Standing Wave rolls into Kay Meek Arts Centre

Chamber ensemble stays on cutting edge of new music

Standing Wave Ensemble, Kay Meek Art Centre, Feb. 2 at 3 p.m. For more information visit kaymeek.com/events/standing-wave-ensemble.

Standing Wave keeps on rolling.

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Since its formation in 1991, the ensemble of six musical multitaskers has dipped its toes into an array of different styles, genres, and mashups. Never content with the commonplace, the chamber group dedicates itself to commissioning and performing works by composers from Canada and abroad who are working in the contemporary realm – think music with intricate complexities, avant-garde explorations, a hearty dose of experimentation, and always a lot of fun.

Case in point: the ensemble is set to premiere a new work by composer Harry Stafylakis which is inspired by Swedish extreme metal band Meshuggah and era-defining alt-rocker and singer Alanis Morissette. The pairing of such unlikely influences is a combination that Alanis might refer to as … ironic.

“He’s really artfully allowed us to play heavy metal, even though we’re not close to a metal band. That’s a lot of fun for us,” says Standing Wave clarinetist AK Coope, on the Stafylakis piece the ensemble is set to perform. 

The piece is part of a larger program which will feature several other performances from what the ensemble calls its 20th century remix project, according to Coope.

“We’ve had it on the go for a number of years now, where we ask composers to take a piece, or anything musical that they were influenced by that’s from the 20th century, and create a new piece of their own based on this,” she says.

In its almost 30-year history, the ensemble has commissioned and premiered more than 80 works, in addition to the group’s own original material, says Coope, who joined the ensemble in 2003.

The group’s often cutting-edge material is contemporary but accessible, says Coope, and always a good time.

Standing Wave - Hitchcock Études (Nicole Lizée) from Standing Wave on Vimeo.

In addition to the Meshuggah/Alanis Morissette mashup, the ensemble is set to perform a piece from composer Jordan Nobles which riffs on a solo piano piece by Debussy.

“He just went with a very pure classical tone and it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s a lovely arrangement because it goes from a solo piano piece to a piece for six of us. He’s really worked beautifully with colours and mixing the instrumental sounds,” she says.

And they’ll also be performing a piece arranged by local talent Jennifer Butler called “Le Merle Noir,” or “The Blackbird,” a piece originally written for the flute that’s been re-imagined by Standing Wave, which is made up of Christie Reside on flute, Rebecca Whitling on violin, Peggy Lee on cello, Allen Stiles on piano, Vern Griffiths on percussion and, naturally, Coope on the clarinet.

“It’s a very unusual piece because it mimics the sound of the blackbird,” she says. “We all get a chance to take on the sounds. … I really enjoy playing this one, it’s quite fun.”

Like many members of the ensemble, Coope is a classically trained musician, and while she still has a penchant for that more traditional style of performance, she’s always been drawn to contemporary music as well.

Coope says what she likes in particular about contemporary music is, because it’s often so modern, the ensemble can meet the composer beforehand and during the process of rehearsal and performance.

“One of the things I love the most, and I think the rest of the group would agree with me, is the joy of bringing this new work of art to life. We’re doing that all the time because the works haven’t been performed before and they’re new to everyone,” she says.

While it’s the job of the ensemble to try to honour the composer’s vision for the piece, inevitably the mark of any good group is that they sneak their own personality into the interpretation as well, she notes.

Asked what the group’s personality is, she says it’s striving to make things sound beautiful no matter what the source material is.

“Even if the composer is calling for harsh sounds, we still overall value beauty. I think that really comes through in almost everything we do,” she says.

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