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Symphony, throat singers to perform in communities

MSO brings Inuit-inspired program to Nunavik

By JANE GEORGE

Concert-goers will float down a musical river of throat singing, the sound of rocks and melodies from a violin, horn, and other instruments when the Montreal Symphony Orchestra plays in three Nunavik communities next week.

Seven MSO musicians, under the direction of music director Kent Nagano, two throat singers and a narrator will perform "The River," during the tour, co-sponsored by the MSO and Nunavik's Avataq Cultural Institute.

Award-winning Canadian composer Alexina Louie composed "The River," which blends western classical music with unusual percussion items and throat singing by Montreal-based performers Taqralik Partridge and Evie Mark, especially for the Nunavik tour.

The piece is one in a series of musical movements composed by Louie, which were inspired by Inuit culture and the North. They'll be performed, along with two other well-known favourites of classical music, Sept. 12 in Inukjuak, Sept. 13 in Kangiqsujuaq and Sept. 14 in Kuujjuaq.

During the concerts, filmmaker Jobie Weetaluktuk, dressed in a sombre black and grey silapak, will also appear on stage with the MSO ensemble to recite a spoken text that is part of "The Soldier's Tale" by Russian composer Igor Stravinsky.

"The Soldier's Tale" dates from 1918. But, despite its age, Weetaluktuk said everyone can identify with the story of a man who makes a bad deal when he trades his fiddle to the devil for a book predicting the future.

"He's dealing with the devil, so there is a lot of deception. What you think is the truth is not exactly so," Weetaluktuk said.

The soldier also discovers that material things aren't the most important things in life: "You must not seek to add/To what you have, what you once had… No one can have it all/That is forbidden/You must learn to choose between," is the lesson the soldier learns.

"That's what a lot of people throughout their life do find out. We often hear about people on their deathbed or in their old age having a change of heart," reflected Weetaluktuk.

Weetaluktuk is known for his documentary films, "Urban Inuk" and "Umiaq Skin Boat," and his voicing of the Inuttitut narration of the IMAX film, "Great North," and the BBC's "A Boy Among the Polar Bears."

Zebedee Nungak did the Inuttitut translation of the French poem on which Stravinsky based "The Soldier's Tale." The result includes some adaptations, for example, calling the devil a "tungaq."

Quebec actor, stage director and playwright Alexis Martin is working with Weetaluktuk on staging the Inuttitut version of "The Soldier's Tale."

"Sometimes I'm really into the story. Sometimes I even dream about the story," said Weetaluktuk, reached at his home in Montreal where he has been practicing his part. "When I'm reading my lines, it gets too much, and I have to do the dishes or vacuum."

During next week's concerts, Weetaluktuk will have to overcome any nervousness he might feel about performing in front of friends and family. The same goes for Taqralik Partridge and Evie Mark, both experienced performers and throat-singers in their own right.

Partridge, best known for her spoken word performances, said she's feeling nervous because there are so many fine throat singers in Nunavik who will hear her perform.

But, her own nervousness aside, Partridge, who works for Avataq as its communications officer, is sure everyone will enjoy the MSO concert program.

"It's just going to be such an event, they'll be interested in seeing it. It's a real physical experience," she said.

Mark said she was impressed when she heard conductor Nagano talk about how classical music can acquire a power larger than the musicians playing it.

"He said when they're really playing well together that the music seems to come from outside. It just clicks. It has a life of its own and streams in perfectly," Mark said.

That's a feeling she said she's also experienced while throat singing.

The concert program for the Nunavik tour also includes Eine Kleine Nachtmusik "A Small Serenade") composed in 1787 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

A special preview of the MSO program in Nunavik will be held Sept. 10 for Inuit in Montreal.

The next day, the seven musicians, conductor, performers and staff head north in a Dash-8 chartered from Air Inuit.

Along for the ride are a film crew, photographer, as well as a sound system, chairs and music stands for the MSO musicians, and, of course, their instruments.

In Inukjuak, as well as in Kangiqsujuaq and Kuujjuaq, MSO musicians plan to hold workshops with local students, introducing their instruments and talking about the composers featured on the evening program.

It's the MSO's first tour in northern Quebec, although a larger number of musicians from the 100-member orchestra traveled to Yukon last year where they played in small community venues, like school gym. That's a far cry from the MSO's posh 3,000-seat concert home at the Place des Arts performing arts complex in Montreal.

When asked whether sound would be a problem in Nunavik, MSO technician Marc-André Charron admitted there could be some echoes when the musicians play, but that "the more people who come, the more it will help us to absorb the sound."

Although concert audiences in the South are generally so silent you can hear a pin drop, the MSO musicians aren't expecting the same in Nunavik.

Charron said everyone on the tour, including conductor Nagano, is more concerned about introducing Nunavimmiut to music they may not know than having perfect acoustics.

Nagano, originally from California, comes to Nunavik with a world-wide reputation for leading numerous orchestras and opera companies in Europe and the United States. He also serves as musical director of the Bavarian State Opera in Germany.

His Nunavik tour is financed by a long list of sponsors, including Hydro-Quebec, Desjardins Caisse d'économie solidaire, the Fédération des cooperatives du nouveau-Québec, the Kativik Regional Government, the Kativik School Board, Canadian Royalties Inc., Air Inuit, Makivik Corp., the J. Armand Bombardier Foundation and many others.

"This is a great chance for Nunavimmiut to experience music that we have only heard in movies and on television," said Avataq'a president Charlie Arngak on a web site dedicated to the tour at: nunavik.osm.ca.

Evening performances, free to the public, start at 8 p.m. at Inukjuak's Innalik School, the Qaqqiq community centre in Kangiqsujuaq and the Kaitittavik centre in Kuujjuaq. Workshops are scheduled for 3 p.m. the day of the concerts in each of three communities.

The Sept. 10 open rehearsal for the Montreal Inuit community takes place from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. in the Bon-Pasteur chapel at 100 Sherbrooke St. East.

For those who miss the concerts, there will be a chance to see Catbird Productions' documentary about the Nunavik tour, which will be broadcast later on Radio-Canada and APTN.

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