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PRIMER | Yolanda Bruno And Isabelle David Take Us Inside The Creations Of The Wild Swans

By Hye Won Cecilia Lee on November 28, 2019

Yolanda Bruno and Isabelle David showcase the work of 11 women composers over 876 years of music in their debut album ‘The Wild Swans’.

Yolanda Bruno and Isabelle David
Yolanda Bruno and Isabelle David (Photo : Helen Tansey)

It is not a strange thing to talk about gender equity in the twenty-first century, especially in Western classical music. Even today, many popular composer/performer/conductor lists consist mostly of men, and it’s still men dominating the high level business/political/arts executives’ and directors’ office seats.

Things are changing, albeit slowly, and we may be approaching at a time where the community is willing to dedicate serious support for women in classical music: as this week, two Canadian women, Yolanda Bruno and Isabelle David, launch their debut album The Wild Swans, in Ottawa (Nov. 25), Montreal (Nov. 26) and Toronto (Dec 2).

The recording lists 11 compositions by women across the time — 876 years to be exact — between the youngest composer (Elena Langer, b. 1974) and the oldest (Hildegard von Bingen, 1098-1179), and it includes a premiere recording for Beyond Time (Alexina Louie) and a fresh commission from Kelly-Marie Murphy: The Swan Parapraxis.

In addition to the pouring of Bruno and David’s own hearts and funds, The Wild Swans project amassed funding of $15,555 from 142 backers through Kickstarter; and when Groupe Canimex saw the kickstarter video, they called Yolanda and Isabelle, offering a generous sponsorship to fill the gap. Also, Yolanda’s current instrument, a Montagnana, is a loan from GC since September 2018. Oh, what it takes, for the swans to take flight!

It’s a massive project, and it makes one wonder: what has driven these two?

“We met at McGill University, as we were taking a lot of same classes during our first year of undergrad – 2007,” recalls David. “We decided to start a chamber music group [piano quartet] during our sophomore year in 2008. At the time, second year string players at McGill were expected only to perform in a string quartet. Playing in a chamber group with piano was allowed later in the program. But our enthusiasm convinced the chair of the chamber music department to bend the rules and let us play together right away! Our collaboration has continued ever since.”

Inseparable since, they have travelled and performed together across Canada for over 10 years. And like good friends do, they couldn’t help but to share things — especially things that belong to living composers, as well as forgotten ones. And it’s this shared curiosity that often gets them onto a road less travelled.

“Last year, we toured Eastern Canada playing a fabulous sonata by French composer Louise Farrenc,” Bruno says. “It was next to impossible to acquire a copy of the score. We both emailed everyone we knew in Canada, the USA ,and Europe hoping to get a copy. Finally, Isabelle [David] purchased the only copy we could find for $300.00 — an insane amount to pay for a violin and piano sonata.”

The time they wrote to Pulitzer winner Caroline Shaw, is another exciting memory. “I mustered up the courage to write her an email asking about music for violin and piano,” explained Bruno. “I couldn’t find anything for violin and piano online, and was sure I would never hear from her. Her website said ‘response times will be very slow’. My heart skipped a beat when she replied to my email and sent me a PDF of “Broad and Free”.”

Yolanda Bruno and Isabelle David
Yolanda Bruno and Isabelle David (Image courtesy of the artists)

Maturing as duo, they began accumulating a ‘to-record’ list. “The first pieces we knew we wanted to record were Alexina Louie’s “Beyond Time”, Kala Ramnath’s “Aalap and Tarana” and two works by Lili Boulanger,” said Bruno.

David also quotes Hilary Hahn-Cory Smythe’s 2015 Grammy winning album, ‘In 27 Pieces,’ which includes composers Kala Ramnath, Lera Auerbach and Jennifer Higdon, as a major inspiration.

By the end of the search, they had selected eleven pieces on the final list. Just like the eleven princes that needed to be transformed in The Wild Swans by Hans Christian Andersen.

The connection to Toronto runs deep in this album. Bruno recently joined the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and it also includes the premiere recording of Toronto-based composer Alexina Louie’s Beyond Time. “…It had everything we were looking for: it is filled with fantasy, overflows with otherworldly sounds.”

Programming, practice, rehearsal —  the duo was well-versed in the musical aspects of the project, but then there was the matter of the Kickstarter campaign to fund it.

“Launching the Kickstarter campaign was terrifying. We had never done anything like this before and had no idea whether or not we would be able to raise the full amount,” described Bruno. “In actuality, the CD costs were more than $15,555, but we set this as our goal.”

With support pouring from friends and family, and from close and afar, as far as Dubai, Korea, Finland, India, The Wild Swans met its goal in just 20 days.

“Daily messages of encouragement, continuous shares of the project and contributions… It certainly gave us wings to receive so much support,” Bruno says. And this has fueled their decision to have launches in three cities: Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto, the cities from where most of the Kickstarter backers supported them.

To give these women voices and give them wings. The Tundra swans live in the Canadian Arctic and in Alaska, and they fly an impressive 6,000kms journey of migration, twice a year (all the way to the East in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland, or to the West to the Pacific Slope in California). The flights are not just for fancies, but for survival and nurture.

The Wild Swans: Toronto Launch, Yolanda Bruno + Isabelle David; December 2, 2019, 7:30pm, Gallery 345. Details  here.

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Hye Won Cecilia Lee
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Hye Won Cecilia Lee

Cecilia tumbled into 'serious' music study when she decided to avoid attending medical school. Currently working in the field of classical music, recording, and Korean-English interpretation, she tends to get her nose dirty in many different things in the city. Cecilia holds a DMA in Piano Performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Hye Won Cecilia Lee
Follow me
Hye Won Cecilia Lee
Follow me

Hye Won Cecilia Lee

Cecilia tumbled into 'serious' music study when she decided to avoid attending medical school. Currently working in the field of classical music, recording, and Korean-English interpretation, she tends to get her nose dirty in many different things in the city. Cecilia holds a DMA in Piano Performance from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
Hye Won Cecilia Lee
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