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Our programme takes its title from Alexina Louie's Songs of Enchantment, the first of which represents a moment in nature, acutely observed, and the second an act of wishing. Two kinds of magic: precision of perception, and the voicing of desire. The very word "enchantment" is bound up with music – "en-chant-ment" is, after all, the medieval French and English development of the Latin incantatio, singing in order to intensify the reality of what is, singing into being what is desired or imagined.
There is a kind of magic in vividness of description, in the language of colour and movement, creating a heightened vision of reality. The poems of Blake and Rimbaud, as set by Arnold and Morlock, focus the eye and mind in this way. The second of the Rimbaud lyrics adds to clarity of vision the ecstasy of dance, and the second of the Blake songs invokes the miracle of memory to preserve and sustain the sharpened perception of the fleeting moment.
Purcell's The Fairy-Queen presents a more traditional aspect of enchantment: the glamour associated with the supernatural realm. The entertainment at the fairy court includes the delicate geometry of the dance, as well as the invocation of musical spirits, and the power of music to cast the spell of sleep.
Beauty and the Beast, the most substantial work on the programme, is also the most complex, replete with an enchanted castle, a difficult quest, magical food and musical instruments, physical transformation, and instructions revealed through dreams. As Schafer has pointed out, these classical fairy-tale elements are also capable of psychological interpretation. They represent the story of Beauty growing out of the safety of the parental home, into an adult intimacy which seems, at first, alien and ugly, but is ultimately revealed in its own loveliness: clarity of perception leading to the realisation of desire.
Malcolm Arnold (1921-2006): William Blake Songs, op. 66, for soprano and strings
William Blake was famous as a poet, mystic, artist, and engraver. He is also said to have composed melodies for many of his lyrics, but if he did, none of it has survived. Since his death, however, and especially in the past century or so, many composers have been inspired by Blake's fresh lyricism and visionary imagination.
This set of songs by the prominent English composer Malcolm Arnold was composed in 1959, and originally conceived for string orchestra; this evening's performance features an adaptation for string quartet. Arnold chose lyrics to frame a day: the invocation To Morning to begin, and To the Evening Star to conclude; in between are lyrics which, rather uncharacteristically for Blake, focus on romantic love. One of them, simply titled Song, will be heard on this programme.
Shimmering harmonics and pianissimo chords summon the dawn, rising to a peak as the light breaks upon the hills, and rapidly subsiding again. The second song, Memory, hither come, begins with a restless forward movement, its phrases beginning off the downbeat of the triple metre. As the text becomes more languid, and then more melancholy, both the vocal melody and the accompanying figures become more expansive. The final movement (heard at the end of the programme) gradually washes out chromatic complexities, with figures that evoke those of the opening movement without actually echoing them.
Henry Purcell (1659-1695): Selections from The Fairy Queen, Act III (1692), for soprano and strings
In his brief thirty-six years, Purcell not only achieved the position of organist at both Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal, for which he composed a significant body of sacred music, but also produced substantial number of works for the stage, many in collaboration with the poet John Dryden.
The Fairy Queen is not based on Edmund Spenser's work of that name, but on an anonymous adaptation of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and is thought by many to contain some of Purcell's finest music for the stage. The work consists of a series of masques, which would have been interspersed with the spoken text of the play, and which alluded to it metaphorically, rather than carrying on the action. The score disappeared after Purcell died, and was rediscovered only in the early 20th century.
The Act III masque is performed for the entertainment of Titania and Bottom (already under the enchantment which gives him a donkey's head). It begins with an instrumental introduction (indicated in the score as "Symphony while the swans come forward") and includes some lively dances, as well as the Naiad's song Ye gentle spirits of the air. A politely declamatory opening section summons the spirits, while the flowing second section instructs them in the figures appropriate to "lull the god of love asleep".
Alexina Louie (1949- ): Songs of Enchantment (1987) for soprano and string quartet
Trained in Vancouver and California, Alexina Louie has lived and worked in Toronto since 1980, composing in almost every genre, including chamber, orchestral, film, and electronic music. Songs of Enchantment, commissioned by the Deep Cove Chamber Soloists Society, sets two brief and cryptic lyrics by the North Vancouver poet and multi-media artist Penelope Connell.
Rhythmically and tonally dense, with frequently shifting tempi and textures, the string quartet part of the first song supports the large arcs of the vocal line. The second song is sparser in texture and more ethereal. It leaves some of the coordination of instrumental parts to the performers, and it also features extended use of harmonics, pizzicato, and other uncommon means of sound production from the strings. The vocal line sometimes rivals that of the first violin in rhythmic and melodic complexity.
Jocelyn Morlock (1969- ): ... et je danse (2004) for soprano, mezzo-soprano, violin, violoncello, and piano
Composer Jocelyn Morlock trained at Brandon University and the University of British Columbia, and has been composer-in-residence for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (beginning in 2014), the Vancouver concert series "Music on Main", the 2008 Eckhardt-Gramatté Competition, and the 2005 Montreal International Music Competition. Her work has won her numerous honours, both Canadian and international. Morlock's style has been described as quirkily post-modern, acutely sensitive to colour and emotion, and with "a fastidious sense of her own esthetic."
...et je danse was composed for the Ottawa Chamber Music Festival, and is dedicated to its director, Julian Armour. The text comes from two poems of Arthur Rimbaud: the first section of "Fleurs" and a single line from "Phrases".
The work begins with a languid instrumental section, with a rhythmically fluid violin solo over shimmering chords in the cello and piano. With the entry of the voices, the metre becomes firmer, and the accompaniment more active. The vocal parts work in tight collaboration, modal in their contours, but with liberal use of dissonance. The final section, from "Phrases", is set in a light, dancing triple metre, with extensive repetitions of the title phrase "et je danse", before an instrumental postlude re-complicates the metre.
R. Murray Schafer (1933- ): Beauty and the Beast (1979) an opera for solo voice and string quartet
Composer, writer, and music educator R. Murray Schafer composed this work in 1979 – most of it in the course of a week – as an independent piece to be incorporated later into the third, "Carnival" section of his enormous Patria cycle, which also includes such multi-media spectaculars as Princess of the Stars, Requiems for a Party Girl, and Ra. It was commissioned by the Ontario Arts Council for Maureen Forrester and the Orford String Quartet.
The libretto is based on the well-known story by Madame Leprince de Baumont, but Schafer chose to treat it not as a simple children's tale, but as a complex psychological drama. The soloist alternates between speaking and singing, and moves back and forth among the roles of Narrator, Father, Beauty, Beast, and Queen (in some performances this has actually involved the use of masks). The instrumental writing is highly dramatic, alternating tightly coordinated sections with more aleatoric ones, and exploiting the full range of colour possibilities for the string quartet. At one point, for example, the violinists are asked to imitate birdsong, and the only notation provided is a convoluted curling and re-curving graphic. Because of the high level of performer choice, and random combinations of figures and textures, Beauty and the Beast requires a lengthy rehearsal period and a particularly intense commitment to collaboration on the part of the performers.