Composer Nicole Lizée is a regular at the OSM: several of her compositions, some specifically commissioned by the orchestra, have been performed at the Maison symphonique. Not so with her Concerto pour percussion, whose title, Blurr is the Color of my True Love’s Hair (a wonderful pun on a classic song, don’t you think?), refers to the intrinsic character of the work and its sound universe. Not that the song itself is quoted (at all), but rather that the transformation of Black (in the original title) into Blurr corresponds quite vividly to what can be heard at several points in the score.
The Concerto, premiered by the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa in 2022 with Scottish soloist Colin Currie (who will also be in Montreal), and performed at the BBC Proms in London a month later, has already had a more extensive career than most contemporary creations. With good reason: Nicole Lizée is an inventive and original composer, whose palette of sounds never ceases to amaze and delight music lovers the world over. Blurr… is a tour de force of writing for both soloist and orchestra, and Montreal audiences, who will be able to hear it on September 27 and October 1 in the company of Gustav Holst’s Planètes at the Maison symphonique, will be treated to a truly astonishing experience.
I spoke to Nicole Lizée about this Concerto, performed for the first time in Montreal.
Pan M 360 : Hello Nicky. So great to speak with you again! So, about that Concerto for percussion, what’s the story behind it? What is it about?
Nicole Lizée : It is inspired by certain techniques found in stop motion film and photography. For example freezing, extreme and misuse of zoom and blur, dropped frames, image burn-in/ghost images, light leaks, and multiple exposures. I love the potential for creativity hidden in those ‘’unwanted elements’’ of procedure. So here, the orchestra and the soloist are used to sonically represent and embrace these erroneous ‘events’.
Pan M 360 : Can you explain what exactly is stop motion technique again?
Nicole Lizée : Stop motion is an animation technique where objects are physically manipulated in small increments between photographed frames to create the illusion of independent motion. Today, CGI renders the results slick and smoother, but I find the earliest forms of stop motion the most fascinating.
Central to creating stop motion is the black frame where the ‘trickery’ is carried out, unseen. Motion or animation is made possible by interruptions in the chain of images. During this interruption the animator modifies the objects off camera in tiny increments, which the audience does not see. The darkness is necessary to create the illusion of continuity. But the goings on during those unseen moments, which can extend for an indefinite amount of time, can be the most interesting. This work celebrates that darkness or ‘black frame’.
Pan M 360 : That is the technical side of it. Is there a more metaphysical aspect of this exploration of the relationship between visual and sound?
Nicole Lizée : Yes of course. The piece is ultimately about exploring the unknown, taking risks, and embracing the ‘blurry things’ – using malfunction-based visual effects as a jumping off point (dropped frames, misuse of blur and zoom, etc.) while using percussion as a vehicle.
To me, percussion – and the percussionist – represent the infinite possibilities of writing music with the idea that all sound is music.
The piece is set up as a concept album in that it runs in continuous sequence. Once the downbeat hits, the soloist has to perpetually navigate the obstacle course of percussion as one track morphs or blurs into the next.
Pan M 360 : Colin Currie is the soloist, also the creator of it on stage. How would you describe is contribution and your response to it?
Nicole Lizée : Colin Currie can play anything – I wanted to embrace his virtuosity and artistry while offering an interpretation of percussion music and ‘the concerto’.
Part of the performance is Colin’s running to each percussion station in the nick of time – each station is a different entity; its own ‘candy shoppe’ – with surprises at each one. Part of the excitement of the performance is to watch him move!
Pan M 360 : Not your first time with OSM. How do you feel, still after many years, working with that orchestra?
Nicole Lizée : When I was given the news that the OSM was programming the work I was elated. It is such a thrill and honour to work with this incredible orchestra.
Pan M 360 : Thank you again Nicole. Can’t wait to hear it live next wednesday
Nicole Lizée : Many thanks again for being in touch!