Emmanuel Ceysson:
the ‘Enfant terrible’ of the harp

French harpist Emmanuel Ceysson sweeps away all the clichés associated with his instrument. His infectious enthusiasm and boundless energy reveal the harp in all its sparkling splendour, in a world where poetry rhymes with temperament.

When you think of the harp, the sensory music of Claude Debussy comes to mind. His works are infused with a shimmering translucence, and Danse sacrée et Danse profane will transport us to a meadow in fin-de-siècle France. It will be interesting to hear it alongside Handel’s much earlier concerto.

There is so much music to love at this concert: the premiere of Life on Mars by Heidi Ouellette, Ravel’s trusty Introduction and Allegro and a Haydn symphony to boot!

Heidi Ouellette

Life on Mars is by Winnipeg-based composer Heidi Ouellette. Composing is just where things start for Heidi, who is also the co-founder / director of the Cluster: New Music + Integrated Arts Festival, and the Executive Director of GroundSwell. Her work often incorporates borrowed or recycled material, improvisation, and collaboration with other musicians and disciplines.

The composer writes that Life on Mars is a “diptych of sorts … the overall sound world is one of minimalism, restraint and elegance — capturing a world of beautiful, frozen isolation.”

The concert begins at 7:30 pm on February 23rd in Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster at Maryland. Tickets are $32 for adults, $30 for seniors and $10 for students, including GST, at McNally Robinson, the West End Cultural Centre (586 Ellice at Sherbrook), Organic Planet (877 Westminster Ave) or MCO’s Ticketline (204.783.7377).

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Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Westminster United Church
23 February 2016

Emmanuel Ceysson, harp

Heidi Ouellette
Life on Mars (Manitoba Arts Council commission, world premiere performance)

Maurice Ravel
Introduction and Allegro

George Frideric Handel
Harp Concerto in B-Flat Major, Op.4/6 (HWV 294)

Claude Debussy
Danse sacrée et Danse profane

Joseph Haydn
Symphony No. 85, in B-flat Major (Hob.I:85) — ‘La Reine’

Guest artist sponsor / Terracon Development Ltd.
Print media sponsor / Winnipeg Free Press
Radio media sponsors / ICI musique 89.9, Classic 107 and Golden West Radio.

Emmanuel Ceysson

With his powerful, virtuosic playing, Emmanuel Ceysson, the enfant terrible of the harp, sweeps away all the clichés associated with his instrument. His infectious enthusiasm and boundless energy reveal the harp in all its sparkling splendour, in a world where poetry vies with temperament.

Since 2005 he has been a presence in such leading venues on the international musical scene as Wigmore Hall, the Salle Gaveau, Carnegie Hall, the Vienna Konzerthaus, and the Berlin Philharmonie, where his appearances in recital, concerto repertoire and chamber music regularly win high praise from the press. In 2006 he joined the Orchestra of the Opéra National de Paris as Principal Harp; since then, his solo passages have frequently been singled out for mention by the Paris opera critics.

His unfailing commitment to his instrument has earned him the highest international distinctions. In rapid succession, he won the Gold Medal and a special performance prize at the USA International Harp Competition (Bloomington) in 2004, First Prize and six special prizes at the New York Young Concert Artist Auditions in 2006, and First Prize at the prestigious ARD Competition in Munich in September 2009, thus becoming the first harpist to obtain awards at three major international events.

He was Visiting Professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London from 2005 to 2009 and has taught at the International Summer Academy in Nice since 2010; he also gives regular masterclasses in France and in the course of his foreign tours. He believes in placing his pedagogical talent at the service of causes that are dear to him, notably within the program ‘Dix Mois d’École et d’Opéra,’ through which he aims to introduce his instrument to young audiences from underprivileged backgrounds. In addition, every year since 2007 he has given two weeks of free masterclasses without salary in Colombia, with the support of the French Embassy and the Salvi Foundation.

In 2010, Emmanuel Ceysson was nominated in the category ‘Solo Instrumental Discovery’ at the Victoires de la Musique Classique. In November 2011 he received a Prix d’Encouragement from the Académie des Beaux-Arts de l’Institut de France (Fondation Simone Del Duca) in recognition of his distinguished early career. A Naïve artist since January 2012, he is currently preparing a solo album based upon famous opera themes.

Heidi Ouellette

Heidi Ouellette is a Winnipeg-based composer, curator, cultivator and administrator of the arts. She thrives in the space in between these roles and often blurs the lines between these titles. She is eager to collaborate with other performers and artists, and seeks projects that allow her to do so. Her interests lie in innovative approaches to music composition, incorporating recycling or re-use of music and materials (including re-conceptualization and re-contextualization), improvisation, and multi-disciplinary endeavours.

Recent projects include a collaborative presentation of her chamber opera, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, with London-based PAZZIA Performance Collective; the premiere of In Glorious Techno-colour/YELLOW, commissioned and performed by the Emerado ensemble; and the composition of a new song cycle, I know where the summer goes, recorded by Mel Braun (baritone) and Laura Loewen (piano) for Songs of the Red River Valley.

In recent years, Heidi has devoted much of her creative energy to co-founding and directing the Cluster: New Music + Integrated Arts Festival in Winnipeg. Curating this annual festival of contemporary sound and art has expanded her artistic focus from strictly musical to multi- and inter-disciplinary realms, has evolved her approach to her own composition and reflects a conscious shift towards a more community-driven approach to her work. With an increasing awareness of the collective ecology of the arts, Heidi strives to contribute to the growth and vitality of the artistic communities around her.

In tandem with the development of Cluster, Ms Ouellette has built a career as a leader in the arts — most recently acting as Executive Director for GroundSwell (from September 2012). Heidi approaches her work with the local new music concert series (and collaborations with a myriad of other organizations) as an extension of her efforts to create, curate and cultivate the arts in Winnipeg, Canada, and beyond.

Life on Mars
Heidi Ouellette

The composer has written the following note:

Life on Mars is a new work for string orchestra commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra. Concepts for the piece were initially catalyzed by astonishingly cold temperatures in Winnipeg one recent New Year’s Eve that prompted headlines of the city being colder than the uninhabited planet. For a very fleeting time and only in these extreme conditions, Winnipeg and Mars phase together. Winnipeg becomes an interface by which to experience something completely unknown and otherwise unavailable to us.

Life on Mars is a diptych of sorts, exploring two simultaneous perspectives of one thing while also creating a new, unified experience. The musical material reflects the dichotomous yet also overlapping nature of this concept ­— of Winnipeg and Mars, the known and the unknown. The piece contains two scores to be performed simultaneously (with the ensemble being divided roughly in half, each half receiving one of two scores): one conventionally notated, the other a more open, text-based score. Text scores are music notated using written language, rather than traditional musical symbols or graphic representation. They are rich in meaning, and can communicate traditional musical values such as form and pitch as well as more poetic and philosophical qualities in a form that is accessible and inclusive to musicians with diverse backgrounds and training.

The overall sound world is one of minimalism, restraint and elegance—capturing a world of beautiful, frozen isolation. For a brief moment, we can imagine life on Mars, in Winnipeg.

Introduction et Allegro
Maurice Ravel

Two of tonight’s works featuring the harp were commissioned by French manufacturers of that angelic instrument. Ravel created this luscious work during the summer of 1905, at the request of Erard, the chief French rival of Pleyel in the manufacturing of harps. As he wrote to a friend, after embarking on a yacht cruise, “I’ve been frightfully busy during the time that led up to my departure on account of a harp piece commissioned by the Erard firm. Eight days of very hard work and three sleepless nights enabled me to finish it for better or worse.” Those days and nights of hard work included a mishap, Ravel accidentally leaving the uncompleted score at his shirt maker’s in his haste to prepare for the upcoming cruise.

The Introduction et Allegro is scored for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet. Ravel’s disclaimer regarding its quality is an act of pure modesty, since the score displays all the polish and subtlety for which he is famous. The rather formal title conceals the fact that it is actually a miniature concerto for harp, with a full-scale solo cadenza towards the end. The brief Introduction is serene in mood. The elegant and vivacious Allegro harkens back in spirit to the graceful music of the French Baroque, a style of which Ravel was particularly fond.

Harp Concerto in B-flat Major, Op. 4 No. 6
George Frideric Handel

Although the harp is one of the oldest musical instruments, it has only been a standard part of the symphony orchestra since the early years of the nineteenth century. Examples of its use during the Baroque period are rare, but Handel, with his matchless ear for tone colour, often featured it prominently. He used it to lend extra touches of warmth or exoticism to several operas, for example.

This charming, delicate and melodious concerto exists in two versions: the one featuring the harp as soloist is likely the original, while the version featuring the organ is probably a transcription that Handel prepared himself.

Handel had launched his series of organ concertos — the earliest pieces of their kind — in 1735. The first set of six was published three years later as Op. 4. Several more followed between then and 1751. A half-dozen of them were published posthumously in 1761 as Op. 7.

He intended them to be played as interludes between the acts of his oratorios during their performances in London. An organ was already in the pit with the orchestra, so combining the two came about quite naturally. Handel’s concertos served as an additional attraction for audiences, who were well acquainted with his fabled skill at keyboard improvisation. Some of them contain indications for the insertion of solo improvisations between the printed movements.

The concerto you will hear tonight was first performed in 1736, in London, by the acclaimed Welsh harpist William Powell, Jr. It appeared as an instrumental interlude between the second and third parts of the oratorio Alexander’s Feast.

Danse sacrée et danse profane
Claude Debussy

In 1904, the celebrated French instrument manufacturer Pleyel asked Debussy to compose a piece demonstrating the capabilities of a new type of harp they had developed. The music would also serve as a test piece for a course of study on the new harp, to be offered at the Brussels Conservatory. Pleyel’s instrument failed to catch on, but Debussy’s lovely, evocative pair of dances has remained popular. The first performance took place in Paris on 6 November 1904.

It has the whiff of ancient times, an atmosphere dear to Debussy. Sacred Dance, the opening section, is similar in mood to the opening section of Ravel’s Introduction et Allegro: slow and ethereal, almost ritualistic in nature. It quotes from a piano work by a contemporary of Debussy, Portuguese composer Francisco de Lacerda. The animated, almost celebratory Profane Dance follows without a break. It, too, quotes other music — a Spanish folk tune that Debussy also drew upon for two of his Préludes for solo piano.

Symphony No. 85 in B-flat Major
Joseph Haydn

During Haydn’s first 30 years as director of music to the aristocratic Esterházy family (1761-1790), he was, in effect, a prisoner on their estates in and close to Vienna. His music traveled for him, winning him exceptional popularity in many major centres. In 1779, he negotiated a new contract with his employers. While remaining in their service, he was allowed to accept commissions from other sources. At least for newly-composed works, this redressed the rampant piracy that saw his music circulated across Europe without him receiving a penny of compensation.

His music had been exceptionally popular in Paris since the mid-1760s. In 1785, the Concert de la Loge Olympique, the city’s most prestigious concert organization, commissioned six new symphonies. Reflecting his continent-wide reputation as the master of the art, they offered five times their usual fee: 25 louis d’or each, plus a further five for the publishing rights (this translates to about $60 thousand per symphony in modern currency). In 1785, he composed the pieces that have become known as symphonies 83, 85 and 87; Nos. 82, 84 and 86 followed over the next year. First performed to great acclaim during the Loge Olympique’s 1787 concert season, they have been known ever since as his ‘Paris’ symphonies.

Symphony No. 85 became a great favourite of Marie Antoinette, the Austrian-born Queen of France who was destined to perish in the revolution that swept the country a few years later. In the first published edition of the ‘Paris’ Symphonies (1788), it bore the subtitle or nickname ‘Queen of France.’ This is one of the few examples of a Haydn symphony’s subtitle originating at the time of creation, rather than at a later date.

The canny Haydn increased the symphony’s likelihood of acclaim in Paris through several references to French musical taste. The first appears right off the top. The dotted-note rhythm featured in the slow-tempo introduction to the opening movement reflects a widespread practice of the French Baroque era. The introduction is brief and pithy, pompous in a light, pleasant way, befitting a queen rather than a king. The main section of the movement is also genteel and festive, but not aggressively so.

The second movement is a set of variations on a French folk song, La gentille et jeune Lisette (The Sweet and Young Lisette). It is a sweet, naïve melody, of the type Haydn regularly created himself. The genial and attractive variations display imagination and ingenuity, as when Haydn decorates the principal line with a playful flute solo mid-way through. The third movement minuet dances with a particularly light and lively spring in its step, straight through the wind-dominated central trio section. The compact finale bubbles with boundless energy and comic-opera good spirits.

When Marie Antoinette and her family were awaiting execution, they were housed in a prison cell containing a battered harpsichord and a small collection of music. An eyewitness reported that when she discovered that one of the pieces in the collection was Haydn’s ‘Queen of France’ symphony, she said sadly, “Times have changed.”