Semaine du Neuf: Projet Lonely Child, a new life for Claude Vivier

Interview réalisé par Alexandre Villemaire
Genres et styles : musique contemporaine

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As part of the Semaine du Neuf, which pays tribute to Claude Vivier and other composers of the Événements du Neuf (1979-1988), Groupe Le Vivier presents a multidisciplinary concert: The Lonely Child Project.

Led by soprano Stacie Dunlop, artists Angola Murdoch (aerial dance), Holly Treddenick (aerial dance) and the Lonely Child Collective revisit three of the composer’s works in a world premiere concert where song, circus, dance and music meet in a spectacular staging.

PAN M 360 spoke with David Therrien-Brongo, percussionist, teacher and researcher who will accompany the artists of the concert with the Quatuor Bozzini, to discuss his involvement in the project, but also the music of Claude Vivier in general.

PAN M 360: Could you tell us the genesis of the Lonely Child project?

DAVID THERRIEN-BRONGO: This project came from Stacie Dunlop. I came into the project afterwards because she wanted to integrate choreography into Claude Vivier’s Cinq chansons pour percussions. When they found out I was playing it, because it’s not a piece that’s performed very often and I had the instruments to do it, they contacted me instead of using a recording.

PAN M 360: It was the fact that you are playing this piece as part of your doctoral studies that piqued their interest.

DAVID THERRIEN-BRONGO: Right. It’s a play I’ve been doing for a while. I had done a re-orchestration of it where instead of using Indonesian gongs I used marimbas, because I didn’t have the gongs for it. I played it a few years ago in Spain and in the final of the Prix d’Europe in Montreal. In the meantime, I have taken steps to acquire the original instruments that Vivier used for the creation of the work, those of Toronto-based percussionist David Kent. I will be performing the piece at my final recital in May and I have also recorded the piece for an album to be released next summer.

PAN M 360: Lonely Child is a landmark piece by Claude Vivier that has some significance because it was inspired by spectral music. Can you tell us a bit more about this paradigm shift in his writing?

DAVID THERRIEN-BRONGO: Claude Vivier’s music, especially Lonely Child, Orion, Wo bist du Licht! is marked – and this I think is unique to him – by a kind of timbral spectralism. So it’s not just taking a note and playing with its harmonic spectrum, but playing with the timbre. For example with Lonely Child, everything is written around the sound of the rin (Japanese bell) from which he will take the timbre, which is not necessarily pure, to write his harmony. Orion is the same thing where he will base himself on the sounds of certain Balinese, Javanese and Thai gongs. So his harmonic writing is mainly based on percussion. This is what he tries to reproduce, especially in imposing chords that imitate the sound of a gong.

PAN M 360: Do you think Claude Vivier’s music lends itself well to the circus art form?

DAVID THERRIEN-BRONGO: I think so. I think it’s really interesting, especially for the Five Songs. They are very poetic and meditative pieces at times. The piece sections five moments a time in the day or in daily life. Each little movement really has its own personality that is very adaptable to dance or different visual arts.

PAN M 360: As a musician, does working with other artists require you to adapt to their playing and parameters or do they have to adapt to the parameters of the music? What is the creative process involved in co-creations like this where you pair two art forms?

DAVID THERRIEN-BRONGO: Well, first of all, we definitely work differently. We learn our music for the concert, but once it’s ready, it’s ready, whereas those who have choreographies to prepare need the music beforehand. So we can’t put the show together at the same pace. The music has to be ready for the choreographers to work and then we put it all together. For example, I was asked to work with my recorded version, but my recording is not yet ready, so I worked with another recording that I was inspired by. So, for sure, there will be some work to do with the dancer to adapt certain moments where for example I will make certain organ points longer or shorter, depending on what the choreography brings, and at other moments, it will be maybe up to Holly [Treddenick] to adapt to what I do. The important thing, and this is for any multidisciplinary collaboration, is to understand the issues of the other art form and adapt to each other.

PAN M 360: Can we see in this approach a kind of total work of art (gesamptkuntswerk), as Richard Wagner saw it, that is to say a form of synthesis of all art forms to create something that captivates the public?

DAVID THERRIEN-BRONGO: Yes, absolutely. And even though Vivier’s music, especially Five Songs, was not written with that intention, I think there are many works by Vivier, and his corpus in general, that are thought of that way. If only because he wrote his librettos himself, or because his music was inspired a lot by Balinese music, but also – and this is less talked about – by the music of the Far East, of Thailand, of Japan and of the Noh theater. There is always a part of theatricality in his music, even if beyond the types of movements, there are no real indications in the score.

But, if we rely on other works he wrote around the same time, notably Journal, a piece for choir, four soloists and percussionist, which I will perform in another concert with the Temps Fort Choir, is a kind of non-religious oratorio, with a story, which is not linear. The percussionist must also take part in the action. I have to talk, interact with the soloists as well. So, for the Lonely Child Project, even though the works were not thought of as a total work of art, it lends itself well to that.

PAN M 360: To conclude, what place does Claude Vivier occupy in the Quebec music world according to you?

DAVID THERRIEN-BRONGO: He does not occupy the place which is due to him. In my opinion, he is the greatest Quebec and Canadian composer. His music is unique. It’s true that you can say that about many composers, you can say that about Stockhausen, for example, to whom he was also close. But Vivier, his music is above all accessible without being easy. And this is not given to everyone.

It is not a music which, when you listen to it, is intellectual and where there are barriers. There is a naivety in the perception of his music, even if it is thoughtful and difficult to play. It’s true that contemporary “classical” music is always a bit of a poor relation in the debates around contemporary arts, but his name should be heard and played more.

In music, his name, and that of Gille Tremblay who was his teacher, are the equivalent of what Michel Tremblay is to literature. Even if he did not teach, Vivier has marked all the composers after him and all the performers who have made contemporary music; we owe him a lot for what he brought.

Presented in the context of the Semaine du Neuf, The Lonely Child Project is performed at Monument National, 9PM, Thursday March 9th. The show will be preceded by a panel led by singer Marie-Annick Béliveau at 6 PM and projections by Michael Greyeyes at 7PM.



Claude Vivier : Cinq chansons, 1980 for  percussion

Claude Vivier : Hymnen an die Nacht1975 (arr. de Scott Good) for voice and string quartet

Claude Vivier : Lonely Child1980 (arr. de Scott Good) for voice in real time, pre-recorded instruments préenregistrés and two aerial dancers


Stacie Dunlop (voice)

Angola Murdoch (aerial dance)

Holly Treddenick (aerial dance) 

David Therrien-Brongo (percussion)

Quatuor Bozzini

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