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Strata Festival of New Music Night One: Famous Last Words

by Scott Roos

photos by Matt Luciuk

This past Thursday, June 13th, in the Riverview Room of the gorgeous, cultural beacon that is the Remai Modern, the Strata Festival of New Music presented their “Famous Last Words” concert which featured a smattering of chamber work selections by composer Rodney Sharman. Sharman, following the evening’s first piece, entitled “Showroom” which was eloquently performed by pianist Naomi Piggot-Suchan and soprano Chelsea Mahan, provided some of his own personal program notes in a speech he made to those in attendance. With a charming demeanor, Sharman provided some great insights into the music that would follow.

Sharman gave a pretty good breakdown of his music during a brief speech to the audience. Sharman is originally from Biggar but currently resides in Vancouver.

Some highlights of the evening were “Missing You”, which, as Sharman explained, was a piece written during the initial lockdown of the Covid19 pandemic. Featuring the forlorn moaning of Joey Zhuang’s flute and the deft hands of Walter Hofmeister on guitar, the piece was a gem from start to finish. “Gilding the Lily” was an oddball piece that featured Sharman’s “musical graffiti” of Zhuang on flute and Suchan at the piano performing some more avant guard musings to underscore a more direct transcription of Mozart’s famed “La ci darem la mano” which soprano Mahan and bass baritone Garry Gable delivered with vim and vigor. As well, the piece “Famous Last Words”, which the concert was named after, proved to be quite fascinating. Permeated with the recitations of literal last words of those famous and not so famous, alongside the doubling of piano and toy piano from Suchan and the ambitious flute meditations of Zhuang, the piece was powerful and poignant. 

All in all, Sharman’s compositions were thought provoking. They showed eccentricities but the power at times was in the delicate nature of the delivery. It was in this stillness that the listener was able to absorb the emotional impact of what Sharman’s was intending, at least with this particular concert, to provoke. It was an enjoyable evening of music that perhaps one normally would have the access to had Strata Festival of New Music not brought Sharman to Saskatoon. Kudos to the festival for an excellent choice in bringing him here.

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