NAC Orches­tra serves up a mul­ti­sen­sory spec­ta­cle

> BY ALEXAN­DER VARTY

The Georgia Straight - - Iscm 2017 -

Life Re­flected, the Na­tional Arts Cen­tre Orches­tra’s 2017 tour­ing pro­gram, prom­ises to be a mul­ti­sen­sory spec­ta­cle, with film, dance, spo­ken word, elec­tronic mu­sic, and a glit­ter­ing, scrim-fronted stage all adding visual and sonic heft to the Ot­tawa en­sem­ble’s sym­phonic prow­ess. It seems like a bold pack­age, closely tai­lored to fit to­day’s me­dia en­vi­ron­ment—but, ac­cord­ing to mu­sic direc­tor Alexan­der Shel­ley, it might not be quite as new as all that.

“Some of the great mu­sic of the last cen­tury and the cen­tury be­fore was writ­ten for bal­let, and se­condly for opera, which is a feast of au­dio, visual el­e­ments, and sto­ry­telling,” Shel­ley re­minds the Straight from a Cal­gary ho­tel. “So, in fact, au­di­ences are very, very com­fort­able with hear­ing mu­sic while ab­sorb­ing vi­su­als, while ab­sorb­ing move­ment, ab­sorb­ing chang­ing lights, and so on and so forth. It’s some­thing that we’re ac­tu­ally very trained in. So I wanted to use all the skills and the tech­nol­ogy that we have in the 21st cen­tury to cre­ate that kind of en­vi­ron­ment where mu­sic and words and vi­su­als all played off one an­other.”

The con­duc­tor had a few other things to con­sider. For one, Life Re­flected is the open­ing-night con­cert for the In­ter­na­tional So­ci­ety for Con­tem­po­rary Mu­sic’s World New Mu­sic Days, the largest new-mu­sic fes­ti­val ever held in this coun­try, which takes place here over the next week. It’s also been made pos­si­ble by Canada 150 fund­ing, and so it was in­cum­bent on Shel­ley to find four com­posers who re­flect Canada’s cul­tural and sonic di­ver­sity and give them sto­ries to il­lus­trate that do the same, all while lo­cat­ing him­self in his new coun­try and in his new po­si­tion, which he as­sumed in 2015.

“I was com­ing in as a Brit; I had all the clichés in mind of, you know, Moun­ties and moose and maple syrup,” he says. “But at the heart of it, in terms of what we wanted to cre­ate, was that we wanted a ve­hi­cle for new mu­sic that would ap­peal to connoisseurs.…but that would also take the hand of peo­ple who maybe found it more dif­fi­cult, or who wouldn’t at­tend a con­cert nor­mally, and guide them for­ward.”

No moose, so far as we know, will decorate the Cen­tre in Van­cou­ver for Per­form­ing Arts stage. But connoisseurs and neo­phytes alike will be treated to the mu­sic of Zosha di Cas­tri, Ni­cole Lizée, John Esta­cio, and Van­cou­ver’s own Jo­ce­lyn Mor­lock—and to as­pects of the lives of, re­spec­tively, short-story maven Alice Munro, sci­en­tist and as­tro­naut Roberta Bon­dar, the late First Na­tions poet and ac­tivist Rita Joe, and teenage bul­ly­ing vic­tim Amanda Todd.

These are im­por­tant Cana­dian sto­ries, but not nec­es­sar­ily the kind that prompt flag-wav­ing and huz­zahs. Esta­cio’s I Lost My Talk, for in­stance, is built on Joe’s ex­pe­ri­ence of the res­i­den­tial-school sys­tem, while Mor­lock’s My Name Is Amanda Todd func­tions as a eu­logy for the Port Co­quit­lam teen, who com­mit­ted sui­cide af­ter speak­ing out on video about be­ing sex­u­ally ha­rassed and cy­ber­bul­lied.

“There’s fric­tion in these sto­ries, and of course any ma­ture so­ci­ety is kind of de­scribed by how it deals with fric­tion,” Shel­ley says. “Co­ex­is­tence is not an easy thing.…and these sto­ries do talk about that. They en­gage with the fric­tion, and they en­gage with el­e­ments that could and should be crit­i­cized.”

So the pro­gram is both a cel­e­bra­tion of our coun­try and an apol­ogy for its worst as­pects. What could be more Cana­dian than that?

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