, Jamie Parker (piano) and Roman Borys (cello)

The Gryphon Trio celebrated 25 years of music together Friday night with a major new piece of Canadian music and six very talented new friends from Norway.

Those new amigos are the ensemble Nordic Voices. The sextet from Oslo took the audience on a bravura musical journey that started with Renaissance polyphony, travelled through Jeffrey Ryan’s and Michael Redhill’s 40-minute emotional exploration called Scar Tissue and concluded with an encore featuring a short medley of two charming Norwegian folk songs.

All this took place with representatives of the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in Dominion-Chalmers United Church to mark the trio’s new role in the Rockies running the centre’s classical music summer program starting in 2020.

The program Friday evening was a carefully crafted juxtaposition of different musical eras.

Nordic Voices opened the evening with Incipit Oratio Jeremiae Prophetae by the 16th century Spaniard Tomas Luis de Victoria. The ensemble’s blend was seamless and the purity of sound crystalline.

Nordic Voices is Tone Braaten, soprano; Frank Havrøy, baritone/tenor; Ingrid Hanken, soprano; Ebba Rydh, mezzo soprano; Rolf Magne Asser, bass; Per Kristian Amundrød, tenor. Photo: Fredrik Arff

The was followed by a masterful take on Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor by the Gryphons. Each of the three movements of the Ravel alternated with some polyphony by Nordic Voices. The contrasts in music styles really set the stage for the second half performance of Ryan’s and Redhill’s challenging work.

Scar Tissue, for piano trio and six voices, was created to mark the 25th anniversary of the Gryphon Trio’s performing career.

The ambitious work is the product of four different artistic talents. Jeffrey Ryan is a highly regarded Vancouver-based composer who often works with voice. Michael Redhill is the 2017 Giller Award winning novelist of Bellevue Square and poet. Unfortunately he could not be present Friday evening because of fall that has left him concussed.

Scar Tissue is both a scientific and biological reality, but the piece also delves into the the optimistic idea that a scar represents healing after a wound that can be emotional or physical.

The arc of the piece takes the listener from a place of unity represented by an unmarked body through the chaos of a wound and the resulting damage and the scar that the injury produces.

Ryan’s music is urgent, emotional, slashing, clashing and challenging. Redhill’s libretto is emotional, evocative and also tied to the science of scars and healing. It is also very mathematical in its construction. Both score and libretto tested and pushed the Gryphon Trio and Nordic Voices but the performers all rose to the challenge to create an intense and satisfying performance.

In the penultimate section of the piece Ryan sets the word phosphatidylinositol, a key ingredient in forming a scar, in a lullaby that features the three women members of Nordic Voices singing in canon. It was a particularly affecting musical moment.

The performance was recorded by CBC for broadcast, so interested people will get a chance to hear this remarkable work. The piece is designed to tour and it will be performed this summer in Norway and in Pittsburgh and hopefully in Ottawa again.

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.