It’s summer, and for more than a few arts programmers it’s time to skew light—so how come Dorothea Hayley has lifted a theme from Game of Thrones for the Blueridge Chamber Music Festival’s August run?
“I like to begin with a kernel of a poetic idea when I start programming,” the event’s co–artistic director explains, on the phone from her East Vancouver home, noting that for 2017 she’s been fascinated by the phrase “Red Wedding”. For those who haven’t been following what’s been going on in Westeros, that’s the name given to the massacre that took place at the nuptials of House Stark’s Edmure Tully and House Frey’s Roslin Frey.
It’s not like the long knives will be out when Blueridge presents its nine-concert series—four shows that will each be performed twice, in North Vancouver and the city proper, alongside a piano recital by Shoshana Telner. In fact, the festival will open on a warm and friendly note with music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Anton Dvořák, although it will then get darker and stranger before closing with a brooding string-quintet arrangement of Ludwig van Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata and Dmitri Shostakovich’s enigmatic Piano Quintet in G Minor.
“The season plays out like a relationship: it begins in a positive and uplifting sense, and then kind of goes wrong,” Hayley says. “And there’s this instance of betrayal right at the centre of it all.”
That betrayal, she continues, inspired Peter Maxwell Davies’s Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot, which will also give Hayley a chance to display her own considerable prowess as a soprano.
“I’ve been wanting to do this piece for a long time,” she says. “The story is about a woman—a real woman—in Australia. She lived in the 1800s, and she became the model for the Dickens character Miss Havisham. So this was a real lady who was jilted on the day of her wedding, and then lived in her house with the wedding breakfast laid out on her table for the rest of her life, and lived in her wedding gown. The preamble to the score quotes a news article describing her condition, and it’s exactly like Miss Havisham.”
Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot, she continues, is a companion piece to Davies’s better-known Eight Songs for a Mad King, but it’s less of a vocal tour de force and more of a character study. “It’s very bawdy, I would say, and sexual,” Hayley notes. “Her frustrated desires come out in all kinds of weird and wonderful ways, so that’s been fun to tackle. And I’m going to have a costume made by [acclaimed designer] Diane Park; I haven’t seen anything yet, but she’s said something about a really gigantic hoop skirt, which apparently was the mode in the year that Miss Donnithorne was set to be married.”
Celebratory cake will be served at both performances of Miss Donnithorne’s Maggot, although in deference to contemporary mores Blueridge is opting for cupcakes rather than the marzipan-covered wedding variety. For some listeners, though, the icing on the series will be the chance to hear a pair of works by composer in residence Chris Paul Harman—especially Midnight With the Stars and You, which shares the final program with the Beethoven and Shostakovich works.
The title sounds romantic, although Hayley says Harman’s piece is anything but.
“This one is based on a song by [British crooner] Al Bowlly—and it’s actually the song that is featured in the movie The Shining,” she explains. “It’s a very sweet and syrupy song, but it’s taken on these very dark connotations because of its association with this very dark movie, and Chris really delves into that darkness.…In a way, it almost makes the Shostakovich seem sunny.”
Odd programming for summer, perhaps, but should July’s sun-spangled heat wave continue into August, a little darkness might be just the ticket.
The Blueridge Chamber Music Festival takes place at the Orpheum Annex, St. Mark’s Anglican Church, and Mount Seymour United Church from Saturday (August 5) to August 19.