Starting Thursday night, the Calgary Philharmonic are taking classical music lovers on an autumn tour of Paris then.
Then might not be a specific time, but rather it’s an era, around the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th, when Paris teemed with some of the world’s greatest imaginations.
“That was sort of the meeting place of all these characters,” says CPO artistic director Heather Slater. “Debussy, Ravel – and that’s where all these great things happened in music.
“A lot of it was the whole La Belle Epoque thing,” she says, “and Paris becoming this incredibly important centre for music.
“And (partly it was inspired by) all of these composers,” she says, “and other (creative) influencers coming together – people other than French composers who all were inspired and fed off each other.”
The festival kicks off Thursday night with a special bonus – a performance by organist Neil Cockburn, who will perform with the symphony and chorus on the Carthy organ in Jack Singer Hall.
Cockburn, the artistic director of the Calgary Organ Festival, says having a magnificent pipe organ in the house at your concert hall is a treat only a few symphony audiences (in Edmonton, Montreal, Toronto and Calgary) get the opportunity to experience in Canada.
“Its just amazing to have a pipe organ in a hall like that,” says Cockburn, who will perform Faure’s Requiem and Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony.
“It has the exact right kind of tone that will both fit behind the orchestra and amplify it,” he says, “but it also has enough of an edge that if it needs to be the soloist, it can cut through the orchestral sound as well, and so that’s quite a special recipe.”
And then, Saturday night, things take another turn, Slater says – towards the Belle Epoque, in an evening featuring pianist Jean Louis Steurman that’s inspired by the impressionist painters of over a century ago.
“That concert… is all about Impressionism,” Slater says, “and so we’re featuring works by Debussy and Ravel.
“La Mer by Debussy is a classic of impressionism,” she says, “because here is a huge orchestral work painting a picture in sound of the sea.
“The moods of the sea and the waves,” she says. “It doesn’t get more impressionistic than that.”
This weekend figures to be merely the apertif of a three week long festival that features all things Parisian.
That includes an afternoon salon (November 29 at the Glenbow Theatre) featuring pianist Louis Lortie, art historian Tony Luppino, soprano Nadya Blanchette and Slater talking about the connection between music and art in Paris.
It also includes a rare performance (on November 29) of Messaien’s epic piece, Tarangalila, complete with a multi-media installation that’s the result of a CPO collaboration with ACAD instructors Kurtis Lesick and Craig Fahner.
“This is going to be insane,” Slater says. “Messaien was a really interesting guy, with a lot of eclectic influences – everything from spirituality – he was deeply religious – to birdsong.
“He would listen to birds and the patterns of their song and he would notate that and make it part of his music.
“Tarangalila,” she says, “is just sort of a mash up of all these influences in his music - and it’s quite an avante guarde piece.”
Not only does the 75 minute long piece call for a massive orchestra (11 percussionists!), but it features a rare and exotic musical instrument - the ondes martentot, which Slater describes as a ‘primitive synthesizer’, which will be performed by Montreal artist Genevieve Grenier.
“When you hear it,” says Slater, “you can just sort of hear that there’s this new sort of sound world open up and that Olivier Messiaen, this composer, was at the forefront of that.”
The visual component will only help enhance the audience experience of Tarangalila, she says.
“It can be a really intense and challenging kind of listen,” she says, “so we decided to partner with ACAD.
“The idea,” she says, “is what if you could listen to this piece, and while you’re listening, be inside Messiaen’s head?”