Les traductions pour les articles avant l’automne 2013 ne sont pas disponibles pour le moment.

These days it’s not uncommon for a breakout band to have a string section, maybe some horns, even an accordion. But Vancouver’s Brasstronaut has set a new bar for musicians who are pushing the boundaries of pop instrumentation. Flugelhorn, glockenspiel, clarinet, strings, lap-steel and even the EWI (electric wind instrument—a type of synthesizer) combine to form a rich tapestry of pop perfection. Equal parts chamber pop, Balkan bouncing indie rock, blissful soundscapes and jazz-tinged, funky rhythms, Brasstronaut members Bryan Davies, John Walsh, Brennan Saul, Edo Van Breemen, Tariq Hussain and Sam Davidson blend finely honed playing skills and powerful songwriting. This year they were long-listed for the Polaris Music Prize, played smash showcases at festivals around the country and recently took home SOCAN’s 2010 ECHO Songwriting Prize for the song “Hearts Trompet.” The band’s debut full-length, Mt. Chimaera, was released in March. Visit brasstronaut.com.


Victoria composer Tobin Stokes has been fielding a question most composers are never asked. “My friends keep phoning to find out what I’m going to do with a quarter of a million dollars!” laughs Stokes, referring to the $250,000 commission that City Opera Vancouver (COV) just received from the Annenberg Foundation to create a new opera based on the story of U.S. Marine veteran Christian Ellis. It’s believed to be the largest single commissioning grant in Canadian history.

Stokes will split the kitty, of course.  The grant funds the librettist as well – American-Iraqi playwright Heather Raffo, known for her award-winning play, 9 Parts of Desire. It also covers consultations with Ellis, a first reading of the libretto with hired actors, and workshops with piano and singers.

The commission is unusual for more than its size.  The part of the Annenberg Foundation responsible for the grant is the philanthropic multimedia organization Explore, whose director, filmmaker Charles Annenberg Weingarten, wants the opera to contribute to the psychological healing process for veterans.

“They asked us to base the work on the actual experiences of Ellis, who suffers post-traumatic stress disorder in consequence of his engagement at the Battle of Fallujah in 2004,” says City Opera Vancouver’s director, Charles Barber. “Annenberg sent Christian to meet with us, twice, in the fall of 2010. Over the course of several days, we came to an agreement about the particulars of his story and the prospect of broadening it to stand for many vets and  –  in a deeply compassionate way –  many Iraqis. »

Accessibility and flexibility are among COV’s priorities for the commission.  Stokes has both.

“Tobin is able to write in numerous styles and traditions,” says Barber. “The work is in a tonal, 21st Century idiom and requires some degree of allusion to the music of Iraq.”

Stokes, who was composer-in-residence for the Victoria Symphony from 2005 to 2008, had his first full-length chamber opera, Vinedressers, produced at the Belfry Theatre in Victoria in 2001. Another opera, Nootka, based on early encounters between the First Nations people of Vancouver Island and European explorers, is partly finished. He’s also working on a third, based on the life of Victoria architect Francis Rattenbury.

He hasn’t seen a word of the new libretto yet, so he’s not sure how cross-cultural his music will be.  “I want to be true to Raffo’s setting, and to my own voice,” says Stokes, who believes vocal lines should follow the words and never « interfere » with them. “But I’ve been trying to open my vocabulary to the longer lines and the ornamentation in Middle Eastern music.

“There will probably be around ten characters.” he adds, “Four in the chorus and five or six leads. One plan is to design the chorus roles so that we could incorporate veterans into the opera. »

Barber says, “It will be written in such a way as to make it possible for vets to be deeply and individually involved. If we get it right, it will serve both the professional agenda of our company and the human agenda of Annenberg.”

Les traductions pour les articles avant l’hiver 2011 ne sont pas disponibles pour le moment.

When it comes to music, Christine Fellows could almost be two people. “There is the anti-social songwriting me that lives in Winnipeg,” she says with a laugh, describing the more solitary practice that has allowed her to release four solo albums since “quitting her day job” a decade ago in order to pursue music full time. Then there’s Christine Fellows the performer and fervently engaged-in-the-world artistic collaborator, with more than a few creative projects on the go at any one time. “It’s a way of giving you more opportunities to expand your work,” she says, describing mixed-media endeavours that span dance, theatre, film and art, and fearlessly mash-up musical forms. “I guess, for me, it’s a way of not just working inside your own world.”

Not that Fellows seems at risk of navel-gazing. Instead, her most recent albums have been fed by in-depth research on a specific topic, allowing her to learn while she writes. Her whimsical 2007 release Nevertheless, for example, is anchored in the life and work of American modernist poet and “legendary spinster” Marianne Moore, but also includes a cast of unlikely characters, from artist Joseph Cornell to the Greek goddess Athena. “I like having something to spring off,” explains Fellows, her voice curling into an audible smile. “I get really inspired by that.”

A six-month residency and commission at Winnipeg’s Saint-Boniface Museum in 2009 became the inspiration for her current project. Due for release in March 2011, Femmes de chez nous will be a studio album and performance DVD inspired by the Grey Nuns who once inhabited the museum’s building. The commission resulted in a series of public, on-site performances in a tiny chapel, which were accompanied by overhead projections by visual artist Shary Boyle, with whom Fellows collaborates regularly. “The nuns came to see it,” she says. “It was totally moving — the direct contact between the work and the people the work is about. That’s always amazing.”

Fellows, who does most of her writing at the keyboard, also recently took part in the National Parks Project, an initiative that sent groups of musicians and filmmakers camping while they collaborated on films and soundtracks reflecting their experiences of the Canadian landscape. Fellows, who describes the experience as “life-changing,” worked with musicians Sandro Perri, Fellows’ husband, John K. Samson (of The Weakerthans) and filmmaker Daniel Cockburn at Bruce Peninsula National Park.

Indeed, though she enjoys her solitary writing work, Fellows admits she is less and less drawn to performing on her own. “It’s not fun for me,” she admits with a laugh. “The fun part is sharing the experience with other humans!” Fellows is also intent on continuing to collaborate, and is open to whatever comes next. “Every time you open yourself up to experimentation, you aren’t going to be disappointed. Even if it’s a total failure, you will have had a really transformative experience. And that’s what I’m looking for.”


Track Record

  • Fellows has been touring with the Correction Line Ensemble, a chamber group that blends classical and modern music, sharing the stage with John K. Samson and four classically trained musicians. Fellows says, “It’s like trying to find a common language.”
  • She has created numerous live scores for performances by dancers Susie Burpee and Brent Lott, and served as composer in residence with Winnipeg’s Contemporary Dancers.
  • She has toured across the country with the Pan-Canadian New Folk Ensemble, which includes songwriters Old Man Luedecke and Kim Barlow, along with musicians Alex McMaster, Jordy Walker and Alison Corbett.