Bill Richardson helps Vetta Chamber Music give Stravinsky a zany new twist

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      What’s got buskers, angels, and an excess of flimsy negligees? A new and wildly reworked version of Igor Stravinsky’s L’Histoire du soldat, being presented at three upcoming Vetta Chamber Music concerts.

      Those familiar with Stravinsky’s 1918 music-theatre masterpiece probably know that it exists in two very different versions: the hourlong original, for septet, three actors, and dancers, plus a wordless abridgment for clarinet, violin, and piano. It’s the second version that we’ll hear when François Houle, Joan Blackman, and Jane Hayes convene on-stage this week, but with a twist. Broadcaster and author Bill Richardson will also be onboard, bringing his charming presence and prairie-dry wit to their new take on this old story.

      “I’ve been bouncing around the idea of rearranging the full version, with narration, but for clarinet, violin, piano, and narrator,” Houle explains, reached during a break from rehearsing at Hayes’s White Rock home. “But short of doing that, which would be a monumental task, we’ve opted for playing the trio and integrating the L’Histoire narration into it. So we approached Bill with that idea because we thought he’d be the ideal guy to do it, and he said, ‘Well, I’ve got an idea: I’m going to write my own story to it.’ And we said, ‘Okay,’ kind of skeptically, and he came up with the zaniest story you could possibly imagine.”

      “Downtown Vancouver—that’s where it’s set,” Hayes elaborates. “And you have to know where Victoria’s Secret is.”

      Further revelations will have to wait until showtime—but we can tell you that Hayes and Houle’s Sea and Sky duo has now officially expanded to a trio, with Vetta artistic director Blackman joining the pianist and the clarinetist on violin.

      “We’d been talking about expanding the group, just to tackle some different repertoire,” Houle explains. “Joan had invited us to do a concert with her as part of the Vetta series, and we enjoyed ourselves so much that we decided to pursue that.”

      The musicians won’t be the only ones enjoying themselves at the newly minted trio’s formal debut. Apart from Charles Ives’s dreamlike Largo for Violin, Clarinet and Piano, all of the works on the program include crowd-pleasing elements drawn from folk- or dance-music forms.

      Joan Blackman

      “The first piece we’re going to play is [Patrick Cardy’s] Tango!” Hayes explains. “It’s the quintessential tango—and written by a Canadian composer, no less! We then go into the Ives, which just weaves absolute magic, as only Ives can. But then we get back to the dance theme, and the folk theme. We’ve got Stravinsky, with his own tangos and waltzes and ragtime and marches. And if you’ve heard Paul Schoenfield’s Trio you’ve already got a good taste of the klezmer style of the first movement, the diabolical march in the second, the lamentation of the third, and then that wild crazy wedding dance at the end, the ‘Kozatzke’.”

      Capping things off will be the world premiere of German-Canadian composer Michael Oesterle’s Jo’s Condo, inspired in part by the Japanese composer Jo Kondo. And in that, Houle promises, “all kinds of mad things will unfold.

      “We just finished doing a part that’s like Irish jigs done in the craziest manner; we’ve got lots of blues moments; and absolutely wild fiddle parts for Joan,” the clarinetist adds. “It’s a real treat.”

      Vetta Chamber Music presents Sea to Sky, with special guest Bill Richardson, at Pyatt Hall on Saturday (March 3), and at West Point Grey United Church on Thursday and Friday (March 8 and 9).