Folles Alliées blends Portuguese folk music with cutting-edge sonics
Bass flute, viola da gamba, and harpsichord are not instruments that generally flock together—and as a consequence the repertoire for this particular combination is thin. So when Fiolûtröniq’s Cléo Palacio-Quintin (flute) and Elin Söderström (gamba) decided to hook up with harpsichordist Katelyn Clark for a new project, the choice was clear: commission new works, or starve.
The three have been dining well ever since. In fact, the program they’ll present in Vancouver next week is a veritable feast of new works from new composers, but it also carries an ancient twist. Calling themselves Folles Alliées (“Foolish Allies”), Clark, Söderström, and Palacio-Quintin have opted to focus on works derived from a Portuguese folk idiom called La Folia—a rural dance of madness and possession based on powerful rhythms and manic repetition.
“There are ghosts of La Folia in all the pieces, somehow, so that it really links all the pieces,” explains Palacio-Quintin, speaking in lightly accented English from her Montreal home. “Even though each composer is really different—we especially asked people we knew had different styles of writing, so it makes a very, very, very mixed concert—it’s not a patchwork of anything, because everything goes together.”
Palacio-Quintin is known for her sonic invention, the hyper-flute—a standard flute retrofitted with multiple sensors that trigger and control an array of interactive electronic devices—but she won’t be playing it in this configuration. She’s also increasingly acclaimed as an improviser, although all the music presented by Folles Alliées is through-composed. Still, she’ll not be lacking a challenge in next week’s program, which she says progresses from works in which the Portuguese source material is clearly audible to ones that are purely, and wildly, contemporary.
She seems particularly fond of the closing number, Kamloops-born Stacey Brown’s Five Stages of Insanity According to bzh, April 10, 2008, which includes segments titled “A funk I can’t shake”, “Sleep that won’t come no matter what I do”, “Exhausted. Weary. Whiny”, “Weepy. With real tears”, and “Stark-raving lunatic bitch”.
“It gets completely insane at the end,” she says happily.
Palacio-Quintin also points out that a Folles Alliées concert is one event where lovers of early music and devotees of cutting-edge sonics can sit comfortably together.
“We’ve had quite a lot of success with people that usually attend, like, baroque music concerts,” she says. “They know the instruments—they like gamba and harpsichord. And because the way the program is presented—it starts with something they know, and then little by little it brings them somewhere else—even people who are not used to contemporary music really enjoy it. I think it’s a good place to bring someone who’s not used to new music.”
It also might be a good place to get a better appreciation of contemporary composition in Canada—although those hoping to identify emerging trends might be the only ones who’ll leave disappointed.
“What I think is nice is that there’s more and more new voices, and each of them is pretty unique—which is what we look for when we look for a composer,” the flautist explains. “I wouldn’t say there’s any trend, or whatever. I do think there’s lots of new, young composers that are very talented, and very well-trained. We have better universities and music schools around, so it shows in that there are more and more new composers who are very skilled and talented. But what’s interesting is that there are many different voices—and I guess that’s what we want to show here.”
Folles Alliées plays the Western Front Thursday (November 8).