Soundstreams Artistic Director Lawrence Cherney is always on the hunt for fresh new sounds to discover. Like a modern-day Alan Lomax, he set out to Australia looking for music written, as he says, “on a big canvas.”
Cherney had heard of a group of improvising musicians headed by pianist-composer Paul Grabowsky out of Melbourne. Hopeful that they had what it takes, Cherney invited the Australian Art Orchestra (AAO) to Toronto to present a new Jazz based interpretation of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.
Fast-forward two years, and the AAO has finally arrived with a genre-bending program that will feature a musical setting of Bach’s Passion, and an electrifying new work by Montreal’s bon vivant upstart, Nicole Lizée. According to the AAO, the results are enthralling.
The project was originally created as a collaboration between Paul Grabowsky and four improvisers from the ensemble. Grabowsky, along with guitarist Doug de Vries, keyboardist Alister Spence, drummer Niko Schäuble and violinist John Rogers, selected parts of Bach’s work as source material to compose the work.
Most of the sections were based on melodic material from Bach’s score, and included the central soprano aria “Aus Liebe will mein Heiland sterben” (For love my Savior would die). Shäuble composed “Crucified” by drawing on different arias from the original, and Rogers provided the “Finale”. Grabowsky also arranged four chorales from the original using his own text as a means to tie it all together.
According to the ensemble, the results transcend Bach St Matthew’s Passion by drawing on the emotional nuances of the original source while employing the language of contemporary music.
Considering Toronto’s thriving community of improvising musicians in Toronto, Lawrence Cherney’s desire to bring Passion and the AAO to Toronto makes a lot of sense. The group will be joined by contingent some of Canada’s best improvisers, forming a kind of international super group. Together they will unite into a rally 18th century context and 21st century method.
Besides the AAO, I also had a chance to catch-up with composer Nicole Lizée to chat about her upcoming premiere.
After a successful collaboration with So Percussion in March 2012, this will mark Soundstreams second commission for Lizée in just two years.
Lizée jumped at the prospect of merging elements of big band jazz, classical, and electronica under the premise of a Bach-inspired piece.
She recalled many hours in her youth pouring over Bach scores “and being fascinated by the shapes and the geometry in them.” It seemed like the perfect project to explore those early formative memories, she adds.
Hymns to Pareidolia is a work motivated by the psychological phenomenon of recognizing meaningful patterns in music and other art objects.
It was no secret Bach had a curious proclivity for imbedding secret cryptographic messages in his scores; the most famous of which was his B flat, A, C, B natural motif. In German musical nomenclature, the note B natural is written as H and the B flat as B, which results in the cleaver spelling of his family name.
Besides Bach’s fondness for pareidolia, Lizée said she was fascinated by “people who spend hours and hours sitting and magnifying portions of painting looking for secret messages in existing works of art.” She applied this to the piece by writing a “bach-esque musical figure” from Bach St. Matthews Passion and magnified it to its cellular level, which she used as the starting point.
She describes, “Parts of the score are erased, canons are broken, hockets are damaged, and hisses, hums and a warping of material is created. I ‘zoom in’ on very short excerpts (sometimes just a rhythmic or gestural idea) – they form ‘cells’ for a section – and become stretched, melted and otherwise manipulated.”
Lizée will also be performing with the AAO using a number of vintage instruments including a turntable, a stylophone from the 60’s and an omnichord that from the 80’s. “I’m interested in incorporating different sororities associated with a different time and a different context and bringing them into an unexpected scenario,” Lizée said.
She added that Tuesday’s show will be a coming together of different musicians, genres, and music periods, and it is something that she has been looking forward to for a long time.
The homage to J.S. Bach’s classical oratorio, will take place at Trinity St. Paul’s on Tuesday April 15th at 8 p.m.
At 7 p.m. there will be a pre-concert discussion about the art of weaving improvisation together with composition with Lawrence Cherney, Paul Grabowsky, Peter Knight, and Nicole Lizée.
For tickets and info see here.
Australian Art Orchestra and Archie Roach, Passion 2009:
“Bookburners” by Nicole Lizée: