The Language of Water (2006)


  • 17
  • 22 Solo Strings

Score Excerpts

Sound Samples

Program Notes

After reflecting for some time on the idea of composing a piece for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra strings, I decided not to write for the players in their standard sections or groups, but rather to treat each musician as a solo performer, thereby giving myself twenty-two independent voices. (This is certainly not a new idea; it is one that has been exploited by many composers over the past hundred years.) The advantage of this approach is that one gains a tremendous diversity of contrapuntal and textural possibilities.

Many sections of the piece are collections of parallel time streams, which are often just slightly out of alignment with one another, occasionally coming together at certain key structural moments in the music, moments that often correspond with dynamic climaxes. Apart from the few powerful moments, the music tends toward quietness, though not always tranquility.

Motivically there are several relatively short and closely related melodic ideas used throughout the piece. These are sometimes audible as foreground material, though often, as a result of a web of intertwining, they are lurking below the surface.

The title is taken from the opening sequence of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda’s mid-century masterpiece, Canto General.

No one could 
remember them afterward: the wind
forgot them, the language of water
was buried, the keys were lost
or flooded with silence or blood

life was not lost, pastoral brothers.
But like a wild rose
a red drop fell into the dense growth,
and a lamp of earth was extinguished.

Commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra with financial assistance from the Manitoba Arts Council, whose support is gratefully acknowledged.

First performance:

September 27, 2006
Westminster United Church, Winnipeg
Theodore Kuchar, conductor


Powerful pianist's concert a triumphant affair

INTERNATIONALLY acclaimed pianist Janina Fialkowska showed her mettle at the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra’s 34th season-opener. She is a soloist who has earned her place in the world’s top echelon of keyboard artists.

But she also proved she is a formidable fighter who has stared down her own demons, successfully winning a battle with cancer that included several delicate surgeries on her left arm. Diagnosed with a tumour in January 2002, the Canadian pianist beat the odds and returned to a full schedule of touring, recording and teaching a mere two years later.

Wednesday night marked her first appearance with the MCO in nine years. It became a triumphant — and emotional — homecoming for the well-loved artist.

Fialkowska’s perfect balance of grace and temperament in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto, No. 3 in C Minor, Op. 37 brought new shades of colour to the timeless work. Powerful technique and careful honing of phrases brought out all the drama of the first Allegro con brio movement, contrasted by sublime voicing and a luminous tone that seemed to suspend time in the second Largo section. It is always a pleasure to hear Fialkowska, particularly in the intimate setting of Westminster United Church. Let’s hope she returns soon.

The MCO continues its highly commendable record of commissioning new works, and this program was no exception.

Still waters run deep in local composer Michael Matthews’ The Language of Water for 22 Solo Strings, an evocative one-movement work that submerges the listener into a soundscape of his own devising.

In this work scored for 22 independent voices, Matthews (in attendance for the world premiere) seamlessly crafts a fabric of sound that ebbs and flows through shimmering harmonies and motivic rivulets. The surprisingly romantic 17-minute work washes over the ear, with every note carefully set in place and an ambiguous ending that hints at depths yet unexplored.

The concert opened with Prokofiev’s high-spirited Symphony No. 1 in D Major, Op. 25 (Classical) which has retained its buoyant charm throughout the years. Guest conductor Theodore Kuchar imbued the performance with his own high energy, setting a breakneck tempo in the Finale that at times careened towards derailment.

MCO continues to pack houses with winning programming that offers something for both the music traditionalist and the restless explorer. A respectable mid-week audience of 850 is a positive sign that this orchestra is doing everything right, and bodes well for a rich new season of music making.

Concert Review
Janina Fialkowska
Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Westminster United Church
Sept. 27 Attendance: 850
4 stars out of five