Category Archives: Kopernikus

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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.

Vivier-Vaillancourt-Evangelista

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.

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‘Find the Soul of the human race’

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Introducing Claude Vivier (Pt.1): a three-part series on the life and works of Claude Vivier by Against the Grain’s Media Attaché, Michael Zarathus-Cook

Had you been even the most occasional patron to Montreal’s experimental compositional music scene in the 80’s, then no such introduction is needed. You might have heard his name in association with production houses like Les Événements du neuf (an avant-garde concert society) and titans of modern composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen (with whom Vivier studied composition). On this side of the Québec border, however, his name might ring a bell to those who keep watchful a eye on foreign theatres interested in producing Canadian content. Perhaps the telling fact of the belated recognition of Vivier’s talents within Canada is that news of his death did not make it to any significant English music journal until 1986—his body had been discovered by Parisian police officers on March 12th 1983. Against the Grain Theatre’s production of his internationally prolific opera Kopernikus begins on April 4th and concludes on the 13th, a day before what would have been Vivier’s 71st birthday.

He was born in Montreal to unknown parents and was adopted at the age of three by a poor French-Canadian family that tried (unsuccessfully) to return him. Adolescent freedom came in the form of enrolment into a noviciate in preparation for priesthood. He never attempted to hide his homosexuality, a fact not entirely separate from that of his ejection from the Brotherhood at the age of 18 on grounds of his ‘immaturity’. Having benefited from a prolonged exposure to sacred music and now free of the stringencies of religious training, he left for Europe in 1971 to pursue the expression his natural talent: music. All throughout the myriad and eccentric colours through which that talent was expressed, two main elements were ever-present: a secular and yet sacred spirituality, and his fixation upon the loneliness of his childhood (he described his Lonely Child, for soprano and orchestra, as a ‘long song of solitude’).

Canadian Music Center Programme for the Concert Commémoratif Claude Vivier When Vivier’s body was discovered beneath an upturned mattress five days after his murder, between 20 and 45 knife wounds were accounted. Officers of the police nationale also discovered composition notes for an unfinished work by the name Crois-tu en l’immortalité de l’âme—wherein the main character in murdered by a young man on a Parisian subway: “And without further ado, he drew a dagger out of his black jacket (probably bought in Paris), and stabbed me right in the heart.”

Aside from the contemplative solemnity with which he approached the subject of death and transcendence, there is perhaps no single defining characteristic underlining Vivier’s tumultuous lifespan from Montreal to Paris. His was a creative mind for whom plurality and ambiguity were the necessary features of his operatic experience. The ten or so characters that are projected by Agni, the central character of his Kopernikus, exemplify the plurality and intensities of experience that his short life afforded. Despite the ambiguities that accompanied such creative excursions—like the use of invented language—he was often clairvoyant in the description of what he felt to be the mission of his life’s work, and its galactic proportions:

“Find the soul of the human race and place it there in front of the human race, make individuals face up to themselves again, individually and infinitely, confronting the total mystery that is the Universe, contemplating it, so as eventually to be able to find a way in it.”

A struggle between the individual and the infinite—the little boy from Montreal struggling for his place in the world, despite a childhood of sexual abuse and neglect; an openly gay man embracing the manifold colours of Parisian liberal life—that is one of the many brilliant contradictions available in the biography of a man whose life is accurately described as hard and fast.

Article by Michael Zarathus-Cook, Against the Grain’s Media Attaché
Sketch by Jeremy Lewis
Photo of Claude Vivier from the Canadian Music Centre

To purchase tickets to Against the Grain’s Kopernikus (April 4 – 13) click here.

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Against the Grain Theatre goes CanCon for pivotal 9th season

By | Ayre, Bound, Kopernikus, Opera Pub, Press | No Comments

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: 25 September 2018

AtG presents Handel revisited through a contemporary Canadian lens, and Kopernikus by Canadian composer Claude Vivier

TORONTO – Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) enters in its ninth season on the heels of receiving an astonishing 12 Dora Mavor Moore award nominations and taking home five awards, including Outstanding Production for Orphée⁺. Their ninth season will see the second workshop of BOUND, the launch of in-house record label AtG Records, and the presentation of Claude Vivier’s masterpiece Kopernikus. AtG’s “standing room only” #OperaPub series also returns for another season at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club; they present a free concert at the Canadian Opera Company’s Free Concert Series in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre under the title “AtG Retro”; and oh so much more.

BOUND was developed in December 2017 as a reaction to those displaced, dehumanized and mistreated in today’s world. AtG Artistic Director Joel Ivanyhas written original text and drawn from news articles and international current events as source inspiration for the story of BOUND. With the assistance of a commissioning grant from the Ontario Arts Council, AtG commissioned composer Kevin Lau to keep the backbone of Handel’s music while infusing his own contemporary themes, music and ideas. He says, “Expect to hear Handel like you’ve never heard it before. I see this opera as a hybrid—music created by Handel from the perspective of Lau (or will it be the other way around?).” The second instalment of this three-year concept-to-realization plan introduces a chamber orchestra led by AtG Music Director Topher Mokrzewski, and introduces digital sound artist Acote who adds his experience in techno music, and previous collaborations with AtG at Banff Centre to this workshop phase. The cast includes soprano Miriam Khalil, countertenor David Trudgen, tenor Andrew Haji, and baritone Justin Welsh.  This workshop will be presented in Longboat Hall at The Great Hall (1087 Queen Street West) on November 19, 20 and 21, 2018. All performances begin at 8pm with doors open at 7:30pm. Tickets (starting at $35) on sale Thursday, September 27 at 10am fromagainstthegraintheatre.com. 

On December 11, 2018, at 12pm, AtG will once again be featured as part of the Free Concert Series in The Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts. “AtG Retro” will be a retrospective look back at some of AtG’s most acclaimed works from the past eight years.

After premiering at Banff Centre in 2017, Kopernikus “made for some supreme theatre” (The National Post) and was hailed by Opera Going Toronto as “utterly extraordinary.”  The opera’s Montréalais composer Claude Vivier(1948–1983) lived a hard and fast life; before he was found murdered in his hotel room in Paris at the age of 35, he had spent a career rejecting many traditional ideas of life, music and opera, which culminated in writing his only opera Kopernikus. “I think this could be Canada’s greatest opera ever written. Vivier was unique, he was an innovator and a true artist,” says stage director Joel Ivany. This production will uniquely immerse the orchestra into the choreography alongside singers and dancers. Matjash Mrozewskichoreographs, Leela Gilday acts as dramaturge, with Lighting and Set design by AtG Resident Designer Jason Hand. The cast features mezzo-soprano Danielle MacMillan making her AtG debut as Agni and welcomes acclaimed mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó, bass Alain Coulombe, baritone Dion Mazerolle and soprano Nathalie Paulin as part of the Ensemble. The production will be presented at Theatre Passe Muraille (16 Ryerson Avenue) on April 4, 5, 6, 11, 12 and 13, 2019 with all performances at 8pm and doors open at 7:30pm.

Back by popular demand, AtG’s standing room only #OperaPub series returns October 4 at the Amsterdam Bicycle Club (54 The Esplanade). Hosted and programmed by AtG Collective member David Eliakis, these free events will continue to feature opera arias and ensembles alongside witty banter and craft beers. Festivities begin at 9pm on the first Thursday of every month, and continue until May 2 2018.

AtG will be undertaking many new initiatives this coming year, highlighted below:

Following the success of the inaugural Summer Intensive this past August (a workshop for singers at various stages of development addressing their immediate needs and goals) a Winter Intensive will take place in February 2019 as AtG continues to address the importance of training emerging opera singers for the 21st century music industry.

The AtG Incubator is a pilot program where artists may submit project applications on a rolling basis. AtG will assess projects based on merit and viability and then work with the artist to provide resources in a workshop capacity.

This season also marks the formation of AtG Records, a modern classical music-recording label. AtG Records first album release will be Ayre: Live a live recording from November 2016 of their acclaimed stage production, which prompted The Globe and Mail to call AtG Founding Member and soprano Miriam Khalil “…a mesmerizing, gorgeous presence in the piece.” Miriam Khalil has since performed Ayre, which has become her signature piece, in three countries and six different cities to great acclaim.  Composer Osvaldo Golijov writes: “I cannot even begin to express the emotion I feel when she sings Ayre; it is as if she was born to sing it, or, even better, born for each other, she and Ayre.”  The release of this first album will be this coming Fall.

AtG is now entering its final year as a participant in the Canadian Opera Company Academy, a home for Canada’s new wave of opera creators and an incubator for the future of the art form. The Academy’s Company-in-Residence stream is designed for independent companies looking to establish administrative stability and expand creative capacity. As AtG continues to grow, support through the COC Academy program has been a valuable lifeline of mentorship, collaboration, and shared learning.

ABOUT AtG
Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) has invigorated opera audiences since its first sold-out production to an audience of fifty guests in December of 2010. AtG revitalizes the operatic art form by presenting an eclectic array of musical works in unconventional spaces and innovative ways. Since its first season, AtG has consistently performed to standing room-only crowds, to both critical and public acclaim, and continues to introduce hundreds of new opera-goers to the art form. Founded by an adventurous collective of friends and artists, the company endeavours to be serious in intent and execution, yet fun and irreverent in spirit. Current members include Joel IvanyTopher MokrzewskiJonathan MacArthurAmanda HadiDavid EliakisJason HandMiriam KhalilMichaela Dickey.

For more information, please visit AtG online at www.againstthegraintheatre.com, on Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram @AtGTheatre and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/AtGTheatre

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Media Contact

Jonathan MacArthur
General Manager
Against the Grain Theatre
416-220-5376
gm@againstthegraintheatre.com

Banff Kopernikus Against the Grain Theatre

The reviews are in: Kopernikus

By | AtG in the News, Kopernikus, Press | No Comments

Each summer, we take a break from Toronto and return to the drawing board to reconnect, recharge, and brainstorm new works (which will eventually make their way back to TO). We head to the mountains, to the Banff Centre for the Performing Arts, for the country’s de-facto national opera lab: the program Open Space: Opera in the 21st Century, a five-week residency partnership created by us, Banff and the COC.  Singers and apprentice pianists from across Canada join us to work with our Artistic Director Joel Ivany, AtG Music Director Topher Mokrzewski, and a faculty of renowned teachers and coaches. For our fourth residency this summer, we created a production of Canadian composer Claude Vivier’s Kopernikus, an electrifying chamber piece in which a young woman finds renewed existence after death — and the reviews are in.

"Ivany and Mokrzewski have created something exceptional, uniquely gripping, generously inclusive. A transformative production. Limitless. Heartening. Utterly extraordinary."

− Opera Going Toronto

"An astounding revelation of an older work made new again... it constitutes a full step into a new directional maturity for the Ivany/Mokrzewski creative team."

− National Post

"Kopernikus is astonishing... give the damn thing a national tour."

− Musical Toronto
 

Read the reviews:

Review: Vivier’s Kopernikus at Banff Centre the ideal opera of the future | National Post

Kopernikus Heralds Opera In The 21st Century | Musical Toronto

Review: Kopernikus | Opera Going Toronto

Vivier’s Kopernikus in rehearsal at Banff

Preview: Centering Kopernikus | Opera Going Toronto

 

Learn more about our collaboration at the Banff Centre:

Opera in the 21st Century: Against the Grain Theatre and the Future of Opera