One at a time: Turning Point Ensemble premieres short films featuring musicians performing in isolation

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1+1+1 | Turning Point Ensemble | Online premiere | January 23, 2021

The Turning Point Ensemble’s 1+1+1 film project grew out of their desire to create unique new musical works in our COVID context, and it has provided an opportunity for the TPE musicians to forge new collaborations with composers, dancers, filmmakers, and visual artists. The series will include 15 short films — the first three, all directed by Sean Patrick Shaul, premiered online before a live talkback with the artists, and the next film will be shot in early February, with more details on further film screenings to come.

In contrast to an in-person concert, the film format is a new way to experience the work of these musicians and appreciate the music along with a deeper visual landscape and suggested narratives.

Synapses features David Owen on the oboe in conversation with dancer Emmalena Fredriksson. As Owen plays Bob Pritchard’s inquisitive score, an LED spine on Fredriksson reacts to the music and changes colours, adding a futuristic, cyborg quality to the work. The interaction begins gradually and builds, with Fredriksson transitioning from snake-like movements on the floor to standing, and the oboe hissing and whooshing as the encounter grows more intense just before it ends somewhat suddenly. The relationship between the music and movement was just beginning to get interesting and more complex as it ended. Perhaps the collaboration can be expanded if the piece ever hits the stage.

In Cone, Owen Underhill’s composition for violin is performed with such a depth of emotion by Mary Sokol Brown. Shot in black and white in the empty Orpheum Annex theatre, Brown fills the space with her calm, assured presence. There is something so poignant and relevant to our time about seeing a lone musician playing to an empty theatre, while knowing that they are in fact being watched by many people, all of whom are also isolated in their own way at home. Brown’s violin case is featured at the beginning, showing family photos that set a contemplative and tone hint at a narrative element that never comes. With no explicit narrative suggested in the film, the viewer is free to imagine as the camera transitions from close-ups to long shots from the back of the theatre and pans around to provide a view of the empty seats.

A unique piece for bassoon, piano, and footwork by Réjean Marois is performed by Ingrid Chiang in Shared Solitude. Skillfully playing bassoon, keyboard, and grand piano while adding percussive footwork, Chiang’s performance was impressive, playful, and seamless. She explained in the talkback that the idea for the piece came from a friend who thought it would be funny for a bassoon player to have to step in and play piano when the pianist doesn’t turn up. Marois gladly took on this compositional challenge, and Chiang embodied the music in a way that seems so natural.

These three films offered a unique window into these new compositions; it would be wonderful to see them premiere live on stage once we’re able to return to the theatre.

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