NACO tour blog 3: Straight From the Horse’s Mouth

JKP and Alexina Louie

Whitehorse, Yukon

I admit that I planned this from the start. The temptation was too great.

You see, there is one thing that performers usually can’t do when faced with, say, a “missing” accent in a Beethoven sonata, an inconsistent articulation in a Brahms Intermezzo, or the “obvious” typo of a trill to the white key instead of the black key in a Mozart concerto.

We can’t ask the composer what they really meant. We can only guess, and often the most educated guesses disagree. Beethoven, in particular, causes problems because he often made a point of deviating from simple repetition when similar musical material reappears. One could even say that the very nature of artistic creation is to avoid the obvious and to be unpredictable.

Not to mention that this isn’t jazz, where printed material, if necessary at all, would be a mere starting point. This is classical music, where the score is king. You cannot imagine how capable we are of fussing over these tiny questions.

Yesterday, I had advance notice of the young performers and repertoire for my National Arts Centre Orchestra sponsored piano master class in Whitehorse. To my delight I noticed that one of the players, Claire deBruyn, had prepared “Blue Sky I” by Alexina Louie. “Aha!” I thought, “Here is an opportunity.”

Ms. DeBruyn played “Blue Sky I” beautifully, but had a little trouble keeping the constant ripple of notes even. And over those notes were lines – the kind of lines that can indicate an accent, or could indicate a slight lengthening of the notes.

I pondered philosophically, “Wouldn’t it be great if we could just ask the composer what she meant by those lines?” I asked. Ms. DeBruyn nodded in serious assent.

A voice appeared from the back of the room. “I meant for a slight lengthening of the notes!” Alexina Louie stepped out of the shadows, and Ms. DeBruyn looked as if she might faint: in a flash the composer went from an abstract printed name on sheet music to a real person 5,000 kilometers away from home.

What followed was a spirited discussion of the process of composition. Ms. Louie, whose work “Infinite Sky with Birds” is being performed by the National Arts Centre Orchestra on every concert on this tour, described her search for the right harmony for this short piano piece, her experimentation at the piano as she composed, and the atmosphere she had hoped to create. Ms. DeBruyn was in awe.

If there could be a more compelling reason to focus on education on this tour, I can’t imagine what it would be.

I just stood back and smiled.


"Fantasy is not just a technical showcase, but a big, clear picture window of a musician with a rich soul and great artistic depth. It is also a fantastic example of programming that entertains as well as edifies.”
-Musical Toronto

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