Couloir's Heidi Krutzen and Ariel Barnes return home for border-crossing VSO concert

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      Although their duo Couloir formed in Vancouver, harpist Heidi Krutzen and cellist Ariel Barnes now find themselves working mostly in Europe, with Barnes having taken a position with the Nürnberger Symphoniker and Krutzen plying her trade with London’s Philharmonia Orchestra. After some time off to settle into their new roles, the two have become de facto ambassadors for Canadian music, and it seems they have no shortage of opportunities to promote our country’s composers—who, Krutzen says with no small amount of pride, “are the best”.

      “We’ve got a very large work that [former Vancouver Symphony Orchestra composer in residence] Jeffrey Ryan wrote for us—about a 35-minute piece—that we’re hoping to premiere very soon,” she continues, reached by phone during a visit to her parents’ North Shore home. “We have a double concerto that [Vancouver-born] James Maxwell is writing for us, commissioned by Turning Point, that we’ll be premiering next November in Vancouver. And hopefully [Serbian-Canadian innovator] Ana Sokolović’s piece is not too far off. So we’re getting going again, and getting quite excited about the possibilities.”

      Less exciting, she admits, is the political climate in Europe: the looming catastrophe of Brexit could make Couloir business considerably more difficult to conduct.

      “It’s horrible,” the harpist says after a long and expressive sigh. “The loss already is tremendous, and the stress that EU citizens are going through is creating an extremely, extremely ugly environment there. I have to hope that a coalition of Labour and Tories is going to come together and somehow force a second referendum—because Brexit will not happen if we get a second referendum.”

      So it’s appropriate that what she, Barnes, and conductor Bramwell Tovey (in his big return as VSO music director emeritus) will perform when they return to visit the VSO this week celebrates the way that music transcends both borders and cultures to make a universal statement. They’ll interpret Kelly-Marie Murphy’s En el escuro es todo uno, commissioned by the Azrieli Foundation (and sharing the program with the VSO’s renditions of Anton Bruckner’s Symphony No. 6 in A Major and Claude Debussy’s Danses sacrée et profane).

      “It’s based on Ladino folk melodies, mostly, from several different countries where Sephardic Jews ended up. Bulgaria, Turkey, and Sarajevo are some of the places,” Krutzen says of Murphy’s En el escuro es todo uno. “And it strikes a really interesting balance between folk music and new music, you know. She does that very well with the soundscape of the piece—with the tonal quality and also with the ambiance that she creates.

      “The title translates as In the Darkness, All Is One,” she says, “and I think that’s quite a profound message in today’s world, when everything is in such a mess.”

      Heidi Krutzen and Ariel Barnes of Couloir join the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra at the Orpheum on Friday and Saturday (February 1 and 2).