NACO finds some edge for Mercury Lounge
Composer Son Lux on program for first of WolfGANG sessions
In the symphony halls of North America, the predominant colour could be said to be grey, as in the grey hair of the audiences.
Not so in Europe, where more young people attend classical concerts. So how, then, to get more blonds, brunettes and redheads into the plush seats of Southam Hall?
One way might be a new latenight series of concerts in a sexier location. That’s just what NACO is starting on Valentine’s Day, in one of Ottawa’s more avant-garde venues — Mercury Lounge in the ByWard Market, where some normally upright classically trained players will mingle with the drag queens and the EDM ravers.
There will be three WolfGANG Sessions over the next few months that will have violinists, cellists and the like, backed by a DJ and videos, playing contemporary music with some real edge. It sounds very similar to a project launched by the incoming music director of the NACO, Alexander Shelley, when he was a young performer in Germany.
The menu for the first session includes some young and very talented players such as Jessica Linnebach, violinist and associate concert master; Julia MacLaine, assistant principal cellist; clarinetist Sean Rice; flutist Emily Marks; trumpeter Karen Donnelly; David Marks, associate principal violist; and Carissa Klopoushak, violinist.
The music they are playing features works by Esa-Pekka Salonen, Magnus Lindberg, Ana Sokolovic and — perhaps most interesting of all — Ryan Lott, better known as Son Lux, a cutting edge, wideranging maker of modern music, known for his post-rock and alternative hip-hop style.
Seen the film Looper? He orchestrated the music. He also scored the film The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby. He’s worked with Lorde, Peter Silberman of The Antlers, These New Puritans, My Brightest Diamond and Ottawa’s Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire — another artist who ranges far and wide). Lott’s album Lanterns has garnered a fair bit of buzz, with Pitchfork calling the song, Lost It To Trying, a best new track.
His work Beautiful Mechanical, which was written for the ensemble yMusic, is the work that will be featured on Saturday night. It is a track that is full of urgency, starting with a hard-driving cello.
“It’s a piece I wrote a good while ago now, and at the time, it was the first explicitly chamber piece I had been commissioned to write in a long time,” says Lott. “I had been writing tons of music for dance and had been incorporating chamber music in my Son Lux stuff. But I was mostly working in the electronic realm because there is no money in dance. You have to come up with other solutions.
“I realized, when I was asked, how much I wanted to write a chamber piece” for great musicians and real instruments. “I hadn’t had the opportunity to write for a group of great musicians. Here are the instruments — go.
“I sat down in a single sitting and I wrote the piece. The next day I had a fresh look and made some revisions, and that was it: Eight minutes, boom, done.”
He’s done this kind of speed composing before. One of his early albums was completed in 28 days. Talk about spontaneity in creativity.
“I value the ephemeral moment. The electronic medium is a medium in which the ephemeral can become the structural. The creative potential that unlocks is enormous.”
That said, he admits he’s also usually an incurable nitpicker of his music, so Beautiful Mechanical was a real step into the abyss.
“It was a risk because I was writing for musicians who are much better than myself.”
Finding contemporary music can be a challenge. Some pieces are never recorded and played only once or twice. This particular eight minutes is on disc, and the NAC reached out to the label, New Amsterdam. And some NACO members know people in yMusic, so the deal was done.
Lott can’t make the show because he is finishing up a new record and is embarking on a big tour.
Even so, he really likes the concept of the WolfGANG Sessions and hopes it succeeds.
He certainly knows why his composition is on the program.
“One of the things that I recognize is the intent of including my music because it might bring broader appeal.”