Allegra Chamber Orchestra is celebrating its fifth birthday with a cross-Canada, all-female, contemporary classical music event.
Starting June 25, Allegra will present a virtual concert experience called: FestivELLE. The event, which takes place over three nights, features the Allegra Chamber Orchestra playing concertos commissioned and written by female-identifying composers from across Canada. These composers are a mix of the well-established and newly-emerging.
“Basically, this is all of Allegra’s season condensed down into a one-weekend event,” Sailor told the Georgia Straight in a telephone interview. “It’s really exciting to see it finally come together in our workshops and rehearsals this week, after all this time.”
“Of course, it’s not looking like anything we originally planned because of COVID,” she added. “But in a way, I wonder if it will be more of an asset to us. It’s not a project that will last a night, but it’s something that is alive online and can be shared.”
In the past year, Allegra has incorporated a virtual-approach into its newly-established Composer Mentorship, introducing six female-identifying students from across the country to take part in it. These six mentees will be featured in FestivELLE, alongside three of Canada’s best-known female composers: Vancouver’s own Rita Ueda and Elizabeth Knudson, as well as Toronto-based, Juno-nominated composer Alice Ping Yee Ho. Each of the three nights will feature a different established composer, as well as two of the emerging composers.
The new Canadian contemporary classical-music artists to be showcased are: Mari-Alice Conrad and Ashley Seward from Alberta; British Columbia residents Maria Eduarda Mendes Martins, Athena-Pallas Loredo, and Sasha Kow; and Holly Winter from Newfoundland. Original pieces of music that each student-composer has been working on for the past six months will be featured in the event.
“As we were workshopping and diving into the mentee-composer pieces, I was struck by how deeply personal each one of their works is,” Sailor says. “They’re such new, unique voices. They don’t sound like anyone else.”
Storytelling in the emerging-artist pieces ranges from one composer’s experience with being a trans woman, another writing about a loved one’s battle with dementia, and one woman paying tribute to the first-ever documented female composer.
Another emerging composer decided to dedicate her piece to her struggle with imposter syndrome, Sailor says. “This piece deals with how all of us have negative self-talk, and how we all struggle. We’re all our own worst enemy – so that piece has very grating and affronting parts. But then, something changes in the music, which represents community and kindness and connection, and that transforms the whole piece of music into something really beautiful. It’s that kind of stuff that really gets to me.”
Sailor says that the wide variety of topics explored will offer something for everyone – including new fans of the genre: “Even if contemporary classical music is something new to them [the audience], there’s something relatable in each and every one of these pieces. There’s a thread of humanity throughout each of them which we can all relate to. And with COVID, these stories are just all the more poignant and reflective.”
Including solely female voices in the event goes hand-in-hand with Allegra Chamber Orchestra’s motto: “Women helping women through music.”
“We really wanted and needed a space to just create,” Sailor says, of Allegra’s beginning’s back in 2016. “To create, free of some of the politics and things that can be present in a traditional orchestra setting. At that time- it was at the height of the #MeToo movement and there were a lot of toxic situations that we were dealing with in the arts community and amongst ourselves, and this was to counteract that in a positive way by celebrating who we were and what we could do.”
Now, the group not only champions female voices but also minority and marginalized perspectives. In the summer of 2020, Allegra Chamber Orchestra performed a Jocelyn Morlock piece called “Solace” in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. This year, the company has worked with the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra to develop an Indigenous event, featuring Métis soprano Melody Courage, which will be happening in August.
“When we get back to performing in public, we’ll be doing it from a more-informed place,” Sailor says. “Every voice should be given a chance to be heard on stage ... That’s always been our mission, from the very beginning. It’s not just one perspective or culture that should be represented.”
As Allegra Chamber Orchestra completes the final rehearsals in preparation for next week’s virtual event, it’s also marking its birthday on June 26.
“It’s a fun way to celebrate being five,” Sailor says with a laugh. “And having survived COVID.”