Ottawa Citizen

A provocativ­e musical experience

NACO’s Life Reflected is a diverse listen, providing potent stimulatio­n for the ears


Optimally, a couch-potato music fan would enjoy the National Arts Centre Orchestra’s performanc­e of its new signature work, Life Reflected, in the comforts of his home through some kind of virtual reality headset, or, failing that, a DVD.

Nearly a year ago, when the four-compositio­n work debuted in Southam Hall, it involved not only the lush sweep of the orchestra but also stage-sized film footage and images projected on a special beaded scrim in front of the musicians. Adding to the work’s breadth, and also to its cuttingedg­e thrust, were the narrator, soprano vocalist and the addition of electronic­ally processed spoken words that discrete parts of Life Reflected required.

On Friday, NACO’s recording of Life Reflected was released. It documents just the audio of the Life Reflected experience.

Still, it provides potent stimulatio­n for the ears, if not the eyes, and it’s a testament to the contempora­ry vision of Life Reflected’s commission­er, Alexander Shelley, who became NACO’s musical director in September 2015.

Life Reflected resonates not only because of the notes played but due to its thematic inspiratio­ns and anchors that are intensely tied to the Canada we live in today.

For its opening 25-minute movement, Dear Life, composer Zosha Di Castri based her work to the Alice Munro short story of the same name, which is in the story collection of the same name that Shelley received as a gift several years before the English conductor took up his NACO responsibi­lities.

Dear Life is followed by My Name Is Amanda Todd, composer Jocelyn Morlock’s 10-minute tribute to the B.C. teenager who spoke out against the cyber abuse, harassment and bullying she had faced but ultimately took her life in 2012. The 15-minute Bondarsphe­re, by Nicole Lizée, is a homage to astronaut and physician Dr. Roberta Bondar.

The work’s final component, I Lost My Talk by composer John Estacio, is a 20-minute piece spun from poetry by Mi’kmaq elder and poet Rita Joe, describing her experience at Residentia­l School.

Clearly, Life Reflected is a quantum shift from the material on NACO’s previous album, 2016’s Baroque Treasury, which features works by Bach, Handel and their peers and which was recorded when Shelley’s predecesso­r, Pinchas Zukerman, wielded his baton.

Life Reflected can be as provocativ­e and progressiv­e musically as it is politicall­y.

Dear Life gives the work a challengin­g, complex, bristling start, with multiple aural layers and evocations to assimilate.

The music is initially ominous and austere, while detailed text from Munro’s semi-autobiogra­phical story, narrated by Martha Henry, and later wordless singing by Erin Wall, vie for attention. The moods come in waves, from meditative to tense and even violent, and back.

The piece for Todd, rich with shimmering strings, is more convention­al and forthright in its emotional appeal, as it arcs musically from its heroine’s tragedy to her resilient positive message.

Bondarsphe­re features swirling, brass- and percussion-heavy music at times at play with a wealth of sonic time-capsule artifacts.

Prominent in the piece are snippets of everyone from Bondar, Peter Mansbridge and Brian Mulroney speaking, sometimes transforme­d electronic­ally into reverberan­t beds of sound. Sometimes the orchestra provides a soundtrack to the recorded material. More interestin­gly, sometimes tight interactio­ns occur.

I Lost My Talk is Life Reflected at its most compelling and successful. Estacio’s piece strikes home to tell Joe’s story whether it’s bone-simple or surging and powerful, and its integratio­n with Joe’s poem, narrated by Monique Mojica, is taut and always stirring.

It’s must-hear, moving, new Canadian music that caps a strikingly diverse larger work, and it could only be better as a must-see-andhear experience, when the orchestra takes Life Reflected on the road to share its unique riches across the country during this sesquicent­ennial year.

 ?? FRED CATTROLL ?? The National Arts Centre Orchestra’s performanc­e of the commission­ed four-part work Life Reflected has been released as an audio recording.
FRED CATTROLL The National Arts Centre Orchestra’s performanc­e of the commission­ed four-part work Life Reflected has been released as an audio recording.

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