12 by Howard Bashaw, Performance by Guillaume Tardif and Roger Admiral at the Music Conference Alberta, 2018

September 20, 2020

Howard Bashaw’s ​12​ for violin and piano is a programmatic piece of twelve contrasting movements. Bashaw’s innovative writing evokes many moods throughout the movements, which as a whole form a balanced and compelling work. The performance by Tardif and Admiral, both known as champions of contemporary music, is masterful. Admiral in particular has specialized in performing Bashaw’s works, and impresses the listener in ensemble with Tardif.

The first brief movement, ​Toccatella 1, right - you just never know​ features a constant pulsating rhythm in the piano, with the violin playing faster notes in various rhythms above. A contrasting lyric melody from the violin in the middle section highlights Tardif’s expressiness. The contrasts challenge the ensemble but the performers rise to the occasion.

At the Old Forgotten Park Bench - First Reflection​ follows and is more melodic and rhapsodic, but this contrast does not prevent it from flowing with continuity from the first movement. The violin has a melodic line with some double stops accompanied by chords and arpeggios in the piano.

In ​Blink. Don’t Blink,​ the piano introduces contrasting rhythms and dynamics with accents on misplaced beats. The violin enters with mute, adding fast chromatic lines in a different register. Again, the ensemble is challenged, but handles it well.

A meditative, calm flow, with piano harmony supporting a haunting violin line characterizes ​At the Old, Forgotten Stone Wall​, the longest movement yet at about four minutes. As the piece develops, the violin and piano interact and transition into a more active section, the violin line becoming frenetic and moving between registers. The calm and haunting character from the beginning returns to close the movement.

Stops, Don’t Stop​ has a groovy feeling, playing off the title with challenging double stops in compound meter, moving between different registers in the violin. The piano accompanies in a lower register with an accentuated melody. At times the violin and piano parts seem to be in opposition to each other, but the ensemble handles this challenge.

The brief movement ​In a Sad, Soft Weave of Waiting Shadows ​returns to a haunting, eerie mood, with the violin highlighting an expressive and sorrowful melody. The violin also utilizes various effects, such as tremolo, harmonics, pizzicato, and glissandi, while the piano plays a moving chordal accompaniment with chords.

Tocatella 2. Whirl​ is reminiscent of the first movement as well as the immediately preceding movement, and lives up to its name, with whirling, fast motion in the violin travelling through different registers. The piano accompanies with ascending and descending lines, later taking on the melody while the violin plays a repetitive groove in the lower register.

At the Old Forgotten Park Bench - Second Reflection ​is a stark contrast to the previous mood, with low register chords in the piano forming a foundation for the violin to sing an expressive melody. The effect creates a unique realm for the listener experience.

At just 30 seconds, ​blunt -shift irritant​ is the shortest movement, but packs a punch with rhythmic complexity in both parts and the violinist stamping the foot.

Still now, the dancer remembers and imagines​ shifts to a long melody with double stops in the violin as he moves to evoke a dance. Over chords in the piano, the melody in the violin becomes frenetic and obsessive. The first melody returns, again with the violinist moving in space.

In ​Collage: Quiet, Please​, the piano begins with a loud, short notes, leading to abstract dialog between piano and violin.

The longest and final movement, ​The Buzz Returns​ is fast and vivid, with repetitive double stops in the violin line and chromatics played in fifths. The piano starts this movement with a counterpoint and chords. Toward the end, the violin and piano engage in an intriguing dialogue. For the final notes (G-D), the violinist moves the violin to gain more resonance.

Overall, Bashaw’s ​12 ​is at once elegiac, energetic, and evocative. He provokes the listener to reflect and inquire about the meaning of each movement as it relates to its title. Bashaw’s writing is innovative and creative, with complex ensemble requirements challenging the performers. Although the series of short pieces form a unified and balanced whole, each could easily stand on its own. The familiarity of Tardif and Admiral with Bashaw’s music, as well as their superb playing and cohesiveness as an ensemble, make the musical message easy to understand and enjoy.

1149 Last modified on August 18, 2021