Barrie Concerts & Georgian Music

Ladom Ensemble -Concert Review

February 4, 2024, 2:30pm - Bethel Community Church

Ladom Ensemble

Once upon a time I saw a t-shirt. On this t-shirt were written about fifty different styles of music: folk, jazz, big band, rock, country, and so on. Classical was only one style among many.

While most people are happy to just pick up a guitar and be able to sing a few songs, large and expensive institutions exist to train classical musicians to perform at the highest level. The rest of the people who don’t play music are just happy to be able to feel and sing along with their favourite popular artist.

For better or worse what is it that keeps popular and classical music, for the most part, in separate worlds?

For starters it takes a lot of training to play classical music, and even more to play it anywhere well enough, and finally a phenomenal ability, that has more to do with being gifted than hard work, to become a concert performer.

And what do classical musicians play? They play notes that have been written down on lined paper by what are called composers. To deviate from the “score” in any way is considered blasphemy. So, the goal of the classical musician is to play the written score exactly, God forbid if they make a mistake, and really in the end channel as best they can, what is called an “interpretation”, the so-called written intentions of the composer.

In many ways classical music can be a museum, albeit incredibly meaningful, deep and profound, but since so few new compositions enter the repertoire, it can be questioned whether it is even a living tradition anymore. On the other hand, the goal of popular musicians is to express themselves and play music that they feel, and usually write themselves, or at the very least, play older music in new and interesting ways. There is no page of notation to be slave to. Every performance will always be slightly different depending on the energy in the room.

Can the ideals of the popular and classical world meet in any way? It is pretty much impossible for untrained musicians to play classical music well, so let us start with a group of highly trained classical musicians. Let us free them from having to only follow a written score. Yes, they can use a written score when need be, but also to be free to play what they feel at the appropriate time. To be able to improvise freely is something that is completely opposite to strict notation.

Maybe it is time to talk about today’s concert!

The Ladom Ensemble consisting of accordion, cello, piano and percussion is incredibly rich and colourful. The accordion is a little orchestra in a box capable, like the piano, of the highest and lowest sounds. The cello is the singing voice (as also is the accordion) capable of duplicating the entire vocal range from the lowest bass to the highest soprano.

But, one of the most important things that sets popular music apart from classical music is the inclusion of percussion instruments. Almost every popular style on the above t-shirt includes a drummer or percussionist. I have long ago come to realize that in popular music the drummer is the most important member.

And so, it is the inclusion of a percussionist in the Ladom Ensemble that frees the other musicians to solo or improvise freely over a sustaining pulse or rhythm.

There is an interesting full circle happening in many of the pieces on the program. In the past many classical composers have sought out folk and traditional music for their own classical compositions. The Ladom Ensemble by starting with these written classical pieces and freeing them up to their own way of playing them are actually returning them to their original folk origins!

Who says one can’t have fun with Brahm’s “Hungarian Dances” or Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances”.

I have always loved Prokofiev’s ballet “Romeo and Juliet”. Since dancers dance to a pulse how awesome to incorporate the “Dance of the Knights” into a percussion based ensemble. And why not something by Radiohead or any other progressive rock band?

It is interesting to think of other styles of music that are half notated and half free. All jazz tunes have some sort of lead sheet the performers play from and then improvise around. For me it seems that big band music is the highest expression of this skill. Most of the music for big band is incredibly well arranged for the horns and brass, but at the same time there is plenty of room for solos and a great rhythm section to groove to.

Since we are entering the popular realm now I did miss hearing someone sing, as most popular music of all styles is sung with words. Be that it may, the Ladom Ensemble were all having a really good time losing themselves and breathing life into all the music they played, including a great East Coast Medley. Who knows, maybe they can let their hair down even more and live even closer to the edge! Finally, classical music, (or is it crossover popular music now?) in order to be a living tradition needs to create new music. Both compositions by the pianist Pouya Hamidi were excellent. Being of Iranian descent, and moved by all the violence and dissent in his country, his composition “Distance” was very moving and completely relevant for this difficult day and age we live in.

My favourite part at the end of the concert was when the pianist turned off his iPad for the last work on the program which was Astor Piazolla’s “Libertango”. This tango is based only on a repeating progression of four chords. Who needs music in front of them when one can just play freely what one is feeling at the moment?

In so many ways this is what making excellent music is all about! When the performers have a reason to connect with their music, then so will the audience.

An excellent concert!

Juhan Puhm Feb 4th, 2024

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Barrie Concerts & Georgian Music
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