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Paris-based composer and trombonist Vinko Globokar is photographed on Dec. 5, 2011, in Toronto.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

The World of Globokar

  • New Music Concerts
  • At Betty Oliphant Theatre in Toronto on Sunday

Vinko Globokar came of age as a composer in the sixties, when it was possible to romp along the forward edge of the art as through a playground, while insisting on the research value of the adventure. Globokar, a virtuoso trombonist, was one of a number of player-composers – the oboist Heinz Holliger being another – who decided to catalogue and flaunt all the sounds his instrument could produce, including many that a well-schooled player wasn't supposed to make.

Globokar's hair is white now, and he moves with a halting step, but his basic co-ordinates as a composer haven't changed much. New Music Concerts' engaging tour of five of his pieces, from a span of nearly 40 years, showed an enduring vigorous interest in the limits of instrumental timbres, and in composition as an experiment in collective gamesmanship.

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The trombone is a wind instrument, and this ordinary fact still draws Globokar's special attention, as he tries to see how many of the breath's activities – speech, in particular – he can bring into play. Fluide, from 1967, moved quite deliberately between the rushing breath and the more textured sounds that air can make as it vibrates through horn or clarinet. Most pieces on this brass-heavy show featured some kind of pneumatic effects, as well as vocalizations through reeds and mouthpieces, and vehement rants whose semantic meaning vanished on the way out of the instrument. But Globokar is less interested in projecting textual meaning than in the musical qualities of vowels, and the gestural force and rhythms of speech.

When he uttered a furious diatribe through his trombone in Eppure si Muove (2003), or when Scott Irvine did the same through his tuba in Discours VII (1987), it was as if we were witnessing the same thwarted character, venting himself like a man shouting incomprehensibly in the street. Discours VII, with its physical humour and taste for the absurd, had a touch of Monty Python about it. Both pieces had a social character, as players swapped musical ideas and sometimes shared jokes. But in each case, there was a solitary figure at the centre, who at the end remained apart.

In Eppure si Muove, Globokar took the position of the sun in the solar system, turning on a short stool as he barked out guttural sounds or gestural asides at the players seated around him. A notebook score clipped to his trombone flapped as he turned, giving him an eccentric scholarly look, while he blew his instrument through a bassoon reed or sent equivocal fanfares through speakers around the room.

In Eisenberg (1990), he conducted a mixed consort of noisemakers, antique brasses, polyphonic instruments (synthesizer, electric guitar) and woodwinds, sometimes merely indicating when any group should start or stop, or whether the pitch range should move up or down. It was like a game with rules but no fixed form, though at times the loose diversity of sounds would lock into something firm and unifying, such as the dance rhythm that took over halfway through the piece.

Some house prohibition prevented us from hearing Cri des Alpes, Globokar's solo piece for alpenhorn and lit cigar. The show opened with the Canadian premiere of Elliott Carter's Trije glasbenicki (2011), a brief, prickly trio performed on the composer's 103rd birthday.

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