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Sights and sounds of Canada captured

The National Arts Centre’s Made in Canada, March 15, 2010

The Vancouver Sun

by David Gordon Duke

The Cultural Olympiad is drawing to a close, with one big classical music program yet to be heard. On Monday musicians from the National Arts Centre Orchestra (NACO) play the Chan Centre with “Made in Canada,” a sampler of Canadian music and performers.

As orchestras go, the National Arts Centre ensemble is a fairly regular visitor to our town; it’s part of their mandate, after all, to perform regularly outside Ottawa. On this occasion regular conductor Pinchas Zukerman has stayed behind, and a smaller complement of musicians will be directed by young Julian Kuerti (yes, the son of pianist Anton), one of a bumper crop of rising Canadian conductors starting to own the podium worldwide.

The plan is to offer as broad a selection as you could ever hope for on a single evening. According to NACO Managing Director Christopher Deacon, “It’s not a collection of disconnected pieces. We wanted to create postcards from Canada, each elaborating some aspect of national identity in musical terms.” The plan is for works to flow together with videos, projected images, some spoken words, and even dance.

For example, pianist Angela Cheng and cellist Amanda Forsyth are joined by dancers Matjash Mrozewski and Tesse Robb in Mrozewski’s new choreography for Bringing the Tiger Down from the Mountain II by ex-Vancouverite Alexina Louie.

Inuit throat singers Evie Mark and Akinisie Sivuarapik are featured in a second Louie work, Take the Dog Sled, commissioned by the Orchestre symphonique de Montreal to play on a northern tour in 2008.

There’s music by another figure with a Vancouver connection, R. Murray Schafer, who taught up the mountain at SFU in that institution’s early days. Schafer’s 1973 choral classic Miniwanka or The Moments of Water will be sung by the Capilano University Singers and the University of British Columbia Chorus.

Violinist Jessica Linnebach is slated to perform a work by senior UBC composer Stephen Chatman (whose Earth Songs are up for this year’s Classical Composition of the Year at the Junos): his homage to Group of Seven painter Fred Varley. Varley Suite is a seven-movement work for solo violin, with segments suggested by such Varley masterworks as Night Mist and Vera. Not quite all the music has Vancouver connections. Also on the agenda is Elysium by Kati Agocs, a sound picture of shipwreck off the Newfoundland coast, commis­sioned for the Cultural Olympiad. Agocs teaches at Boston’s New England Conservatory, but worked for several years at Newfoundland’s Memorial University.

Then there are two keyboard works by Andre Mathieu. Pianist Alain Lefevre has made it his mission to resurrect the works of the composer who seemed, back in the 1930s and ’40s, to be the most remarkable of domestic geniuses.

In fact Mathieu’s career was short and tragic. Born in 1929, he was already giving concerts in Paris in the mid-‘3os (where he was called “a little Canadian Mozart”), and won a New York Philharmonic competition at the age of 12. The transition from child prodigy to an adult career went very badly: after an unsuccessful stint studying in postwar Paris, Mathieu slunk home to Montreal where his career continued a sad downward spi­ral. He died, more or less forgotten, in 1968.

All in all, a distinctive and unusual way of presenting homegrown music. Though “Made in Canada” was bespoke as the NACO’s contribution to the Olympic effort, the collage format seems to be a breakthrough in programming Canadian work.

And why not? As Deacon says, “It’s time to tell the story of Canada through the voices of our composers.”

Sat Mar 13, 2010