Clar­inetist and com­poser search out new sounds MU­SIC

Liam Hock­ley has a taste for the dif­fi­cult—or near-im­pos­si­ble, while Nova Pon is drawn to the rhythms of both speech and bird­song

The Georgia Straight - - FALL ARTS PREVIEW > WHO TO WATCH -

LIAM HOCK­LEY

There’s a word for a lover of 2

movies: cinephile. Ditto for lover of sound (au­dio­phile), lover of cheese (tur­ophile), and even lover of rain (plu­vio­phile). But is there one that means “lover of dif­fi­culty”?

If there isn’t, Liam Hock­ley might have to coin it. Not only is he pur­su­ing a ca­reer based on play­ing the most tech­ni­cally de­mand­ing mu­sic ever writ­ten, he’s also writ­ing about it as part of his doc­toral th­e­sis, Per­form­ing Com­plex­ity.

It wasn’t al­ways thus. Grow­ing up on Van­cou­ver is­land, Hock­ley was first smit­ten by the clar­inet, and then by the sounds of clas­sic jazz. As he re­ports on the line from his Van­cou­ver home, he was some­thing of an anachro­nism, even in sleepy Qualicum Beach.

“I spent more time lis­ten­ing to Benny Good­man and Ar­tie Shaw than any­body else, and prob­a­bly would have liked to have stepped into their shoes,” he says, not­ing that his step­fa­ther, a jazz pi­anist, en­cour­aged that in­ter­est. But the 28-yearold per­former and aca­demic would soon be thrown into the deep end of the 21st cen­tury, af­ter leav­ing home to study at the Univer­sity of Vic­to­ria. The epiphany came when his clar­inet in­struc­tor, Pa­tri­cia Kostek, gave a recital shortly af­ter classes started.

“Van­cou­ver had just hosted the In­ter­na­tional Clar­inet As­so­ci­a­tion’s Clar­inet­fest, which is a big in­ter­na­tional con­fer­ence, and for this con­fer­ence she had com­mis­sioned a num­ber of new pieces by lo­cal com­posers for solo clar­inet, or clar­inet and elec­tron­ics, and maybe there were one or two cham­ber pieces,” Hock­ley ex­plains. “And that was per­haps one of the biggest mo­ments of discovery for me, in terms of re­al­iz­ing just what an ex­tended vo­cab­u­lary the in­stru­ment had….it was a very pow­er­ful mo­ment in my de­vel­op­ment.”

Hock­ley has gone on to spe­cial­ize in ex­tended tech­niques for the clar­inet, al­though he doesn’t much care for that term: what oth­ers might con­sider al­ter­na­tive or avant-garde ap­proaches to his in­stru­ment are to him only part of the every­day tool kit of the 21st-cen­tury vir­tu­oso.

“I think the idea of ‘im­pos­si­ble’ is maybe a ques­tion­able one,” he says of pieces that might ask him to nav­i­gate labyrinthine scores, pro­duce mul­ti­ple lines on his sup­pos­edly mono­phonic horn, or play mi­cro­ton­ally.

For the 2017-18 sea­son, Hock­ley’s fo­cus is, un­der­stand­ably, on fin­ish­ing his UBC doc­tor­ate “and get­ting out the door”. He will, how­ever, be show­cased along­side pi­anist Ni­cole Li­naksita and sound artist Nancy Tam at the Fox Cabaret on April 24, as part of a Mu­sic on Main emerg­ing-artist show­case, and will join the NU:BC Col­lec­tive when it serves as the house band for next spring’s Sonic Boom fes­ti­val.

Af­ter that? Ex­pect to see him per­form­ing the for­merly im­pos­si­ble on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, both here and in­ter­na­tion­ally.

NOVA PON > ALEXAN­DER VARTY

Nova Pon presents as a cau­tious 2 soul, to the ex­tent that she re­quested writ­ten ques­tions be­fore speak­ing to the Ge­or­gia Straight. But it wasn’t a case of the thought­ful and soft-spo­ken flutist and com­poser want­ing to con­trol the agenda; she’s sim­ply un­used to the spot­light.

“I live un­der a rock, a bit,” she says by phone from her Bowen Is­land home, “and my no­tion of an in­ter­view was that ev­ery­thing I said would be printed ver­ba­tim, and that it would be re­ally poor read­ing.”

Pon’s lack of in­ter­est in self­pro­mo­tion may be partly why, at 34, she’s still seen as an emerg­ing com­poser, de­spite a siz­able body of ex­cel­lent work. And then there’s the fact that com­posers ma­ture more slowly than other mu­si­cians—a process that, in Pon’s case, was com­pli­cated by her youth­ful need to ex­plore other op­tions first.

“I think for a long time I wanted to be a writer,” she says. “I’m nat­u­rally drawn to a nar­ra­tive or jour­ney as­pect in any tem­po­ral art.”

see page 25

re­turn to her home­town.

From a stint in San Fran­cisco to im­mers­ing her­self in Mon­treal’s thriv­ing arts scene, her jour­ney has been a di­verse one. Her trav­els be­gan at the ten­der age of 13, when the Port Moody–raised dancer was de­ter­mined to be­come a clas­si­cal bal­let star.

“I was such a ‘Trina’ or bun­head,” she says with a laugh, sit­ting with the Straight in an airy Strath­cona café. “I started do­ing sum­mer in­ten­sives at 13, when my lovely mother sent me off to New York with lit­tle or no su­per­vi­sion to go to the one at the Jof­frey [Bal­let].” Sub­se­quent sum­mer pro­grams took her to Bal­let Austin, Philly’s The Rock, and Chicago’s Hub­bard Street.

Wong seemed to be search­ing for some­thing, and she found it when she was ac­cepted in 2013 into a train­ing pro­gram at Alonzo King’s in­no­va­tively neo­clas­si­cal LINES Bal­let in San Fran. It of­fered an al­ter­na­tive to the hi­er­ar­chy of the bal­let world: “I was look­ing for some­where I could use my voice.”

At LINES, she found her out­let, in an ex­pe­ri­ence she calls lifechang­ing. “It was this safe en­vi­ron­ment that al­lowed you to re­de­fine who your were as a per­son,” she says. “It was an en­vi­ron­ment that al­lowed you to ex­plore through move­ment a deeper sense of per­son­al­ity.”

From there, Wong headed to Mon­treal. “I was still run­ning away from Van­cou­ver,” she ad­mits. “My ego didn’t want me to come back home feel­ing like I hadn’t achieved some­thing.”

The move was hard. She didn’t know any­one, the weather was cold, and it was dif­fi­cult break­ing into the dance com­mu­nity. But she pushed on­ward, and an even­tual res­i­dency with Ot­tawa’s Dor­sale Dance led to her first piece of chore­og­ra­phy, a work that went on to the Mon­treal Fringe.

Liv­ing in Que­bec also fired up Wong’s DIY in­stincts, as she started fa­cil­i­tat­ing and cu­rat­ing shows for her­self and other artists, even­tu­ally do­ing it un­der the um­brella of Twobig­steps—the unique, mul­ti­c­ity col­lec­tive she’s now bas­ing out of Van­cou­ver. The col­lab­o­ra­tion­minded Twobig­steps spans dancers and mu­si­cians from Van­cou­ver, San Fran, and Mon­treal, stag­ing per­for­mances in any of those places, too.

The col­lec­tive presents her chore­og­ra­phy Sur­ren­durance on Novem­ber 25 at Dance in Van­cou­ver, the show­case for lo­cal tal­ent that brings in pre­sen­ters from around the con­ti­nent. In the cre­ation for five dancers, Wong plays with the com­plex pat­terns of so­cial be­hav­iours and with ideas of spon­tane­ity and con­trol. She col­lab­o­rated on the project with Jamie Brad­bury, a mu­si­cian she’s been work­ing with since her days in Mon­treal.

What au­di­ences will no­tice most is that bal­let still flows through Wong’s fluid, el­e­gant work. “As a col­lec­tive we do morn­ing class be­fore re­hearsal and usu­ally it’s bal­let,” she ex­plains. “There are el­e­ments where they [the dancers] need a bal­let back­ground.” But per­haps not one quite so di­verse as Wong’s.

> JANET SMITH

Liam Hock­ley was first smit­ten by the clar­inet, then clas­sic jazz; Nova Pon wanted to be a writer. Emily Cooper photo.

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