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For Art of Time Ensemble guest Gabriel Prokofiev, true freedom lies in art music, not pop

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Sergei Prokofiev’s grandson Gabriel is a new music star in London. Ten years after launching art music club nights in his home city, he arrives in Toronto to show with the Art of Time Ensemble how to tickle audiences’ imaginations.

Prokofiev’s publicity materials make a big to-do about how he turned his back on classical after studying music in university in order to produce electronica, dance and hip hop. But in reality this was more of a digression — and a show of how art music and pop do not have to be mutually exclusive.

No form of music is an island — but many people in each genre prefer to have it that way. Prokofiev, like the Art of Time Ensemble, won’t have any of it.

The Brit with the Russian compositional pedigree is marking 10 years of what he calls “nonclassical.” He originally affixed the label to weekly club nights that place art music in non-traditional contexts, with Prokofiev and guest DJs at turntables in between acoustic sets.

It’s also the name of Prokofiev’s record label, whose discography looks like a geological sample of our musical times, including a concerto for turntables and orchestra, string quartets with infectious dancy rhythms and a “suite for global junk.”

For his Toronto début, Prokofiev is warming up his wrists for some turntable work, while the Art of Time musicians, overseen by artistic director and pianist Andrew Burashko, will present his String Quartet No. 1, the piece that marked Prokofiev’s official coming out as an art music composer a decade ago.

In an interview in Electronic Beats with Joey Hansom before Christmas, Prokofiev admitted that the art music world offers him a lot more freedom than the pop sphere.

“After I graduated from studying classical music, I spent a few years producing hip-hop and electro,” said the artist. “But I realized that I am more inspired by the emphasis on originality and innovation that exists in contemporary classical music; whereas there’s much more of an emphasis to stay within a certain style, and sometimes even within a particular tempo, in dance music.”

Prokofiev’s arty collaborations are multiplying, with a couple of ballet projects under his belt now, and, if hopes get fulfilled, the writing of a violin concerto for Daniel Hope and something pianistic for Lang Lang.

Chances are good that he will find something new in the old concerto forms using old acoustic instruments.

“So much electronic music has been made that most sounds do seem to have some reference point. But that is a good thing; the freedom offered by working with electronics often feels overwhelming,” Prokofiev told Hansom. “I’m always inspired by the apparent limitation of a string quartet or orchestra. And in fact, new sounds are still being discovered in those instruments even though their design hasn’t changed.”

Score one for the violin and viol families — but don’t count out the laptop.

The Art of Time shows on Friday and Saturday at the Enwave Theatre will also include Prokofiev’s Silente, with him at the turntables, as well as a piece for cello and eight loudspeakers.

Other composers featured in the programme are Jonathan Goldsmith and Gavin Bryars.

You can find all the details here.

For a taste of this 21st century Prokofiev, here is the Elysian Quartet (for whom the piece was written) performing the fourth movement of String Quartet No. 1 at Cargo, a club in the Shoreditch district in London:

And here is Outta Pulser, a piece for nine cellos, which is not on this week’s programme:

 John Terauds

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