War, Love and Loss takes a sonic look at big issues

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No one can accuse the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra of timidity. The group was formed to incite alliances between our city’s various musical communities, but in its latest concert program it’s essentially going global to take a sonic look at some of the big issues of our time. War, Love and Loss is the title of the show that VICO and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra are teaming up to present as part of the Chutzpah Festival, and as all-embracing as that might seem, there’s a fourth concept that underpins almost everything on the bill: wanderlust.

“The wandering doesn’t cease,” says Moshe Denburg, the Montreal-born guitarist and composer whose own travels have led him to Vancouver and his role as VICO’s founder and co–artistic director. Different factors—economic need, political exile, love relationships—have brought VICO’s other members here, but they’re all united in their desire to create music that reflects both our multicultural society and the unsettled condition of the world at large.

Sometimes those creations are metaphorical, as in the case of Farshid Samandari’s Birds. The episodic piece sets texts in six different tongues—Japanese, Chinese, Farsi, Arabic, Hebrew, and English—to similarly eclectic music; an underlying theme of migration unites them all, along with a sense of the universality of that experience. “The analogy of ‘bird’ is usually about the human spirit and the human soul,” says the composer in a separate telephone interview. “So it has a mystical character to it.”

The Iranian-born Samandari’s peregrinations recently took him to Amsterdam, where he encountered the music of Christina Viola Oorebeek—who, despite her very Dutch-sounding name (and her Dutch husband), is a California native. Her piece 36 Strategies is another cultural fusion, this time of Chinese and European instruments, using an ancient collection of military aphorisms (a Chinese book also called 36 Strategies) as its inspiration.

“I was looking for a Chinese text, and I came across these,” says Oorebeek, who’s hanging out with Samandari at a downtown hotel. “They are not the same as [Sun Tzu’s] The Art of War, which is very famous, but they seem to be timely. They describe tactics for successfully navigating one’s way in the larger world, and they’re very short, very witty and tongue-in-cheek, but also very wise.”

Denburg also draws on an ancient text, the Old Testament, for his Triste Esta el Rey David, which he translates as King David Was Aggrieved.

“His son Absalom rebelled, wanted to take over the throne and stuff like that, and of course his rebellion was put down,” Denburg explains. “The last thing King David wanted was to see his son killed, and he told them to treat him kindly. But he was killed, and King David has to tell the mother of his son, he has to tell his daughter-in-law, he has to tell his grandchildren.” It’s an image, Denburg notes, of how war can injure even the most powerful.

Despite its serious themes, VICO’s Chutzpah concert—which will also feature new music from composer Mark Armanini and a performance by Iranian masters Hossein Behroozinia on the lutelike barbat and Saeed Farajpouri on kamancheh—will also have its celebratory aspects.

“It’s amazing how diverse is the palette of musicians that we have in Vancouver,” says Samandari. “And the other part that I find interesting is that people are interested in collaborating.”

Few collaborations are as deep, or as diverse, as these. 

The Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra and the Pacific Baroque Orchestra present War, Love and Loss at the Norman & Annette Rothstein Theatre on Monday (February 11), as part of the Chutzpah Festival.

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