• Sarah Kwok

Strange Beasts - November 15

The Vancouver Chamber Choir presents Strange Beasts, a concert focused on the fauna that have inspired composers, on November 15. Continue reading as Kari Turunen, the Artistic Director and Conductor of the choir, discusses this delightful theme, the mixing of the old and new, and his time so far in the city and with the choir.

Tell me about Strange Beasts

The theme is, as one might guess, animals in choral music or choral pieces with animals as their subject. The repertoire is a combination of new and old, with one classic thrown in for good measure.

These beasts that will be heard in the concert are both real and imagined, so perhaps the audience will feel as if they have just experienced some sort of fantastical zoo? How are you helping the choir to realize these sounds and timbres, especially those of the animals that don't exist in our world?

A fantastical zoo is a lovely way of putting it. I need to point out that not all the pieces feature animal sounds or concentrate on describing animals through music. In many of the pieces, the animals are a means of saying something about human beings or feature only in a minor role. But, that said, there will be plenty of sounds and noises normally not heard in a choir concert.

Getting to know any new piece of music is always an adventure. In this case, some of the novelties are even more novel than usual. But the same method applies: trial and error. We try things out in rehearsals and use the elements that work best.

The programming is a mix of the old and the new - what is it that draws you to both early music, in which you have a background of expertise, and contemporary compositions?

I think contemporary choral music is a good partner-in-crime for early music. Partially because both often benefit from a similar way of singing: clear, straight and exact. It is technically more difficult to move from either of them to, say, Romantic music. And in this concert, I like to think of the Renaissance pieces as a sort of a sherbet between heavier courses in the meal.

This is your third concert as Artistic Director - how are you settling into the city, and has it changed or clarified any of your plans for the future of the Chamber Choir?

I really enjoy living in Vancouver and just can't get used to how beautiful it is. I also think I have been treated quite kindly not only by its people, but also by its weather - despite all the warnings about Raincouver and the Wet Coast. I feel I am growing into my role as the Artistic Director and feel no need to rush it. I think it will take me a year to get a proper grip on what the choir is and could be. That said, a new Artistic Director will always bring change just because their background is different, their thoughts on repertoire are different, their musical ideas and ideals a little different. But, as I said, I think change is a natural process that happens in dialogue with the environment, the past and the administration and the choir.

One final non-so-serious question - of all the strange beasts on the program, which one do you identify with the most?

Somehow, the Lièvre (hare) in Philippe Bodin's suite Bizarre Bestiaire is my favorite: it is small, agile, curious and active, when it is not sleeping. And I like the way it keeps changing color according to season - a continuity in change.

Experience the lièvre and many more animals in what will surely be a delightful concert when the Vancouver Chamber Choir presents Strange Beasts on November 15, 7:30pm in the Koerner Recital Hall at the Vancouver Academy of Music.

More information: https://vancouverchamberchoir.com/event/strange-beasts/

Kari Turunen: https://kariturunen.com/

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