• Sarah Kwok

No Straight Road - December 10

Federico García Lorca

Little Chamber Music presents No Straight Road on December 10, which weaves together the poetry of the queer Spanish poet Federico García Lorca with the music of George Crumb and new works by four queer Canadian composers. Read on as Mark McGregor, who is behind the artistic vision for No Straight Road and will also be performing, discusses the themes of the show, his experience with Lorca's poetry, and good Crumbs.

So, tell me about the show

For sure. There are a few different themes that bring this concert together, the most important being that this year, 2019, marks the 50th anniversary of the legalization of homosexuality in Canada — I still have a hard time believing that being queer was actually illegal just 50 years ago. So I really wanted to present a concert that looked at where queer art has been and where it might be heading, and I’m grateful to Little Chamber Music for presenting it. For the historical side, we looked to the poetry of Federico García Lorca, a queer Spanish poet who was killed rather brutally during the Spanish revolution. The American composer George Crumb was fascinated with the sensual, powerful imagery from Lorca’s poems and set fragments of his text in four, short books of Madrigals, each scored for soprano and small ensemble. So on December 10th — which just happens to be World Human Rights Day — we’ll perform all four sets of Madrigals, and each set will be paired with a newly commissioned piece by a queer Canadian composer. And to do this we’ve got not one, not two, not even three — we have four sopranos: Stacie Dunlop, Dory Hayley, Heather Pawsey, and Melanie Krueger, alongside an incredible group of instrumentalists.

Can you talk more about each of the companion pieces and how they complement the book of Crumb's Madrigals with which they are paired?

We asked four Canadian composers to each take one of Crumb’s Madrigal books and create a new work for the same ensemble, using Lorca’s texts. Patrick Giguère, a composer living in Montreal, is writing a piece that is inspired by Crumb’s Madrigals Book One; the Victoria-based composer Annette Brosin is paired with Book Two; local Vancouver composer Leslie Uyeda is responding to Book Three; and Saskatoon-based composer Justin Christensen is working with Book Four. All four composers write such beautiful music in their own right, but their individual styles are so incredibly different. And they all sound very different than Crumb, so it’ll be a very diverse program! But the use of Lorca’s text is a constant throughout — he’s kinda like the glue that binds the evening together.

I came across a quote by George Crumb in which he talks about working with Lorca's poetry: “I have sought musical images that enhance and reinforce the powerful, yet strangely haunting imagery of Lorca’s poetry. I feel that the essential meaning of the poetry is concerned with the most primary things: life, death, love, the smell of the earth, the sounds of the wind and the sea. These ‘ur-concepts’ are embodied in a language which is primitive and stark, but which is capable of infinitely subtle nuance.” Lorca's poetry also influenced other musicians, notably with the dedication Poulenc's Sonate pour violon et piano and settings by Shostakovich, Luigi Nono, and Joan Baez. I'm curious to know what has your experience been with his poetry?  

You know, my first experience with Lorca’s poetry was, in fact, through George Crumb’s music. I remember listening to the Madrigals in my twenties and being overwhelmed by how beautiful, strange, and frightening they are. And the way he uses the text really amplifies that sense of weirdness. I think it has to do with the fact that Crumb only used very short fragments of Lorca’s poetry. And what he used was often concerned with death. Like, “The dead wear mossy wings” is the entire text of one of his songs. Another one is “Little black horse, where are you taking your dead rider?” And another song simply uses the words “Death is watching me from the towers of Córdoba!” They’re concise, potent, and frankly quite terrifying. So it was very interesting to read the Lorca poems in their entirety and realize how much more sensuous they are — and I’m really excited, because the four Canadian composers are using much larger fragments of Lorca’s works, so we’ll get a much broader idea of what his poetry is actually like. 

I was thinking of asking a silly question at the end of this interview but it doesn't seem fitting for the tone of this show. However, in our last interview you had a lot of great things to say about food and I miss talking about food on here, so I'm going to try to make this work. We've been talking about one specific Crumb (George), what's another good "crumb" that you enjoy?

You know, one of the things I love most about this concert is how intensely un-Christmassy it is, especially at a time when we’re hearing a lot of seasonal music. That said, I have to confess that I love stollen — a traditional German Christmas cake. Beyond Bread Bakery, at 4th and Alma, makes the most delicious stollen: it’s buttery, fruity, and boozy. So that’s definitely another “crumb” I can get behind!

Ok, back to the serious - this is going to be a fantastic show with fascinating music and stellar performers, and you should go. So go. No Straight Road, presented by the Little Chamber Music Series That Could, takes place on December 10 at 7:30pm in the Celebration Hall at Mountain View Cemetery.

More information: http://littlechambermusic.com/no-straight-road/

Mark McGregor: https://marktakeshimcgregor.com/

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