Murderous Little World, by Linda Bouchard
When/where: Friday, 8 p.m., Phillip T. Young Recital Hall (School of Music, MacLaurin Building, UVic); pre-concert talk at 7: 15.
Tickets: Adults $20, seniors and students $18.
This season, as it celebrates its 10th anniversary, the Aventa Ensemble is devoting three concerts to the performance of a single major work; with two of these concerts, moreover, it has ceded performing duties altogether in favour of sponsoring visiting artists. In September, British composer and pianist Michael Finnissy and Canadian soprano Helen Pridmore collaborated on the Canadian première of Finnissy's song cycle Whitman; Friday, a distinguished artistic team will present Murderous Little World, an experiment in music theatre conceived by French-Canadian composer Linda Bouchard.
First performed last year in Waterloo, Ont., but since expanded, Murderous Little World is currently in the midst of a West Coast tour that includes stops in Vancouver, San Francisco (where Bouchard lives), and Los Angeles. The hour-long work is based on seven poems from Men in the Off Hours, an acclaimed, award-winning 2001 collection by the renowned Canadian poet and classical scholar Anne Carson, who lives in Montreal. ("Murderous little world" is a line in the concluding poem.) Bouchard did not collaborate directly with Carson but did receive her blessing and the support of her publisher.
Carson's wide-ranging collection comprises short works of both free verse and prose, and incorporates historical figures like Lazarus, Hokusai, Freud and Virginia Woolf, but summarizing it is no easy chore. One reviewer described it as "a sui generis meditation on time" that "encompasses all of that picnic that time spreads behind itself: life and sex and love and death" - which is not much help.
Anyway, Bouchard was clearly inspired by Carson's poetry, which she describes as "terse yet epic." Like the poems, her music "deals in fragments and strange juxtapositions to form a compelling set of concise, interrelated themes or motifs," and addressing the unique demands and diverse meanings of her chosen poems allowed her "to express many levels of experience simultaneously." She calls the resulting work "the culmination of my artistic vision."
The website dedicated to it (murderouslittleworld.com), which includes a short trailer, promises a vivid and audacious work that makes a strong impression in performance, and a reviewer of the Waterloo performance called it "mesmerizing," "intense," and (appropriately) "poetic." Local composer Christopher Butterfield praises Bouchard's "dynamic and colourful music," while Bill Linwood, the Aventa Ensemble's artistic director, considers her "one of Canada's greats," and admires her ability, in Murderous Little World, to bridge disparate elements in order to create a focused and unified dramatic work.
The music will be performed by Bellows and Brass, a long-established, adventurous ensemble comprising three prominent Canadian soloists: Guy Few (trumpet and piano), Joseph Petric (accordion) and Eric Vaillancourt (trombone). Murderous Little World was composed with them in mind, in fact; it grew out of Bouchard's desire to collaborate with them after first hearing them play more than a decade ago.
All three musicians perform here not only as instrumentalists but as singers, speakers and actors, moving around the stage and realizing Carson's imagined voices in various ways, and their live music-making is manipulated electronically and combined with an electronic score based on recordings of their instruments and voices. Moreover, the music and stage action are magnified and commented on by lighting effects and by live and pre-recorded visual projections including found images, news footage, and lines of Carson's verse (the work of video artist Yan Breuleux).
Bouchard has called Murderous Little World a "multimedia opera," and it is multifarious enough to require a director (Keith Turnbull, who has plentiful experience with music theatre and contemporary music). In Friday's performance, which will mark the première of the full multimedia version of the revised work, Bouchard herself will operate the on-stage computer that controls the electronic audio and video elements. She will also give a pre-concert talk.
On Dec. 4, incidentally, the Aventa Ensemble will offer a program in Vancouver that will include Gavin Bryars' The Sinking of the Titanic, with Bryars on double bass, in honour of the centenary of that famous marine disaster. The setting could not be more apt: an indoor pool at the Vancouver Aquatic Centre.
On this occasion, the ensemble will also release its second CD, a recording of The Sinking of the Titanic made in Banff in 2010.
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