Björk (Björk Gudmundsdottir) is an Icelandic alternative rock singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer and occasional actress. She initially became known as the lead singer of the alternative rock band The Sugarcubes. Björk began her career as a solo artist in 1993. Her first album, Debut, was rooted in electronic dance music, house, jazz and trip-hop, and is widely credited as one of the first albums to introduce electronic dance music into mainstream pop. Now in the third decade of her solo career, Björk has developed an eclectic musical style that incorporates aspects of dance, rock, trip-hop, jazz, electronic, classical, experimental and avant-garde music.
Björk has won four BRIT Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, one MOJO Award, three UK Music Video Awards, 21 Icelandic Music Awards and, in 2010, the Polar Music Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in recognition of her "deeply personal music and lyrics, her precise arrangements and her unique voice." She has also been nominated for 14 Grammy Awards (plus two for art direction on her album sleeves, done by others), one Academy Award, and two Golden Globe Awards. She won the Best Actress Award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in Dancer in the Dark. Her 2011 album, Biophilia, was the first album to be released as a series of interactive apps, and in 2014 these apps were the first ever to be inducted into the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection. A full-scale retrospective exhibition dedicated to Björk will be shown at the Museum of Modern Art in 2015, one of the few musicians to land one.
In 2000, Björk released the album Selmasongs, which was the soundtrack to the film from the same year entitled Dancer in the Dark. The album opens with the Overture to Dancer in the Dark, for brass and timpani. The film itself was nominated for many awards, including the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Björk won an Academy Award for best song in a film for the song I’ve Seen It All.
These songs are all taken from the Paper Beat Scissors self-titled debut album (2012) and upcoming album Go On (to be released in August 2015). The orchestrations took as their starting point pre-existing arrangements performed or recorded with significantly smaller chamber ensembles in the past. Over the last 6 months they were expanded, augmented and, in some places, reimagined to make the most of the opportunities presented by the collaboration with Nova Sinfonia. Gina Burgess, Devin Wesley, Michael Chisholm, David Christensen and Nathan Beeler were all instrumental in assisting with the development and editing of the scores and I couldn’t have started or finished this without them. Huge, huge thanks.
I was excited about the idea of writing a slow, low, almost hymn-like introduction on the brass, building to a climax before being stripped away to just the guitar and voice. The brass returns in the first chorus, trading off as the centre of focus with the strings between and within sections, before the two work together in the bridge. At numerous points in the song harmonizing lines move closer before holding a semi-tone harmony, creating tension, then passing on again, giving a sense of moving close and stepping back, a sense of tension and release.
My older brother is a drummer and when we were younger he loved setting me what were, essentially, rhythmic tongue twisters playing in one time signature on one hand, a different one on the other. I didn’t get much beyond tapping out 4 against 3, but some of that rhythmic stuff embedded itself in my brain and finds its way out every now and then, this song being a good example of that. The song is about a lot of different things, but one of the stronger themes to me is of standing in the way of yourself.
This song is about the potential folly of trying to understand everything. The orchestra floats around the anchor of the guitar in the verses before taking a driving centre stage in the 2nd chorus. Here the woodwinds pick up the ascending motif laid down by the guitar in the 1st instrumental chorus before the vocals enter and a low, slow snaking second melody (written by Montreal-based collaborator Gregory Burton) enters to shift the focus once more. After the climax the orchestra drops away piece by piece.
Put briefly, the song is about finding a time to stop beating yourself up over things that have happened and can no longer be affected. In terms of the arrangement, I’m in love with the simple, hypnotic, propulsive harmonies in minimalist music and wanted to write an arrangement for Enough in this vein.
The centre of this song is the twinned vocal and guitar melody. The voice and lyrical pattern initially dictated the rhythmic flow of the song, and I wanted to preserve that in developing the song. As such, in returning to formalize the song, rather than restrict every vocal line to sit over a single metre the song moves between 6:4 and 4:4 almost sporadically. The brass arpeggio arrangement in the climax was written by Gregory Burton, on the spot, during a recording session for the first album. This song is about the surprising kindnesses that can be found during dark times.
I originally wrote Pier 21 Overture for Symphony Nova Scotia in 1998. The orchestra sponsored an arrangers’ workshop, mentored by Howard Cable and Scott MacMillan, to encourage orchestral arrangements of Maritime folk music. I wanted to write something using the slip-jig metre, which is a distinctly Irish tradition. I was also fascinated by the idea of immigrants coming to Nova Scotia, bringing their traditions with them. So I used two Irish fiddle tunes: “The Hills of Ireland” and “Dublin Streets” and the Nova Scotian folk song “The Hills and Glens.” Pier 21 Overture seemed an appropriate name, although I later learned that most of the Irish wave of immigration happened before Pier 21 was built. But the celebration of our immigration history is what the piece is really about.
Aaron Copland was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later in his career a conductor of his own and other American music. Instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition, in his later years he was often referred to as "the Dean of American Composers" and is best known to the public for the works he wrote in the 1930s and 1940s in a deliberately accessible style often referred to as Populist and which the composer labeled his "vernacular" style. Works in this vein include the ballets Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid and Rodeo, his Fanfare for the Common Man and Third Symphony. The open, slowly changing harmonies of many of his works are archetypical of what many people consider to be the sound of American music, evoking the vast American landscape and pioneer spirit. In addition to his ballets and orchestral works, he produced music in many other genres including chamber music, vocal works, opera and film scores.
The Boston Pops Orchestra premiered Four Dance Episodes from Rodeo in this form in 1943. The work is an abridged and slightly adapted version of the music that Copland composed for the Ballet Rodeo: The Courting at Burnt Ranch. In his adaptation Copland leaves out one of the episodes from the ballet (Ranch House Party) to create a Fast-Slow-Dance-Fast symphonic form for the work.
Unlike much of Copland’s work, where he is inspired by traditional folk music, this work contains complete folk songs. This is because the choreographer, Agnus deMille had already choreographed the ballet before commissioning Copland to compose the music, and gave Copland transcriptions the songs to use in the composition.
The last movement, Hoedown, uses an almost a note-for-note lift of Bonaparte’s Retreat, a fiddle tune as performed by Kentucky fiddler William H. Stepp. The other movements similarly use traditional tunes and songs. Copland’s mastery of orchestration is so very much apparent in the energy, life and drive these traditional tunes have in the orchestral medium.
7:30 pm, Faith Tabernacle Church, 6225 Summit Street, Halifax, NS
Tickets available online, at the door, Taz, the Bowed Instrument Shop.