Howard Bashaw’s music is influenced by Carter and Ligeti, especially with regard to the time component, utilizing multiplicity of rhythms and different tempo streams. In addition, Bashaw favors very diverse textures, ranging from color-based to the dense mechanical and even etude-like structures. The composer often evokes references to a variety of styles, whether electronic compositions, older styles or mechanistic methods. His output is often representative, such as his work 15 for Piano, which has complex structures and includes sets and subsets, often with particular images or meanings.
In the first movement, Modular I, quasi una fantasia (a title that brings to mind Renaissance and baroque music), the opening is filled with pregnant rests that add a sense of urgency as the listener is kept on edge for what is to come. Motivic recurrences include variants of the opening that build in excitement filled. A fantasia-like character evolves into contrasting sections while tied to a recurring motive that serves to unify the movement into an organic whole. Bashaw is transparent as he stays true to the meaning of modular. As the work progresses, the rests disappear and instead give way to ongoing motion. Bashaw’s predisposition to different tempo streams, manipulating time to create a sense of flow, serves to highlight his interest in both timing and formalism. Moreover, the organicism of the movement lets the listener enjoy both the micro and macro level structural processes of which the composer is so fond of. The inconclusive ending, which sounds more like a question, challenges the audience to ponder. So much of Bashaw’s music is rooted in symbolism and hidden meanings and this movement ends as it began, with what seems to be a witty conversation.
In the second, rather overtly programmatic movement, Caricature sketch: Three Faces of Public Speaker No. 6, Bashaw’s characterization is diverse. Moving rapidly through different expressions, shy, emphatic, while at other times arrogant or waxing sentimental, all in less than half a minute, Bashaw bathes himself in expression through one of his favorite musical techniques: complex structures. Soon, motives reminiscent of the first movement are recalled. Bashaw confesses an admiration for structures within structures, often preferring shorter movements that allow for the flexibility needed to create sets and subsets instead of single longer ones. The caricature is made ever stronger through economical use of material. The natural pace of the music as it evolves through different characters shows us what a master Bashaw is with respect to timing, fluidity, tempo and multiplicity of rhythms.
In the third movement, Modular II, quasi una fantasia, Bashaw uses effects such as foot tapping. This could possibly serve as a microcosm for his inclination to create an entire sound world rather than be confined to particular European traditions. In the same vein, Bashaw is rooted in creating musical techniques and distances himself from accepted traditions.
The fourth and fifth movements, Responsorial. Then…And Now, again programmatic, complement each other through clever references to older styles, as well as to modernist ones. Bashaw presents the listener with what seems to be a set or subset, structures within a formalist framework which he enjoys so much.
The sixth movement, Framing Alea: HyperSplice, introduces the art of bow ricochet and the use of extended techniques. The sound world that Bashaw is drawing us into is filled with contrast and forces us to focus on the here and now. Possibly, this movement could serve as the beginning of another subset. It is here where I found Bashaw’s predisposition for etude-like writing the most convincing. Tardif excels at executing such passages with surefire virtuosity. The movement slowly morphs from etude to pointillism, emphasizing yet again the composer’s diverse set of influences.
The last movement, Buzz, can be characterized by a series of undulating rapid passages, replete with accentuation, register changes, and momentum that only increase in energy – all giving rise to what we normally associate with “buzz”. Moreover, the etude-mechanical nature of this movement serves as a fitting end to the bowing wizardry of the previous movement and can be seen as a culmination of virtuosic display.
Guillaume Tardif is associate professor of violin and serves as string area coordinator at the Department of Music, University of Alberta. Tardif’s rendition of Bashaw’s work is at once filled with sheer virtuosity while yet sensitive to the very intellectual nature of this music. Tardif succeeds in executing numerous virtuosic passageworks with sheer brilliance. Whether it is the exacting nature of simultaneous foot tapping and left-hand virtuosity, pointillist-based extended techniques or calculated ricochet bowing techniques, Tardif seems at ease with every musical and technical aspect in this set of short movements. Furthermore, he is very much in tune with the deep meanings and complex structures so characteristic of Bashaw that also apply to this set of pieces. It is a joy to listen to such a performance that fully realizes Bashaw’s extremely complex conceptual framework in this set of short movements for solo violin.