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Truly Canadian

Sunday, November 15th, the Esprit Orchestra and conductor Alex Pauk are giving what I think will be a really wonderful concert. It happens in Toronto, at 8PM in Koerner Hall at The Royal Conservatory (273 Bloor Street West, Toronto), with a 7:15Pm pre-concert chat with a composer and guest artists. That composer would be Alexina Louie, and my guess is the guest artists are Inuit throat singers Evie Mark and Akinisie Sivuarapik. First up on the bill is Louie’s work Take the Dog Sled, for two throat singers and ensemble.

Throat singing is an ancient traditional musical form/contest where two women join in a face-off, chanting back and forth in a rhythmic game. The point is for each to keep the rhythm going through all its elaborations; the one who either runs out of breath, misses, or starts laughing is the “loser” , but the loss is not nearly so important as the bonds formed. Louie here incorporates their singing into her piece for western ensemble, part of which you can preview in this clip from a documentary made about Kent Nagano and the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal‘s recent journey through the high north, to bring classical music and instruments to places that had never heard them live before:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wCYQW57EVoI[/youtube]

Following that will be one of the great evocative experiences of my own teen years: a performance of R. Murray Schafer‘s mysterious North/White for snowmobile (!) and orchestra. I think it may have a couple different versions now, but I first heard this near its premiere in 1973: as a teen in an agricultural region of Washington State, my modern classical education consisted largely of late-night radio listening, to the swelling and fading signal of the CBC wafting over the border from Alberta. One of those nights came an utterly strange rustling of orchestral music, eventually mixed with menacing sounds that I could never quite place; but they were textures, harmonies and sonorities that stayed in my head to this day. All I knew at the end was that the announcer’s voice told me this was some composer named R. Murray Schafer, and the piece was called North/White. I was taping the radio with a little cassette placed just next to it, and even years later I would sometimes pop the tape in to hear that moment again. Well, here it is in the flesh once more, and I’d give a lot to be there to hear it. The concert’s site tells us that “North/White is the composer’s highly personal statement on how industrial forces impact on Canada’s Northern mythology”; I’ll take that, and add that it certainly impacted my own personal mythology. (And you just name me one other piece for snowmobile and orchestra, huh?)

Rounding out the program are two very much non-Canadian works, but both I think very much a fit with the sound world that came before, and are both among my all-time favorites: Gyorgy Ligeti‘s classic Atmospheres, and Toru Takemitsu‘s Green (November Steps II).

If you’re anywhere close (or what the hell, use that New-World pioneer spirit, jump in the car and drive all night!), this is a must-hear.