Chamberfest: A musical Mosaïque Made in Canada
BY PETER ROBB
How do you define musical ambition? Well, if you are the piano quartet Made In Canada it is with the musical project Mosaïque.
And for the past two years, it has been their intense focus.
“Our group began in 2006, so we had passed our 10th anniversary and we wanted to embark on something bigger,” said cellist Rachel Mercer in an interview. “After working as a self-managed group for so many years over time, we have learned how to do many things and we are learning how to do more all the time.
“We had acquired some tools to do something bigger.” So they did something bigger.
They were inspired to put together something unique, something Canadian.
“As four women who have travelled all over and lived in other places we feel this identity as Canadians.”
But how to celebrate country and celebrate the group’s 10th anniversary? They toyed with the idea of travelling by train across Canada and performing. But VIA Rail doesn’t go everywhere.
Then they thought of commissioning a piece that would be meaningful for the entire nation and that led to Mosaïque, which is 14 short pieces (up to four minutes long) commissioned from 14 Canadian composers each writing about a province or territory.
“We ended up with 14 pieces because Barbara Croall had an idea to do something on the St. Lawrence so we added that to the project,” Mercer said.
New music is important to all four women in Made in Canada.
“For us, there is still a lot of piano quartet repertoire we have not played but it is not as big as string quartet repertoire. We were already playing existing Canadian music and we have already had a few commissions and people writing for us. Mosaïque grew out of that.”
Then they started to choose who would write for them and the list eventually included contemporary classical composers such as Ana Sokolovic and Nicole Lizée and also people such as singer-songwriters Julie Doiron and Sarah Slean and jazz composer David Braid.
The first performance was July 26 at the Festival of the Sound. The second is at Chamberfest on Saturday.
But wait there’s more to the project.
At the concert Saturday, the audience will be able to draw on a piece of paper their impressions of the music.
“They can give them to us and they will be uploaded to our Mosaïque website where other people will be able to see them. The music will be there too,” Mercer said making a mosaic of Mosaïque.
“The whole idea is seeing (and hearing) the country through different eyes. First the composers write about different regions. Then we interpret the pieces and finally the audience can show how they perceive it all.”
“Elissa (Lee), our violinist, believes that if people are doodling while listening they might be more affected by the music.”
The idea is that an engaged listener will focus more intently.
“A lot of the pieces in the project are about water but we are not expecting a bunch of pictures of lakes and rivers. It’s amazing how people’s minds work.
“It’s not obligatory and you can draw something and not give it up.”
Beyond these initial performances there will be three more this summer, Mercer said, with a tour starting in the fall that will go where VIA does and does not go. She says there will be a CD down the line as well.
“This is first time we have done something on this scale. We have a publicist working for us, a web designer and a videographer. We’ve never had this much help and we have never worked this hard. It’s amazing how it has developed.”
The four women in Made in Canada live in Ontario: Angela Park (piano) is in Toronto, Elissa Lee splits time between Toronto and Berlin, Germany and violist Sharon Wei lives in London, Ontario. Mercer lives in Ottawa where she is also the principal cello of the NAC Orchestra.
Despite the demands on time, Mosaïque “is like our mission.”
You might think three or four minutes of music isn’t all that intense. But there is a lot packed into these short packages, Mercer said.
“You always think a three minute piece is just three minutes of work. Not at all. Each one is full of their own meaning and with completely different styles.”
The ensemble did not prescribe what the composers would write beyond assigning each a province or territory. The composers are not necessarily from the places they are writing about.
Even though water features prominently, each musical treatment is different, she said.
It’s unfair, but does Mercer have a favourite piece?
“They are all amazing but I am a big supporter of Kevin Lau’s piece on the Yukon. I am the donor for that. I really wanted to buy one. We have had lots of public support and we have also had incredible private donations and that continues, but I really wanted to put some money on one of these pieces and Kevin is someone with whom I have had a relationship with for many years. I have played many of his pieces and he has written me a cello concerto. I think he is incredible.”
New music written for you is a rare joy that Mercer describes this way:
“Receiving a new piece is like opening a book and being ready to absorb a new story or being excited to discover a new author.”