Fall arts preview 2017: Composer Nova Pon draws on the rhythms of speech and birdsong

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      Nova Pon presents as a cautious soul, to the extent that she requested written questions before speaking to the Georgia Straight. But it wasn’t a case of the thoughtful and soft-spoken flutist and composer wanting to control the agenda; she’s simply unused to the spotlight.

      “I live under a rock, a bit,” she says by phone from her Bowen Island home, “and my notion of an interview was that everything I said would be printed verbatim, and that it would be really poor reading.”

      Pon’s lack of interest in self-promotion may be partly why, at 34, she’s still seen as an emerging composer, despite a sizable body of excellent work. And then there’s the fact that composers mature more slowly than other musicians—a process that, in Pon’s case, was complicated by her youthful need to explore other options first.

      “I think for a long time I wanted to be a writer,” she says. “I’m naturally drawn to a narrative or journey aspect in any temporal art.”

      That’s borne out by Myosotis, which Brazilian-Canadian pianist Luciane Cardassi will play at the Canadian Music Centre on October 5. Landscape plays a large part in this invocation of mountain solitude, as does text; in it, Cardassi will recite a poem by Monica Meneghetti while playing. And less majestic forms of nature are present, too; the title is the Latin name for the common but beautiful forget-me-not flower.

      “She would have let me do anything,” Pon says of Cardassi’s commission, “but with a collaborator I like seeing what their unique context is, and how it can overlap with my interests. The things we sort of came across included how she likes to use her voice in a kind of extended musicianship, and her interest in going inside the piano, playing on the strings. And also her liking to use text.”

      Like many of Pon’s other works, most notably The Orator, Myosotis is marked by her sensitivity to the rhythms of speech. And it’s not only human chatter that has Pon’s ear. In the William Blake–inspired work she’s now writing for Nicole Li and Corey Hamm’s Piano and Erhu Project, The Winged Life, she’s exploring another of her passions: birdsong.

      Avian vocalizations have fascinated Pon, she says, “ever since I lived near a pond where there were songbirds singing all the time.

      “But with this,” she continues, “it’s in a more complex way: these are songbirds that are trapped and eaten. So it’s sort of about an emotional experience, too: ‘Why is there this tendency to destroy the things we love?’ We can’t just let them be, but we have to dominate or control them.”

      The question of control, Pon adds, is an increasingly complex factor in her own life and work.

      “In a way, I want to let go to chance and the unknown and freedom and being in the moment,” she explains. “And there’s also a part of me that wants to plan things out in great detail. It’s an interesting duality!”