Last night I braved the storm to catch an intriguingly curated show at Trinity St. Paul’s. Talisker Players’ Spirit Dreaming was a selection of music in which “western” composers explore the ideas of colonized peoples through the medium of vocal chamber music. The music was interspersed with readings from creation myths from around the world. It was very interesting to see how changing ideas of “cultural appropriation” and different cultural contexts; French and British colonies, Brazil, northern Finland, influenced works which range in time from the 1920s to the 2010s.
Harry Somers’ Kuyás seems now rooted in the optimistic Canadian nationalism of the 1960s. In synthesizing a Plains Cree text with a lament melody from Western Canada it perhaps takes a rather simplistic view of First Nations but it’s undeniably a very beautiful piece. It was idiomatically and very well sung by soprano Ilana Zarankin with accompaniment by flute and percussion. A really good start.
I didn’t enjoy Ravel’s Chansons madécasses as much. These pieces, though giving a nod to the violence of colonization, seem imbued with the kind of exoticism for exoticism’s sake that gives cultural appropriation a bad name. Laura McAlpine, accompanied by flute, cello and piano, made a decent fist of the music but the texts rather got lost; whether a diction problem or the acoustic I’m not sure.
The first half of the program concluded with Villa-Lobos’ Suite for Voice and Violin. This is, I suppose, fusion music just as Brazil is a fusion culture. The set consisted of one very expressive song and two vocalises accompanied by violin. Ilana did a really nice job here. Sweet, clear singing and what seemed to be a very confident grasp of the rather odd vowel palette of Brazilian Portugese.
Jouko Linjama’s Saamelaislaulau sets texts in Saami using a musical style that fuses elements of traditional Saami singing; octave leaps and straightforward rhythms, with an instrumental accompaniment that is musch more rhythmically complex and steeped in western modernism. Fascinating stuff well presented by Ilana accompanied by flute and piano. Pretty impressive to see someone tackle so many unfamiliar languages in one performance.
John Beckwith’s Tanu was inspired by a visit to a deserted Haida village and takes as text a list of its architectural features. The music is original with some Haida influences including the use of hand drum and rattle. Nice work by Laura here singing with great clarity and not a little power.
Jaubert’s Chants sahariens seem more “authentic” than the Ravel. The translations from Tuareg do evoke the Sahara and the instrumental accompaniment is pretty interesting though perhaps rather exoticised. It got a very sympathetic performance by Ilana accompanied by string quartet, oboe and tambourine.
Peter Sculthorpe’s Island Dreaming combines a curiously syllabic text drawn from the poetry of the Torres Strait Islanders with very sophisticated and modern music for string quartet. Some of it is onomatopoaeic evoking the sea and sea birds and some much more abstract. There’s a kind of relentlessness about it that is quite compelling. It was conveyed with some force by Laura with excellent work from the strings.
Last night’s instrumentalists were Elizabeth Lowen Andrews and Michelle Odorico – violins, Mary McGreer – viola, Laura Jones – cello, Anne Thompson – flute, Victoria Ellis Hathaway – oboe, Peter Longworth – piano and John Brownell – percussion. The readings, drawn from a wide variety of traditions, were read by Andrew Moodie.
I think this concert succeeded in doing what it set out to do. It’s really interesting to see how the relationship between western art song and native cultures has evolved over the last hundred years or so. You can catch the show again tonight at Trinity St. Paul’s at 8pm.