The Kessler Academy connects the music of Polish and Ukrainian composers to the turmoil of today’s world — Stir

IN CHOOSING THE REPERTOIRE for this year’s youth string intensive, Kessler Academy, Marc Destrubé found pieces that would resonate with our unstable times.

Amazingly, he scheduled it before Russia invaded Ukraine. “I was thinking more of the young people we were working with, and we’re providing a time for discussion to discuss music and the role of music around the world,” the Microcosmos Quartet’s first violinist told Stir.

The curriculum that Kessler students will learn is inspired by composers who have lived through upheaval and turbulent times, directly connecting music over the decades to the challenges of the pandemic and the war in Ukraine that young players have been surrounded by these last years.

There are works by Polish composers Krystof Penderecki and Mieczyslaw Weinberg, whose lives were affected by World War II, as well as Ukrainian Valentin Silverstrov, who was recently forced to flee to Germany when his home country was invaded.

And it is very likely that the promising young musicians of the Kessler Academy never had the opportunity to play works by these composers. This modern and contemporary focus is part of what makes Kessler intensive, with its five days of focused rehearsals culminating in a public concert with Microcosmos at Pyatt Hall, so unique.

“One of the big shortcomings I see is that music students, up to masters or doctoral programs, tend to make very little, or even near, music of our time,” Destrubé says. “They will do a bit or they will be in a contemporary ensemble at their respective schools, but except in rare cases, they would never have done a whole program of music from the last century.

“What I find absolutely extraordinary, adds the artist, is that we still consider music composed 100 years ago as new music or contemporary music.”

In its eighth year, the Kessler Academy pays tribute this year to its namesake, Vancouver centenarian and philanthropist Susan Kessler, who passed away in October 2021. Through Music on Main and Microcosmos, she supported the mentorship program who created a chamber orchestra without a conductor. Its members work in groups and also in instrumental sections on pieces from the past century.

“I guess that’s its value: that we don’t have a conductor and that we are less like an orchestra and more like a string quartet. It sounds like expanded chamber music,” says Destrubé. “One of the things I learned is that as soon as there is a leader or a director, everyone sits down and waits to be told what to do. But if it’s chamber music, then everyone’s more engaged.

Destrubé says the process mimics what talented participants, ages 13 to 34, will face after graduation.

“It’s the nature of a musician’s life that whether you’re in a symphony or a freelancer, we tend to be under enormous pressure to create a performance in a very short time and get to know the music. and being prepared and working with many hours, day in and day out,” he explains. “It’s not something young people tend to experience in their school setting. week, then after several weeks or months, they will have a performance, but the reality of the professional world is that everything happens in a very concentrated period.

Destroyed describes the Penderecki Symphony No. 1 as “starting very aggressively with big chords, then it has a big alto solo”. 2001 by Silvestrov Anthem is romantic, sweet and thoughtful. “He really explores the idea of ​​silence, which I find fascinating,” says Destrubé.

“And then Weinberg Symphony No. 2 [for String Orchestra, Op. 3] is a beautiful romantic work, a half-hour long piece,” says Destrubé. “It was written when he fled to the Soviet Union from Poland; his parents and sister were all killed by the Nazis in a concentration camp. Weinberg met Dmitri Shostakovich during this exile, and Destrubé says you can hear a lot of that composer’s influence in the piece as well.

Academy students also have in-depth discussions about the plays, the context in which they were written, and how it all relates to our larger world.

“There’s a feeling of, ‘How can we seize the moment or use the opportunity to think about our musical world and how can we shape it in a different way, using this huge disruption of performance life as an opportunity to make changes?’ ” he says. “So the project tries to bring together those ideas for musical performance that were composed in a time of turmoil…and to get young people thinking more deeply than they normally would about music in society at large.”

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