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Ana Sokolović: Sirènes

Opera News
17 décembre 2019

SERBIAN COMPOSER ANA SOKOLOVIĆ writes music of eccentric beauty and impish charm—every measure exudes magic and mischief. A resident of Québec since the 1990s, Sokolović has cultivated an aesthetic of cosmopolitan whimsy. The texts she selects are filled with colorful polyglot wordplay, recalling the speeches of Vieux-Montréal street artists who busk in multiple languages. In the 2000 title work on this portrait album, a sextet of mermaids seductively intones a series of French puns, e.g. “six reines” vs. “sirènes.” Sokolović’s setting combines elements of female folk traditions from both her motherland and her adopted home: Inuit throat singing from Canada’s northernmost territories merges with the raw, guttural delivery of Serbian women’s choirs. The vocalists, members of the now-defunct Queen of Puddings Music Theatre of Toronto, conjure a comically uncanny sound world, their overlapping whoops and yelps climaxing in dense Balkan harmonies that shimmer with dissonance. Sokolović has also composed a full-scale a cappella opera for the group, Svadba (2010), which will hopefully make its way onto CD.

The other highlight of this album is the song cycle Tanzer Lieder (2005), featuring texts in French, German and English by Austrian poet Francisco Tanzer. Sokolović responds to their moonstruck imagery and nursery-rhyme nonsense with music-box accompaniments (for piano, cello and flute) indebted to Pierrot Lunaire. With her velvety soprano, Florie Valiquette captures the work’s blend of childlike play and nocturnal mystery. She dons various “masks” in a colorful game of make believe, drifting from breathy Sprechstimme to mock-tragic wailing to soft, lullaby humming. Sokolović has also inserted some amusing sonic pranks into her part—at one point, Valiquette “throws” her voice by gradually fading into silence before boomeranging back a few measures later, as if her singing had disappeared momentarily behind a tree.

The companion cycle Pesma (1996–2007) is less effective. Over the five movements, Sokolović’s self-written ode to music is translated from Serbian into Arabic, French, Indonesian and the Bantu Kifuliiru language. There are some Serbian modal inflections again in the opening number, which sits comfortably in mezzo Krisztina Szabó’s smoky lower register. But the composer has a tendency to exoticize the non-Western verses. She’s more concerned with their phonetic sounds than with their semantic subtleties, reducing the languages to pure babble that can be imitated instrumentally—a scratchy bow stroke simulates the rough Semitic “ch,” for instance. And her vague imitations of traditional African and Javanese music feel a tad tokenizing. The violin concerto Evta (2017), on the other hand, is well worth a listen. It’s a kaleidoscopic commentary on each of the seven white-key pitches that unfolds like the sequence of doors in Bluebeard’s Castle.

This release seems intended for a québécois audience, as no English texts are provided. But most of the French poetry is easily decipherable, and its wordplay would be lost in translation anyway.

© 2019 Opera News

Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review
3 juillet 2019

I never shy away from women composers, especially when they are from the Modern times we live in. So today there is Ana Sokolovic and her album Sirenes (ATMA Classique ACD2 2762). It consists of four works for the Ensemble contemporain de Montreal (ECM+) directed by Veronique Lacroix, the Ensemble vocal Queen of Puddings Music Theatre under Dairine Ni Mheadhra, and soloists.

Ms. Sokolovic was born in 1968. which makes her younger than I am. I only mention it because it helps situate her in time. This is her second album of works according to the liners. Jeu des Portraits came in 2006 though I have not had the pleasure of hearing it. This new album addresses her chamber ensemble moods, including three devoted to the vocal arts and her recent Violin Concerto "Evta."

Andrea Tyrilec takes on the solo violin part on the concerto and does it full justice. It is a long and involved work of concentrated Contemporary heft, a kind of breakthrough tour de force, searing and abstractly tender in turn, filled with a wealth of detail and articulation in the harmonically advanced and colorful HighMod zone. There is a nice use of chromatic and timbral repetitions and sequencing to express something about life and it works in its evolved context quite well. I am at times reminded of Mayazumi in this wise yet this is Sokolovic and the two are not synonymous, which is heartening.

The program begins with the title work "Sirenes" for the six woman vocalists from the Ensemble vocal Queen of Puddings Music Theatre. It is atmospheric, sound colorful Modern fare with a real feel for making full use of the vocal potential of this fine ensemble, whispering, full voice, etc.

Sokolov's "Tanzer Lieder" for soprano and small chamber group shows us Ms. Sokolov's gift for lieder writing. It is Modern in syntax and based nicely on Austrian poet Francisco Tanzer's Blatter collection. The music is expressive and well paced.

From there we move on to "Pesma" for mezzo-soprano and small chamber group. As with the Tanzer work there is carefully and very brightly situated elements working together in subtle ways to give us a refined zen of Modernism in the very sensitive laying out of it all. It is music I found myself appreciating the more effort I took to listen carefully. Perhaps that is the one lesson I never fail to note on these pages? One is not born to this music, so to speak. One must grow into it and much of the worthy music of our contemporary world.

After all is said and done we are left with the sheer musicality of Ana Sokolovic. It is lovely fare, convincingly performed. There is brilliance. We have contact, liftoff! Very happily recommended.

© 2019 Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music

The WholeNote
26 avril 2019

2019 JUNO Classical Composer of the Year Ana Sokolović composes with her highly identifiable tonal/atonal soundscapes in four works here. Sirènes/Sirens (2000) is performed perfectly by six female voices of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre Vocal Ensemble. Inspired by ancient Balkan voices of the Sirens legend, high-pitched female voices, quasi-wobbly, humorous yet haunting vocal effects, shrieks, quieter moments, and driving vocal rhythms are intense. The five-movement Tanzer Lieder (2005) is set to five German, French and English poems by Austrian poet Francisco Tanzer. A slightly more operatic work, soprano Florie Valiquette embraces Sokolović’s trademark loud high pitches and dramatic held notes above such instrumental accompaniment as reflective flute/piccolo, piano and cello plucks. Mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó shines especially in her colourful lower pitches in the five-movement/language Pesma (1996-2007) above the ECM+ instrumentalists under the direction of Véronique Lacroix.

The title of the violin concerto Evta (2017) means “seven” in Serbian Roma. Seven joined movements are inspired by chakra colours and associated with each note of the scale as Sokolović now explores her characteristic sounds with only instruments. The ECM+ ensemble, with soloist Andréa Tyniec, performs with technical and musical greatness, executing more rapid ascending lines, held notes, pizzicatos and plucks, touches of Gypsy-flavoured sounds and the occasional more tonal sections in this less intense composition.

One can only imagine how gratifying it must be to successfully perform and compose such complex contemporary works. Yes it is intense, but worth the time to listen to and understand Sokolović!

Tiina Kiik – The WholeNote

La Presse +
1 avril 2019

4 étoiles

Consacré à la compositrice montréalaise Ana Sokolović, cet opus regroupe quatre œuvres matures, personnelles, de haute volée. Voilà un superbe flot de créativité illustrant l’inclination de la compositrice pour la voix humaine dans différentes configurations. Pour coiffer le tout, son concerto pour violon suggère une écriture très personnelle, à l’instar des œuvres précédentes, certes tributaires d’une esthétique contemporaine occidentale lancée au lendemain de la Seconde Guerre mondiale, néanmoins étoffées d’éléments dramatiques, paroxystiques, ludiques ou même humoristiques. Sokolović sait exploiter toutes les possibilités instrumentales et vocales de ses interprètes, tant du côté des techniques classiques que de celui des recherches texturales, explorant de riches vocabulaires atonaux et tonaux, un vaste choix de patrons rythmiques. En somme, elle sait brillamment fondre les références compositionnelles de son époque et en extirper une sensibilité qui lui est propre. Ce qui lui a valu tout récemment un Juno de la composition classique de l’année pour l’œuvre Golden Slumbers Kiss Your Eyes.

— Alain Brunet, La Presse

26 mars 2019

Sirènes is an album of pieces by Montreal composer Ana Sokolović. The first pice, which gives the album its title, is written for six unaccompanied female voices. It’s performed here by the vocal ensemble of Queen of Puddings Music Theatre conducted by Dáirine Ní Mheadhra. The six ladies in question are Danika Lorèn, Shannon Mercer, Magali Simard-Galdès, Caitlin Wood, Andrea Ludwig, and Krisztina Szabó. It’s an interesting piece and very Sokolović. The text is bent and twisted into sound fragments which are “sung” using an array of extended vocal techniques. The overall effect is of a shimmering, fluttery and quite absorbing sound world.

The second piece; Tanzer Lieder, sets French, German and English texts by Francisco Tanzer. It’s scored for soprano (here Florie Valiquette) and piano trio. It’s another example of Sokolović’s unusual treatment of text and her interest in “sound as such”. The overall effect is quite ethereal. There’s no sense of narrative or story telling.

Pesma takes the idea of words as sound a step further. The original text was written by the composer in Serbian and forms the first movement. The subsequent four movements are the same text but translated into Arabic, French, Kifoulirou, and Indonesian. It’s scored for mezzo soprano (here Krisztina Szabó), flute/piccolo, two clarinets, piano, violin, viola, and cello.

The final piece on the disk is Evta; scored for solo violin, flute/piccolo, clarinet/bass clarinet, bassoon, horn, trumpet, percussion, piano/cymbal, two violins, viola, cello, and double bass. Evta means “seven” in the Serbian Roma language and each of the seven movements is inspired by the colours of the chakras and is associated with one of the notes of the scale: C / red, D / orange, E / yellow, F / green, G / blue, A / indigo and B / violet. One can clearly hear that it’s inspired by gypsy violin music. The solo violin part is taken here by Andréa Tyniec. As with Tanzer Lieder and Pesma, the other instrumentalists are drawn from the l’Ensemble contemporain de Montréal (ECM+) conducted by Véronique Lacroix.

I find it impossible to say anything useful about the performances, per se, on a disk like this. There are no comparators and the works all new to me. Mostly I’m just a bit amazed that anybody can play/sing it at all!

The recordings were made at various locations in Toronto and Montreal in 2018. It’s all very well engineered and just fine from a technical point of view. The booklet has all the texts and really good notes about each piece.

In summary, if you have been intrigued by Sokolović’s music in the past or are just curious about it, this is a pretty good disk to explore.

John Gilks - operaramblings

Medium large
22 mars 2019

L'altiste et chroniqueur Frédéric Lambert nous parle des meilleures parutions récentes en musique classique et des concerts à venir dans ce domaine. Il est question de Sirènes, de la compositrice de musique contemporaine montréalaise d'origine serbe Ana Sokolovic, qui vient de remporter un prix Juno pour l'une de ses compositions. Notre chroniqueur explique à Catherine Perrin que la voix humaine est à l'honneur dans cette œuvre, mais il salue également la qualité de la composition et des arrangements.

Pour écouter la chronique: ICI