Vincent Ho's Arctic Symphony premiere gets accessibility boost by overt link between sounds and the images that inspired them
Composers have tried to depict nature and landscape in music for more than 150 years -- but, unless the composer, publisher or programme note writer tell us specifically what the piece means, there is no direct representation, unlike in visual art.
So, essentially, we have to connect the musical dots with some ideas before we can accept a programmatic piece of music as a representation of a visual image. It becomes an intensely individual experience.
One of the pieces on my piano's music stand right now is Paysage, (Landscape) written in 1895 by Ernest Chausson. I have to take him at his word on the title -- but is it a physical landscape or a mental one, given the introspective nature of much of his work?
What should I really think when playing or listening to Mendelssohn's Songs Without Words, or symphonic his pieces inspired by Scotland?
Because one already has to make a leap of faith in listening to programmatic music, I often find it easier to listen to new compositions for which the creator has assigned specific meaning. Ann Southam's Pond Life is a particularly rewarding recent encounter.
Another promising new work is Arctic Symphony by Winnipeg-based, Ottawa-born composer Vincent Ho.
Ho travelled as "artist on board" with the Circumpolar Flaw Lead System Study in the summer of 2008. While scientists measured, Ho observed and translated what he saw into sketches. He has translated those sketches into the 35-minute Arctic Symphony, which has its premiere today as the opening flourish for the annual Winnipeg New Music Festival.
Ho sent me a movie file of the final movement, which I think is neatly structured and highly evocative. It's being accompanied by images from the Arctic, so that the programmatic intention is clearly recreated for the eyes. Unfortunately, I can't post Ho's clip here.
The Arctic Symphony is being recorded by CBC radio, whch means it should be broadcast and then posted to their website eventually.
But I can post a video backgrounder the CBC prepared on Ho last year. There is also plenty to listen to on Ho's website.
But my main thought is: Given how difficult it is to get a general audience interested in new music, helping make links between sounds and images seems like a particularly effective way to make the adventure of listening to something unfamiliar easier to navigate.
Here is Chausson's Paysage (Op. 38), played by Nikolaus Mühle, followed by Christina Petrowska Quilico performing "Fiddle Creek" from Ann Southam's Pond Life. What do they sound like to you?