Pre-Concert Talk with Pierre Simard
Composer and Maestro Pierre Simard sat centre stage to greet all those attending the Vancouver Island Symphony's pre-concert talk at the Port Theatre in Nanaimo. While he discussed the upcoming presentation of beautiful string music by Bartók, Barber, Rachmaninov and Tchaikovsky, he focussed his attention on his own creation “Nouvelles Illuminations” and it's world premiere performance that evening. “The work was written for my wife,” said Pierre. He then asked the audience to keep an open mind.
Pierre’s notes on the piece explain further: “Seven years ago I embarked upon what would prove to be my biggest composing challenge so far; writing a companion piece to Benjamin Britten’s “Les Illuminations”, a youthful piece setting some of Arthur Rimbaud’s surrealist texts for high voice and strings. After an extensive revision, tonight’s version explores a musical ‘unraveling’ of a hermetic, wild and imagination-defying set of poems. The literary quality of the texts sometimes being close to what is defined as ‘automatic writing’, the music takes a different stand, aiming at coherence and clarity, the soprano voice (Nadya Blanchette) leading the strings on a voyage of extreme emotions, colours, textures, rhythms. The slow introduction starts at the exact point where Britten’s cycle ends... and, copying its model, there are a few hidden, recurring ‘keys’ in the whole work.”
With copies of the text in hand, in both the original French and English, the audience was led through Pierre’s journey of creation, of shadow music, block music, and painting rhythms in different melodies on a major chord. The phrasing in the Introduction ‘The subtlest music falls short of our desire’ brings the work to a closing in the finale, Génie.
Pierre was nervous about this performance, explaining that conducting one’s own creation in a world premiere can be quite daunting. Obviously he wanted it to be perfect, and to have the audience enjoy it.
Performance of "Nouvelles Illuminations"
Once again Pierre introduced the work, this time to the full audience. I had previously heard recordings of Benjamin Britton’s Les Illuminations and understood Pierre’s reference to taking off from where Britton finished – with a slow introduction. I sat riveted throughout, captured in each movement, for each was so different, and such a surprise. I was completely engaged as my attention was fully focussed on the orchestra and the music, and with Nadya Blanchette’s soaring soprano voice. Husband and wife were and are a perfect team on stage, almost intuitively and instinctively following each-other.
"Nouvelles Illuminations" came across as a delight to the ears, to the senses. I will admit to not being trained in classical music (every concert is Classics 101 for me), and I will admit to my mind wandering away during some longer classical compositions, but this piece had me riveted, eyes and ears wide open in anticipation of the next phrase, fully alert, like going around a corner without knowing what is there, and wondering. I was waiting for dissonance and discord, but my ears were pleasantly surprised with harmony, and beauty. There were moments of what Pierre would call ‘violence’ but they were so readily calmed with tranquility. Nadya’s voice soared beautifully above the strings, or on occasion blended completely with them.
I had hoped to read Arthur Rimbaud’s poetry as Nadya sang but unfortunately the theatre lighting was not bright enough; so instead, I sat back and just absorbed the feeling of the passages as described through the music and voice. These days I have to hear things a few times to digest them completely, and so I would really like to hear this piece again, and again. Fortunately the folks in Drummondville Quebec were able to take in two performances the following week. My hope is that this piece will eventually be recorded so it will be accessible for the general public.
A more lengthy Article-Review (Rosemary style) with photographs will be posted on the Quills Quotes and Notes web site at a later date.