Saturday, February 02, 2008

African Chamber Music Program from Vancouver New Music in March 2000

Every so often, I'm privileged to play a concert that resonates with me for years afterwards. One of these took place in early March of 2000, in a concert for Vancouver New Music entitled "The Wanderer: Chamber Music of Africa". The online program info for the concert is either inaccessible to search engines or has been removed over time. Nevertheless, I still have the concert program, and following are the works and performers from that evening (I've added hyperlinks to the composers' biographical info).

[Program design note: the front cover of the program featured the 3 of Wands card from the Rider-Waite Tarot deck, pictured at left]

The Wanderer

Vancouver New Music
March 5, 2000
Vancouver East Cultural Centre

This concert featured special guest composers Akin Euba and Gyimah Labi [Euba was unable to attend for some reason, but Gyimah Labi worked extensively with the performers and was the evening's master of ceremonies]

The Wanderer
(1960) by Akin Euba

Sue Round, cello
Christopher Foley, piano

Four Nigerian Dances (1976) by Joshua Ozoigwe

Christopher Foley, piano

At the Immaculate Beehive (1982/98) by Gyimah Labi

Victor Costanzi, violin
Mary Sokol Brown, violin
Andrew Brown, viola
Sue Round, cello




String Quartet No. 2 'Hunting:Gathering" (1987) by Kevin Volans

(same quartet as above)

Tre Toccate per Pianoforte, 3rd movement (1987) by Malcolm Forsyth

Christopher Foley, piano

Antubam (1965) by J.H. Kwabena Nketia

Sue Round, cello
Christopher Foley, piano

Ancient Perspective - 3 (1993) by Gyimah Labi

David Branter, alto saxophone
Julia Nolan, bass saxophone
Nick Coulter, percussion
Vern Griffiths, percussion
Jason Overy, percussion
Robin Reid, percussion
Daniel Tones, percussion

CBC's Two New Hours (now defunct, alas) wasn't there that evening, but I recall a recording was made of the concert for archival purposes.


This was my fifth season playing for Vancouver New Music, and I had already got a large dose of works by various Canadian, American, and European composers. However, the works I played on this program had a sense of stylistic freshness and rhythmic exuberance that were altogether different than almost anything I had played.

The Euba work was tough rhythmically, and Sue Round and I needed a fair number of pretty intense rehearsals. Finally it came together, and Sue and I were glad that Labi, who knew the work well, had time to coach the work with us. Incidentally, The Wanderer was premiered by cellist Christopher Bunting and pianist Ernest Lush as part of Nigeria's independence celebrations in 1960. The three pieces by Uzoigwe (based on Igbo and Yoruba folktunes) were a lot of fun to play, and the feedback I got after the concert seemed to indicate that the audience found them one of the most accessible works on the program. When I cleaned out my studio last month, I discovered that I still have the scores for these two works, and I've already started scheming as to when I can play the Uzoigwe again, although saddened to read that he passed away in 2005.

The title of the Nketia work was refers to the Ghanian painter Kofi Antubam, and whom the work was written in memoriam in 1965. This was a simple, direct, and poignant work, based on Akan music and speech rhythms. The difficult Forsyth work was based on the xylophone orchestras of the baChopi tribe of central Mozambique and was certainly a handful to learn.

Often when I perform new works, I feel that one performance is nowhere near enough. Although I left the VECC exuberant after the energy of the evening's works (expecially the concert's final Ancient Perspective-3 which I heard from the wings), I've felt since then that I want to spend more time with the unique style of African new music in order to understand its sophisticated rhythmic sensibility at a higher level. Although I've got to know national styles particularly well over the years, and have had the privilege of watching well over a dozen Canadian operas come to fruition, my foray into African chamber music, sadly, was a one-time experience. Kudos to Owen Underhill (artistic director of the Vancouver New Music Society at the time) for programming this unique concert and introducing the little-known but complex and rewarding new music of Africa to a wider audience.


  1. Hello Chris,

    It must have been really fun to play the African pieces! Do you know where I can get hold of music score for The Wanderer by Akin Euba? I have been looking for it for ages..Do you also know of any recordings of this piece? Many thanks.


    1. Rebeca, great to hear from you via email. I'll check for the scores when I get back into Toronto.