Friday, July 18, 2014

The Orpheus Project

It makes sense that Orpheus, who with lyre is said to have been able to charm all living things (with the notable exception of the Maenads, which would be his undoing), should be such an inspiration to musicians. However, his story is so gripping--losing his wife, Eurydice, twice; eschewing women for men following this; angering those Maenads as a result--that he has also inspired countless other artists working across a range of disciplines, including those with a queer sensibility, like Rainer Maria Rilke and Jean Cocteau.

Rilke's Sonnets to Orpheus and Cocteau's film Orphée are two of the main sources of inspiration for Music on Main's The Orpheus Project, an ambitious immersive musical and theatrical experience conceived by Artistic Director David Pay and on through this Sunday at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. Divided into four colour-coded groups, audience members are lead throughout the Cultch complex, including its two main performance spaces, the Historic Theatre and the Culture Lab, but also its underused wine bar, a downstairs dressing room, and various nooks and alcoves. There we encounter nine musical "installations" (ten counting the spoken word oracles offered up by Colin Browne and Jocelyn Morlock) arranged around various aspects of the Orpheus myth, and as derived from different source texts. That seven of these installations are original compositions--by James Maxwell (x 2), Jocelyn Morlock, Cassandra Miller, Barry Truax, Veda Hille, and Alfredo Santa Ana--commissioned especially for this work is just one of the most thrilling aspects of the evening. Another is how seamlessly those compositions' different styles--from the wistful wind and harpsichord lyricism of Maxwell to the electroacoustic sounds of Truax and the cabaret songs of Hille--go together.

Of course, credit for this must also go to the wonderful ensemble assembled by Pay for this project, who come together at the close of the evening, with all the groups now assembled in the Historic Theatre, to perform Music on Main Managing Director Santa Ana's "For Pity Divine." This gorgeous concluding piece brings all of the different musical and thematic threads of the evening together. A splendid finish to a magical evening.


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