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First Play: Brian Current, Faster Still

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Robert Rowat

A new album on Centrediscs presents a retrospective of chamber music by Brian Current, one of Canada's most prominent composers. Faster Still includes seven works written between 2005 and 2015 (plus a bonus track from 1996) and ranging in scale from cello duo to chamber orchestra.

"All composers have their secret favourites or the pieces that they would grade an A or A+ in retrospect, and I hope that the disc presents some of these," says Current by email, explaining how the works were selected. "Also, we looked at the pieces that had some life outside of Canada — Inventory by the New York City Opera, Faster Still in Los Angeles and Strata by the San Francisco Contemporary Chamber Players."

Like many good ideas, this one was conceived over drinks. "There were a bunch of fun events at the Junos in 2015, and the composers and the Naxos and Centrediscs folks were hanging out quite a bit," reflects Current. "At one of these, the Centrediscs producer at the time, Allegra Swanson, and I kicked around the idea of a chamber disc that would be like the earlier orchestra disc, This Isn’t Silence, but for chamber music, where I conducted most of the pieces. We took it from there."

Faster Still picks up where that earlier album left off, whose final work, Slanted Time, concluded a series of pieces that explored continuously changing tempos. "The new disc shows a gradual change from that idea towards a new language based on colour and texture," Current explains. "I’ve been fascinated lately at the idea of a place described by textures that are infinitely bright and infinitely dense."

'If they can't play it, then no one in the world can'

The music is performed by a few Canadian ensembles specializing in new music, including Continuum, Soundstreams, Duo Concertante and New Music Concerts. "Many of these players — especially Continuum because I regularly conduct with them — feel a lot like family, so it is deeply satisfying to work with them on my own music. But even more important is that they are all at the top of the field, so I can use that to gauge how far to push the tradition forward or challenge them. They are so skilled and dedicated that I know that if they can’t play it, then no one in the world can, and then I’ll happily scale the music back. I’m hugely grateful for all their hard work and I like to think that their talent and spectacular musicianship come through on the disc."

The feedback Current has received supports that theory. "I’ve had music producers in the U.S. react to Patricia O’Callaghan’s amazing performance in Inventory, and write back, 'OMG — who is she?!' There have been similar reactions to Nancy Dahn’s solo violin performance in Faster Still. I’m really excited by the idea that this recording might help to showcase our amazing performers beyond our borders."

Faster Still will be released on June 16. Below is the list of works and performers:

Inventory (2006)
Anton Piatigorsky, libretto
O’Callaghan (soprano)
Current (conductor)

Faster Still (2004)
Duo Concertante: Dahn (violin), Timothy Steeves (piano)
Blue Engine String Quartet
Current (conductor)

Strata (2010)
Continuum Contemporary Music
Current (conductor)

Duet for Cellos (2007, rev. 2016)
VC2: Amahl Arulanandam and Bryan Holt (cello)

Shout, Sisyphus, Flock (2015)
New Music Concerts
Current (conductor)

Quintet, Op. 5 “Circus Songs” (1996)
Continuum Contemporary Music
Rosemary Thomson (conductor)

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