Picture it: Vancouver, November 2010. We can assume that it was raining. Véronique Lacroix and her ensemble, the ECM+ from Montreal, have just finished performing the Vancouver leg of their Génération Tour. With an acceptable amount of liquid courage coursing through my veins, I was determined to speak to Véronique about the possibility of a future collaboration. After all, one of the many incarnations of ECM+ is a flute ensemble called Alizé, which is dedicated to the commissioning and performance of new Canadian works. Over here on the West Coast, I direct the Tempest Flute Ensemble, a group with virtually the same instrumentation and mandate — I mean, it would be ridiculous to not work together, right? But still, I was nervous: Véronique is one of the country’s great interpreters of new music and an enormous personality to boot. Would she dismiss my proposal? Would she scoff? Flutists are typically sensitive creatures; we worry about these things.
Happily, she was just as keen about the idea as I was.
This Thursday, Lacroix, Montreal virtuoso cellist Mariève Bock, and the Tempest Flutes will present The Four Elements at the Orpheum Annex. The idea for the concert was simple: we asked four Canadian composers — two from Montreal, two from Vancouver — to each write a piece based on one of the Four Elements. The result is stunning: new works by Éric Champagne (Water), Emily Hall (Air), Jocelyn Morlock (Fire), and Edward Top (Earth). These pieces are colourful, complex, evocative, virtuosic… and damn beautiful. Hall’s piece, Qui a vu le vent?, is a kaleidoscopic display of trills and tremolos, as well as a deftly crafted study of that essential element of flute playing: the human breath. Morlock’s salute to Fire, entitled Salamander, may be her most whimsical piece yet, playfully evoking the mercurial mythological monster. Top’s piece, AS8 Earthrise, is a tour-de-force for eight flutes and solo cello, inspired by the Earth as viewed from space (complete with radio transmissions from astronauts!). Champagne’s Rivières et Marées concludes the programme, chillingly capturing the sounds of surf crashing against the shore and swirling eddies, interspersed with an achingly beautiful maritime lullaby. But perhaps the most exciting thing about Rivières et Marées is that it’s scored for a whopping twenty-two flutes plus cello. For this piece Tempest will be augmented by an additional fourteen flutists who will be spread throughout the hall, surrounding the audience — a Ben-Hur of flute ensembles! (Minus the chariot race, alas.)
The programme is rounded out by two solo flute pieces, both in the spirit of the concert’s theme: Paolo Bortolussi will perform East Wind by Shulamit Ran and I’ll be tackling Paul Steenhuisen‘s Foundry — a thrilling, percussive warhorse if ever there was one! Jordan Nobles was kind enough to stop by one of the rehearsals and photograph us all in action (a couple of these photos are included here). But as pleasing as they are, they don’t capture the visceral power of this music — you’d have to come out to the Orpheum Annex this Thursday to experience that…