Tonight I enjoyed the sole Toronto performance of Life Reflected at Sony Centre, a multi-media anthology produced by the National Arts Centre Orchestra, celebrating four Canadian women as part of the Luminato Festival. Google tells me that Life Reflected was first presented in May at the NAC, produced and directed by Donna Feore, conducted by Alexander Shelley: an ambitious undertaking, however you choose to understand it.
These four women were the subject of a segment:
- Alice Munro
- Amanda Todd
- Roberta Bondar
- Rita Joe
Each one represents a story told in a different way, although I understand this primarily as a pretext for the NAC Orchestra to commission original compositions for orchestra:
- Zosha di Castri composed Dear Life, employing words by Alice Munro, spoken on tape by Martha Henry with soprano Erin Wall
- Jocelyn Morlock composed My Name is Amanda Todd
- Nicole Lizée composed Bondarsphere
- John Estacio composed I Lost My Talk, featuring Monique Mojica and dance on film choreographed by Santee Smith
While the four pieces are linked by design elements, they are quite different, one from another.
Dear Life is like a melodrama –thinking for example of Schönberg’s Ode to Napoleon Bonaparte—where a text is spoken while accompanied by orchestra to illustrate or amplify. We hear Martha Henry’s wonderful speaking voice, while Erin Wall sings something like scat (as in jazz) although some of what she sang is verbal. I think di Castri was charged with composing something in support of the text and not to compete with it: which she accomplished very respectfully.
My Name is Amanda Todd made me cry, a very simple idea perhaps, but a colossal challenge for composer Morlock, whose score holds your attention for its entire ten minutes. At times the score employed patterns, sometimes shorter phrases, but a very beautiful piece for orchestra.
Bondarsphere was another typical Lizée work, in its inter-connected and self-referential writing, sometimes reminding us of the workings of technology, sometimes being more conventionally orchestral. We see globes in space, globes shown on TV screens or the globes that float on staff-paper. The score takes chunks of text –for instance from CBC broadcasts—and uses them as departure points for playful explorations, sometimes in the realm of sampling, sometimes via imitation. I was reminded of the last Luminato piece I saw in this space namely Einstein on the Beach, complete with another trippy launch of a spaceship every bit as thrilling as what Glass gave us. And while the score seems to want to drill down on its sources, analyzing and sampling and echoing, we do build to something like a diapason from the brass near the end. This piece drew a huge ovation, although I think we may have missed the actual end of the piece, which went on thoughtfully for awhile after. I am so in awe of her work, wow I wish I could hear it again (although I need another ‘wow’ for the visuals from NORMAL accompanying the piece, a tidy marriage between all elements).
Estacio’s I Lost My Talk was the piece of theatre we needed to see at the conclusion. If Life Reflected is a sesquicentennial project then its credibility rests heavily on this last piece, which is a beautiful reminder of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Mojica says so poignantly:
“I talk like you
I think like you
I create like you”
This is the context for cultural genocide, the viewpoint of a child forced to speak the language of the colonizing culture rather than the one into which she was born. At one point she says something like (this is a paraphrase, whereas the above is a quote) “help me find my talk”. At first glance I was wondering –in light of the recent conversations about cultural appropriation—how Estacio could be writing this music and how could they dance ballet –which is to say, European music and a European theatrical form? Ah but then it dawned on me, that this is perfectly apt for the lament of one who is telling us that she is speaking to us in OUR language not hers.
I wasn’t surprised to see Donna Feore’s name on this piece. I enjoyed her work in Stratford recently.
I hope some or all of this can be produced again, at least as concert performances of the music, which is all excellent. Perhaps they will make a DVD. The NAC should be proud that they commissioned a full evening of original music. Much as I am grateful for the two minute sesquies we’ve been hearing, this is what a commitment to Canadian culture looks and sounds like. Bravi..!