Monthly Archives: March 2019

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The history behind an unknown-opera

By | Joel Ivany, Kopernikus | No Comments

Introducing Claude Vivier (Pt.3): a three-part series on the life and works of Claude Vivier by Against the Grain’s Media Attaché, Michael Zarathus-Cook

On April 4th 2019, Against the Grain Theatre’s production of Claude Vivier’s Kopernikus will mark the latest occasion of the incredibly long arc in the production history of one of Canada’s most prolific operas. In the forty years between it’s premiere at the University of Montreal and it’s upcoming AtG premiere in Toronto, Kopernikus has toured the globe from Argentina to Paris and London to Amsterdam; and found its most recent Canadian stage at Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity in the Margaret Greenham Theatre. That Banff production was a workshop by AtG’s Artistic Director, Joel Ivany, and was praised in 2017 by the Calgary Herald as ‘the ideal opera of the future’. Stephan Bonfield, in that same article for the Calgary Herald, projected Kopernikus to be an opera ‘both for our times and perhaps, even possibly, for five hundred years from now’, indeed the simplicity and ambiguous spirituality at the core of this opera makes it an ideal candidate for posterity. Yet, in order for a work to remain available for the inspiration of future Canadian composers, it relies as much on it’s own merit as on the active endorsement of the arts communities and councils of each successive generation. Kopernikus is entering into its second generation of audiences, and it’s time for it (and its composer) to achieve the same renown in English Canada as it has enjoyed in Quebec and elsewhere outside of Canada.

“His music really resembles no other, and he puts himself right on the fringe of all trends. His music, of a direct and disruptive expression, could bewilder only those hard-hearted people who are unfit to categorize this independent man of genius. Claude Vivier found what so many others have sought for, and still seek: the secret of a truly new simplicity” — Musicologist Harry Halbreich, Harmonie-Panorama Musique, April 1983.

Back here in Toronto, rehearsals for the April 4th premiere are underway, with AtG’s Music Director, Topher Mokrzewski, reprising his role as conductor. Matjash Mrozewski who, in the Banff production “created a gestural language to unite the singers, musicians, and dancers” (Ludwig van Toronto), will once again take on the choreography for the ensemble. That ensemble is a cast of two mezzo-sopranos and two sopranos; a bass, baritone and bass-baritone; as well as two dancers who in the last production imparted “an air of ecstatic rapture to the piece” (Opera Going Toronto). Danielle MacMillan will also be returning to her role as Agni—“a fire spirit of ideal protean innocence” (The Calgary Herald)—the centerpiece around which orbits the rest of the cosmic ensemble.

The role of Agni was created by Jocelyne Fleury-Coutu, one-third of the creative triumvirate that helped bring Claude Vivier’s vision to life at the University of Montreal almost. The other two were: Marthe Forget, who staged the premier (and died 12 years ago); and Lorraine Vaillancourt as conductor and musical director. In the subsequent years after Vivier’s death in 1983, Vaillancourt was instrumental in the various productions of Kopernikus, beginning in Montreal and thereon to Paris. Her interview for AtG’s upcoming production was a revelation of Vivier’s character and a recollection of the unique character of his only opera: “…there’s not really a narrative, it is a ritual in an invented language, wherein the main characters, apart from Agni, are the passage, and eventually become the music (yes, the music!)”.

A short history of the international productions of Kopernikus

May 8-9 1980: (world premiere) Monument national by the Atelier de musique
contemporaine and the Atelier de jeu scénique of the University of Montreal
July 5-6 1985: (UK premiere) Almeida Theatre by Contemporary Chamber
Orchestra. London, United Kingdom
1986-1989: Les Événements du neuf, Montreal
1989: Les Événements du neuf, Paris
Sept-Oct 1990: Van East Cultural Centre, Vancouver New Music Society,
Vancouver
April 14 2008: Atelier de musique contemporaine de l’Université de Montréal, Salle Claude-Champagne / Lorraine Vaillancourt, Montreal
June 7-29 2008: Universität der Künste Berlin, Germany
Oct-Nov 2012: Holst-Sinfonietta – Christuskirche, Young Opera Company,
Freiburg, Germany
April 15-19 2014: De Nederlandse Opera – Boekmanzaal, Amsterdam,
Netherlands
May 11-14 2014: Ensemble oktopus für musik der moderne – Reaktorhalle,
München, Germany
June 12 2016: (American Premiere) Roomful of Teeth / Eric Dudley – Libbey Bowl,
Ojai, California, USA
June 6-8 2017: Margaret Greenham Theatre, Against The Grain Theatre, Alberta,
Canada
August 2 2018: (Argentinian premiere) Americas Society / Sebastian Zubieta
Festival Nueva Opera de Buenos Aires, Argentina
December 4-19 2018: Ensemble l’instant donne, Roomful of Teeth, Theatre de la
ville, l’Espace Cardin, Paris, France
Jan-Feb 2019: Mitglieder des Internationalen Opernstudios der Staatsoper
Unter den Linden, Alter Orchesterprobensaal, Berlin, Germany

Against the Grain Theatre’s Kopernikus premieres at Theatre Passe Muraille Mainstage on April 4th, and runs till April 13th.

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Interview with Lorraine Vaillancourt, the premiere conductor of Kopernikus

By | Kopernikus, Press | No Comments

Introducing Claude Vivier (Pt.2): a three-part series on the life and works of Claude Vivier by Against the Grain’s Media Attaché, Michael Zarathus-Cook

Against the Grain Theatre will be staging Kopernikus, an opera by Montrealais composer Claude Vivier, from April 4th to 13th. In anticipation of that we are excited to talk to conductor Lorraine Vaillancourt—the premiere conductor of Kopernikus almost 40 years ago—about some of her memories and impressions from her collaborations and friendship with Vivier.

Born in Quebec in 1947, Lorraine Vaillancourt has been a prolific member of Montreal’s contemporary orchestral music scene since the 70’s. Trained as a pianist and conductor at the Conservatoire de musique du Quebec and thereafter in Paris at the Ecole normale de musique, she went on to become the director of University of Montreal’s contemporary music workshop showcasing works ranging from Cage to Stockhausen. She is now the conductor of one of the world’s premier chamber orchestras, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, which she founded in 1989. Arguably her most unique creation, however, was the result of a collaboration with Vivier:

At 9pm on the ninth day of the month, since 1978 and as late and 1990, a concert society in Montreal produced a performance for avant-garde and contemporary compositions with a mission of “removing barriers between historical periods and musical categories.”. The founding members of the society Les Événements du neuf were an eclectic group of nine, which included Vaillancourt and Vivier. After conducting the premier of Kopernikus on May 9th 1980, she thereafter toured the opera in Montreal and Paris between 1986 and 1989, and was a catalyst to the proliferation of Vivier’s works in the immediate years after his death.

Their relationship dates as early as 1978 when Vaillancourt conducted Vivier’s Chants (1973), a choral work for sevens voices, shortly after they met at the University of Montreal’s Faculty of Music. Recalling the near-instantaneous attraction to his musical sensibilities she describes the short trajectory of collaborations that led to Kopernikus:

I immediately wanted to work on this piece for seven women’s voices that seemed particularly inspired and inspiring to me—and I had a team of thunder! This was when a concert project was born…Friendship and love for music already united Claude and I. This concert, being very well received, was the launch of the concert society “Evenements du neuf”.

At the end of this program, Claude (among others) started his doctoral project (he would study with composer Serge Garant) which was an opera composed specifically for my Atelier and what was then called the “The stage play workshop” (now l’Atelier d’opera) directed by Mrs. Marthe Forget. Thus Kopernikus was conceived in 1979.

Vaillancourt’s body of work throughout the 80’s was especially focused on promoting avant garde compositions that combined historical periods and musical styles, as such Vivier’s penchant for the experimental fringes for voice and ensemble was a welcome opportunity for Vaillancourt. It was the complexity of Vivier’s spiritually adventurous musicality that inspired their collaboration:

Vivier was an enlightened being. The emotion I often felt while directing his music (Chants, Kopernikus, Prologue for a Marco Polo, Wo bist Du Licht) is absolutely unique and I did not find this poetry, this interiority, anywhere else. His influence on me was manifested within our small team of Evenements du Neuf (1976-1988) since we were doing programming collectively. Claude, like all of us, respected his fellow composers and showed the healthiest curiosities about worlds that did not necessarily resemble his own.

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From left to right: Claude Vivier, Lorraine Vaillancourt, and José Evangelista

Besides his oddities in socializing—a nervous, raucous laugh and the less than pleasant smell of the biker’s jacket he always wore—Vaillancourt also remembers Vivier for his enthusiasm in connecting a community of creatives in Montreal, albeit his social instincts contended with the solitary spirituality that his music pursued:

Claude Vivier was a star! And his terrible death contributed to his notoriety. We can only imagine everything he could have still given us. Claude was also a beloved and much appreciated person in Montreal. His network of acquaintances and friends was immense. He considered the premiere of his opera an event not to be missed, and he took charge of filling the National Monument Hall. Claude had a kind of faith in his music that was rather touching, and what might have seemed pretentious in someone else was actually a gesture of love.

She added, in the same breath, a reminder of the importance of staging Canadian opera in Canada, and the significance of small opera companies to the growth and relevance of the operatic repertoire…

Today there are many operas “resolutely modern” and that are still quite interesting. If we do not have more audiences this is due to the reluctance of the big boxes that are the major opera houses. Just because we program an opera that is composed in 2019 does not mean we are contributing to enriching the repertoire: we often have to deal with voiceless music, writing that is very conformist and academic, without being interesting … just a good show! The presence of an open, curious and stated artistic direction makes all the difference. Toronto, among others, has dared to create beautiful creations and should serve as an example.

Lorraine Vaillancourt is the current Musical Director of Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, and has been an advocate for the production of Vivier’s works in Canada and abroad, since the year of his death.

Article by Michael Zarathus-Cook, Against the Grain’s Media Attaché
To purchase tickets to Against the Grain’s Kopernikus (April 4 – 13) click here.