Le Vivier and Orchestre de l’Agora | A Virtuoso Celebration of Contemporary Music

by Elena Mandolini

Le Vivier and l’Orchestre de l’Agora joined forces last night to fulfill one of their primary missions: to promote and present contemporary music in all its forms. The program offered, which included a number of commissions by the Orchestre de l’Agora, demonstrated the wide range of possibilities in contemporary composition. Indeed, the three works presented, each featuring a different soloist, all used a distinct musical language. A highly successful evening, full of nuance and energy!

The first part featured percussionist David Therrien Brongo, premiering composer Nicolas Gilbert’s percussion concerto Jeux de pouvoir. The work takes the form of several small tableaux, with the percussion soloist moving around the foreground of the hall. David Therrien Brongo demonstrates great virtuosity in a complex score, and the accompanying orchestra is precise, leaving plenty of room for the soloist. The concerto has a great deal of humour, which all the performers convey with brio: conductor Nicolas Ellis is asked to leave the podium for a few bars to play the triangle, and then a few famous excerpts from orchestral works (including Ravel’s Bolero) follow in quick succession towards the end of the work. The Orchestre de l’Agora’s performance of this work strikes the perfect balance between virtuosity, humour and musical enjoyment.

The second work is a complete change of register. We leave the overflowing energy and enter the dark world of Émile Nelligan’s poetry. What remains, however, is the virtuosity. Le récital des anges, a cycle for voice composed by Ian Cusson, is performed by soprano Elisabeth St-Gelais. This cycle, originally for piano and voice, but orchestrated by Cusson for the Orchestre de l’Agora, is composed of six poems selected by Cusson to tell a dark story, whose common thread is regret. The work is troubling, and so is St-Gelais’ perfect interpretation of it. You can feel the hall holding its breath. The balance between soloist and orchestra is excellent, the instruments perfectly illustrating the regret and doubts tugging at the protagonist. The stage presence of Elisabeth St-Gelais is convincing, transporting us into the world of the Quebec poet.

The last work on the program, once again, offers a striking contrast to the previous one. Wlat Marhulets’ Concerto for klezmer clarinet offers everything you’d expect from a work for klezmer clarinet, and more! Soloist Victor Alibert demonstrates impeccable mastery of his instrument. The score calls for frequent use of the high register most of the time, which Alibert does with ease and flexibility. Klezmer music is known for being rhythmic and celebratory, and that’s exactly what the audience was treated to in this final piece. The orchestra still had energy to spare and gave their all for this final work. Klezmer music is unmistakable, but this concerto also goes elsewhere, borrowing heavily from the purely orchestral tradition, and at times recalling the musical language of the great jazz orchestras, with its extensive use of drums and electric bass lines.

This concert demonstrated the great variety that exists in today’s repertoire. Although the works presented used a fairly conventional musical language, there was no denying that they were rooted in the 21st century. This celebration of creativity achieved its goal, thanks to the musical rigour of Nicolas Ellis and the Orchestre de l’Agora, as well as to the high-calibre soloists.

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