Three authors comment three works (among which a premiere) by Isabelle Panneton, recently performed by the Trio Fibonacci: afterwards, they each comment on their comments.
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Is it reality, or is it perhaps a very personal reading of it? It seems o me that something is actually happening right now, among a certain number of composers from the Quebecois milieu of musical creation… The recent works of Denys Bouliane and Jean Lesage, premiered at the MSO, and a work by Denis Gougeon at the NEM appeared to me as a true qualitative leap in their artistic approach, in the sense of a deepening of the discourse, a densification of the semantic outreach of their utterances. And now, the brand new work by Isabelle Panneton, Les Iles, premiered by the Trio Fibonacci, leaves me with that same impression.
The program of this “portrait” of the composer was conceived by herself in collaboration with the trio members. She chose to frame Les Iles with two of her works: Sur ces décombres et floraisons nouvelles (“On these ruins and new flourishings”), a duo for violin and piano of 1995, and the trio Sombre avec éclaircies (“Dark with sunny spells”) of 2008-2009, and also with some works by admired composers: Haydn, Debussy, Webern and Jonathan Harvey. Haydn’s clarity, Webern’s concision, the admirable harmonic work of all these composers of course found an echo in the works of the composer who emulated them.
But above all, despite an undeniable relationship in the harmonic work and the fluidity of the discourse, hearing those three works by Panneton allowed one to observe the leap which I talked about earlier. There is a difference between on the one hand the lighter discourse of the duo of 1995 (which one might qualify as an “agreeable conversation”), characterized by motives that are never reiterated, always new, and that articulate harmonic networks in perpetual and very sensitive mutation, a manner characterizing many works by the composer up to that date; and on the other hand, a more economical discourse, almost sparse, of Iles, already foreshadowed by Sombres avec éclaircies but pushed to further extremes. In those six miniatures of 2011, the motivic play becomes transparent in its logic, due to clearly perceptible reiterations and variations, and the simplicity of their structure (here parallel movements, there descending 10ths, or rapidly ascending pizzicati, etc).
In a more essential way, it seemed to me that this motivic economy, this bareness, this more reflective playing, was accompanied by a heightened consciousness of the dramatic weight of the harmonic discourse, of the value of each note in this more centered discourse, this dense utterance which I even felt, sometimes, bordering on the tragic, while never becoming heavy.
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This portrait-concert which the Trio Fibonacci devoted to Isabelle Panneton was called Repères et envol (“Bearings and flight”). This title evokes to me many things. The “bearings” which Panneton finds in the masterworks heard alongside her own works (by Haydn, Debussy, Webern, Harvey), and the “flights” that are her three works. The “bearings” that are in her music the polarizing notes around which everything unfolds, and the “flights,” precisely, of those unfoldings. I also recognize a certain glossary typical of the generation and era by which and within which Panneton has been trained: Points de repère by Boulez, and Envol by Tremblay, come to mind.
Other words came to my mind as I listened to the concert, for instance, accuracy and adequacy which are, I think, at the origin of this refinement which is so striking in Panneton’s works, and of the teachings which she draws from Haydn, Debussy, Webern and Harvey. Accuracy due to the absence of anything superfluous, in those details that change everything, and in this meticulously adequate interlocking of sound parameters, the latter which can also be discreet so as to mutually enhance each other, with harmony at the center of this choreography (close to that of a certain group of her generation, among them Serge Arcuri, Marc Hyland and André Villeneuve). On this latter point, Isabelle said in 1999, during a meeting moderated by Françoise Davoine:
Everything cannot be complex at once. In a Bach invention, rhythm constitutes a discreet scheme, the ear is drawn by the nuances of the counterpoint and imitations. I like a lot to look at history through this prism: what are the dimensions that take over, which ones remain in the background? From my end, I frequently explore the relation between harmonies (…), I want the harmonic language to act as a filter in which I can place various elements. 
Words such as fluid and solid also come to mind: they evoke an audible evolution through those three works by Isabelle heard in this concert, going from 1995 to 2011. From sonorous fluid matter heard as ceaseless deformations, like water or wind (quite Debussyian in that way), we move, particularly in the more recent trio, Les Iles, to solid sonorous matter that is delimited and has clear bearings (to echo the title of the concert). The appearance of such “formal lines” seems to me the most striking aspect of the evolution in Isabelle’s writing, as if from those soluble sonorities, crystallizations had appeared.
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A first impression of the Fibonacci concert in homage to Isabelle Panneton is the rich concordance between works in the “repertoire” and those of the composer. The works by Haydn, Harvey, Webern and Debussy had an almost “delicious” effect, in the sense that those music offered complex sonorous images, and by that, also varied paths in which one can first get lost in dreams, and then catch flying a figure echoing in Panneton’s music. A program imbued with a beautiful intensity that also testifies to the maturity of the artist’s reflection, and of her comprehension of her own course. In that sense, Panneton and the very talented Trio Fibonacci have given us a musical journey full of rhizomes, where lines of flight and anchor points call each other out, latch on, and detach themselves, never ceasing to engage ear and spirit in a sort of reconstruction of works from the past and from our own time.
The three works by Panneton have confirmed, if there ever was any need for this, her thorough comprehension of the piano and strings medium. Whereas the 1995 duo and the 2008-2009 trio have given us to hear the affinities between the composer and a music characterized by an expressionist lyricism, dense and lush, it seemed to me that Les Îles, the work premiered, traced a new space between the motives and the harmonic paths. Indeed, one could hear in this work breathing, unexpected, where contrapuntal lines took the time to follow the resonances inherent to the motives, on the lookout for sound’s acoustic possibilities. The work, divided by what I would qualify as sighs between each miniature, offered a sonorous impression at once of great vitality and extreme fragility, and because of this, a sensation of stimulating tension between gestures, pauses, and reverberations.
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Beyond those “echoes” which the works on this finely crafted program sent back and forth, both Chantale Laplante and myself perceived this “difference” which Les Îles represents in Isabelle Panneton’s production. Through this new acoustic image which she perceived, outlined by this “unusual breathing,” this “stimulating tension” established between “gestures, pauses and reverberations,” Chantale Laplante perceives in an almost organic manner, in the sonorous syntax, what would be another way to describe the “tragic without heaviness” which I identified: that is, the conjunction – quite human – of a “great vitality” and an “extreme fragility.”
After a nice conceptual chain entailing titles and filiations, Maxime McKinley comes full circle by underscoring the easily noticeable character of the matter which Isabelle Panneton manipulates. The “crystallizations,” quite appropriately named, resulting from this transparent motivic game and solidified by their varied iterations, sound right since, far from paralyzing, they rather form a basis from which flights take all their meaning, and are allowed to take advantage of the full force of their impulse. In the fluidity of her language, the composer now lays down most welcome islands.
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From Chantale Laplante’s commentary, I will come back on the “solid comprehension” of Isabelle Panneton of the “piano and strings medium,” a commentary rendered even more meaningful when one considers that Haydn’s piano sonatas and string quartets were some of Isabelle’s most enriching influences. Let’s point out moreover that Isabelle is trained as a pianist, that she perfectly masters tonal writing (which she doesn’t use in her works on a first degree basis, but in an “ex-tended” manner), and that this is borne out in her writing. The piano is always used in an irreproachable effectiveness; the “pianisms” are numerous, but always used with a touch of originality. This fundamentally harmonic instrument allows Isabelle to more easily weave her famous “webs,” evolving via common tone and “gravity games” revolving around polarizing notes. In her writing for strings, the use of timbral effects is sparse but eloquently illustrates the composer’s sense of accuracy and adequacy, by contributing, for instance, to focalize a significant note, to underline the surging of a new element, or to exacerbate the color of a chord, a sonority. Otherwise, this commentary by Chantale concerning the writing for piano and strings was directed at a craft perhaps less privileged and celebrated as formerly, but touching on the essence itself of chamber music, of acoustic intimacy. From that perspective, the Trio Fibonacci concerts show, every single time, that this “genre” can still be dazzling, is still deserving of attention and longevity.
As for Michel Gonneville’s commentaries, I’d like to fuse two of them, concerning Îles, in order to create a new one… One the one hand, Michel quite rightly evokes the “motivic play” that “becomes transparent in its logic, by those clearly perceptible reiterations and variations” and, on the other hand, “a heightened consciousness of the dramatic weight of the harmonic voice-leading.” The new commentary I will formulate by fusing those two above is as follows: “In this work, one hears a heightened consciousness of the dramatic weight of the motivic play, which became transparent in its conduct by those clearly perceptible reiterations and variations.” In sum, it is the dramaturgy issuing from the motivic play which seems to me quite new in Isabelle’s writing style, even if she wrote her magnificent Travaux et jeux de gravité (“Work and gravity play”) in 1998. In that sense, if Michel is right to speak of those “borders of the tragic,” it might be just as valid to speak of the “borders of the playful.” There is an ambiguity no doubt linked to a certain prudishness characteristic of Isabelle’s writing, prudishness with a dense but contained emotion, and not without elegance.
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This multiple commentary pertaining to the concert in homage to Isabelle Panneton presents itself almost like a case study about the question of perception, a complex phenomenon, with an elusive character. Despite the extent of the subject, it nonetheless seems possible to describe its main points.
As is often the case during a particularly stimulating and sensitive concert, it is possible to identify a sort of agreement of thoughts and sensations, agreement which, for the concert held on May 10th, was confirmed in regard of two aspects. First, the pertinence of the program in its totality, inasmuch as the spirit was called upon and put to the test in the echo plays proposed by the works. Then, for the particular interest of the work premiered, which proposed something “new.”
This new was “interpreted” differently, supposing a diversified perception and allowing singular points of view to emerge. The (sonorous) perception is due in large part to a network of categories forged through the study and critical listening of research music, from all centuries. It also calls upon our capacity to “experience” the work, the event, which allows a listening anchored as much in the fertile space of the work being played as in the hall welcoming it, and in the being listening to it.
The critical commentaries surrounding this homage concert have, in my view, all called upon two modes of listening: those of analysis and of sensation, but no doubt, on different levels, one of the modes may assume a greater importance. After a more or less elaborate contextualization, and in that regard it is obvious to me that my colleagues have an intimate knowledge of Panneton’s work, Michel Gonneville identifies an economy of means and an effect of bareness as new processes, while Maxime McKinley uses coupled works, “accuracy” and “adequacy”, “fluid” and “solid”, in order to grasp the unheard-off at work in the work. What strikes me here is not so much the complementarities (or lack thereof) of the analytical commentaries, added to mine concerning the resonance of lines and motives, but the manner in which we proceed in order to conclude our reflection.
Indeed, the use of rather poetic terms to synthesize our experience – “densification,” “cristallization,” “breathing” – evidences the difficult task of translating as precisely as possible what music, a fleeting art, has offered us during a moment. Nonetheless, all the commentaries demonstrate that the effort to account, with word, for a sonorous experience as well as for a typically musical intention at work, calls upon the pensive musician (F. Nicolas) and offers the possibility of a revelation of the senses, multiple and stimulating.
 Isabelle Panneton in Françoise Davoine, « Sérieuse, audacieuse, bienheureuse… Généreuses ! Rencontre avec Isabelle Panneton, Marie Pelletier et Ana Sokolovic », Circuit, vol. 10 nº 1 (1999), p. 76.