"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Friday, February 11, 2011

A Magical Night with Suzie, the Symphony and 3 composers

“My love, my saving grace,
Your eyes are awfully blue
early and instant blue.”

“We lived in a pocket of Time.
It was close, it was warm.
Along the dark seam of the river….”

“…the fiery event
of every day in endless
endless assent.”

Last night in Halifax, Nova Scotia, 10 February 2011, was a historic event in the Bishop world – which is the whole world, really. Our own Suzie LeBlanc, looking and sounding like an angel (for Bishop the word might be “celestial”), with our own Symphony Nova Scotia, conducted by the masterful Bernhard Gueller, performed world premieres of settings of Elizabeth Bishop by three amazing Canadian composers: Alasdair MacLean, Emily Doolittle and Christos Hatzis – and they were all present, they all came to Halifax to be part of this fabulous concert. And vision was not neglected. The insightful and expressive filmmaker Linda Rae Dornan created stunning visual collages, which were projected behind the orchestra for part of the performance. All this just in the first half! The second half of the concert was the iconic and rousing Fifth Symphony by Beethoven, which might seem a marked contrast, but when centenaries are being celebrated, the brilliance of Beethoven, performed with both precision and gusto, is entirely fitting. Ten exclamation marks do not even come close: !!!!!!!!!!....

“There is magic made by melody,” Bishop wrote in “I Am in Need of Music,” one of the poems set. Last night, there was magic made by Suzie, the Symphony and these three composers.

The lines I have quoted above are from three of the eight poems set. These poems include (in the order of performance): “Dear, my compass,” “Close, close all night,” “Breakfast Song,” “A Short Slow Life,” “I Am in Need of Music,” “Insomnia,” “The Unbeliever” and “Anaphora.” Alasdair also wrote a gorgeous instrumental piece, a kind of intimate overture, inspired by a line from “Cape Breton,” “The silken water is weaving and weaving.”

This post is not a review. I am so overwhelmed by the beauty of what happened last night, I have no adequate words to describe it. I wish I could teleport you all to last night (I want to go back myself right now) so you, too, could hear the intimate glory and tender grandeur of the merging of score, musicians and voice. The only reason I am not bereft that I cannot teleport you back to that “pocket of Time” is because Radio Canada (Espace Musique) recorded the concert!! As soon as we know when it will be broadcast (and it will be also broadcast on CBC Radio 2 – that is, English CBC), we’ll let you know!!! Nothing can compare with being there for that moment when years of work and astonishing artistry come together, BUT to have a recording of this magical night is beyond wonderful.

Nearly 20 years ago, when I heard Elliott Carter’s settings of Bishop’s poems (the suite called “A Mirror on which to Dwell”), I longed to have a Canadian composer set Bishop and have Symphony Nova Scotia perform it. About four years ago, I told my friend Peggy Walt about this dream. I have written about what happened next in another post on this blog: Peggy introduced me to Alasdair MacLean and Bernhard Gueller. Alasdair introduced me to Suzie LeBlanc. The rest, as they say, is history. And history was made last night for so many reasons.

What would Elizabeth Bishop think? Well, I have my thoughts on that – as perhaps you do yourselves. But for me, part of what happened last night was both a profoundly personal and a wondrous public tribute to this great poet, our “home-made” poet – an honoring of her life, art and legacy, one that she would surely have marvelled at, as did everyone in the audience (there were many passionate readers of Bishop at the symphony last night – and likely many people who had never heard of her before – and many tearful eyes and smiling faces!)

I can scarcely believe that the dream I have held for two decades came to be last night, surpassing even the wildest fantasies I could have had, a hundred-fold.

The settings are stunning – each composer finding his and her way into Bishop’s words – these are true songs to be “sung to rest the tired dead” -- and to inspire a grateful life. Maestro Gueller and the orchestra took on all this new music and gave us a sparkling performance. I can barely find words of thanks to offer Maestro Gueller and all of Symphony Nova Scotia, not only for entertaining the idea, but also for embracing it so openly and fully and eloquently.

Finally, I am speechless and in awe of the dazzling Suzie LeBlanc – whose voice lights and lifts this dark and troubled world every time she sings. Without Suzie’s journey to Bishop, her whole-hearted embrace of not only this project but also of the whole Elizabeth Bishop centenary idea, this historic concert would not have happened. Muito obrigada, dear Suzie.

This concert crowned the opening week of the Elizabeth Bishop Centenary Festival, a year-long event here in Nova Scotia. We had a birthday party on 6 February. We had an official media launch on 8 February, Bishop’s actual birthday, at PIPA Restaurant. Both wonderfully fun and successful. And, then, last night’s concert. As unbelievable and overwhelming as all of this is – it is only the beginning!!!! There is yet more fabulous music, more collaboration with Suzie and composers/musicians such as John Plant, Dinuk Wijeratne, Tempest Baroque Ensemble and Blue Engine String Quartet. And even more music than this with other singers and songwriters, which we will announce as the year unfolds. I could go on and on and on....

But, with a grateful heart, I will say finally: Happy 100th Birthday Elizabeth Bishop!

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