ISCM opens with exciting sounds, downbeat mood
A National Arts Centre Orchestra production. An ISCM World New Music Days and Vancouver Symphony Orchestra copresentation. At the Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts on Thursday, November 2. No remaining performances
Should it ever make it to the 2
small screen, Life Reflected will be stunning and unusual television. Its combination of symphonic music, visual imagery, dance, spoken word, and social commentary would provide an intelligent and provocative oasis in the medium’s bleak landscape of reality shows, sport programs, and talking heads. The overall package, assembled by National Arts Centre Orchestra artistic director Alexander Shelley and creative producerdirector Donna Feore, draws upon the talents of artists as diverse as writer Alice Munro and actress Monique Mojica, not to mention featured composers Zosha Di Castri, Jocelyn Morlock, Nicole Lizée, and John Estacio. And on the opening night of the largest contemporary-music festival Canada’s ever seen, all four of its scores were immaculately performed.
So why did it seem to fall just a little flat? I’ll be puzzling over this for weeks—as, I suspect, will other audience members. But, for now, a few random thoughts:
Live orchestral music does not need visual accompaniment. Good music provides a narrative all its own. Here, the images mostly seemed superimposed on the music, and the effort of watching them somehow made the music smaller (the exception being Lizée’s homage to astronaut Roberta Bondar, Bondarsphere, in which the composer’s own audiovisual collage effectively amplified the sound).
We’re used to the Orpheum. In concert, the NACO sounded lean and quick, but less viscerally present than our resident symphony. That’s probably the venue’s fault; acoustically the Centre is dry and muffled compared to Vancouver’s grandest public space.
What should have been a gala was anything but celebratory. Three of the four stories told here—lizée’s piece again being the exception—proved decidedly downbeat. There’s “a lot of killing” in Di Castri’s Munro-inspired Dear Life; the teenage protagonist of Morlock’s My Name Is Amanda Todd dies by her own hand; and Estacio’s I Lost My Talk, which sets a short text by the late Mi’kmaq poet Rita Joe, deals with the painful and ongoing legacy of the residential-school system.
Estacio’s piece was a particularly odd choice to end this intermissionless, hour-plus evening; Mojica’s onstage reading of Joe’s plainspoken words left many listeners pondering their own complicity in this shameful public failure. There was also a disconnect between Estacio’s blustery, conservative score, the projected images of Tekaronhiáhkhwa Santee Smith’s ritualistic choreography, and the night’s intent of celebrating new forms.
Which were here; don’t get me wrong. Di Castri’s orchestral textures were extraordinary, blending instruments in a kind of acoustic synthesis that resulted in gorgeous, newly discovered tones. Morlock has a gift for emotionally affecting music, and My Name Is Amanda Todd came across as the essence of tenderness and compassion. Lizée sometimes relies too heavily on pastiche, but Bondarsphere’s combination of low-fi electronics, vintage news broadcasts, and sophisticated timbral play was every bit as dizzying as a real ascent into space.
> ALEXANDER VARTY
HEY LADIES Waaaaay back in the fall of ’15, a ragtag group of women got together and put on a regular monthly show featuring all genres of comedic performance, from standup to sketch to storytelling to burlesque to improv to music to dance and then some. Okay, it wasn’t all that long ago and the performers were hardly ragtag, but still, two years is nothing to sniff at in the world of live entertainment. So is celebrating—and there’s the promise of cake! Celebrated actors and comics Morgan Brayton, Diana Bang, Fatima Dhowre, and Katie-ellen Humphries welcome Kerri Donaldson and Allie Entwistle from the improv/sketch duo Brunch Comedy to this special birthday bash, along with interdisciplinary humourist Jan Derbyshire. It’s all happening at the Red Gate Revue Stage on Wednesday (November 8).
The Lady Show