Villainy arrives in the world of classical music; Calgary collaboration involves piano, dance, film and supervillains


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The first discussions between composer Vincent Ho and classical pianists Lana Henchell and Akiko Tominaga took strange turns.

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Ho, a Juno-nominated composer, had been commissioned by the two musicians to adapt his piece for solo piano Supervillain Studies for two pianos as part of a multidisciplinary project combining music, dance and cinema. He found it explaining to Henchell and Tominaga the unique inspiration behind the separate sections. They are each inspired by some of Batman’s most ruthless enemies, including the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, Catwoman, Two-Face, and Poison Ivy. Ho had delved into the psychological makeup of each of them while composing the piece, revealing a tangle of narcissism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress and general duality that seemed perfectly suited for a duo. of piano. The revelations not only added information that humanized the subjects, but they also provided refreshing and original preparation notes.

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“I’m really drawn to this imaginative and creative world,” says Henchell. “I love contemporary music for this very idea that you can be so free and crazy. You can go places you might not be able to go when you’re playing Beethoven. I especially love trying to imagine characters different when I play.

On October 22, The Globe Cinema will host two world premieres. This will include Henchell and Tominaga’s first performance of Ho’s Studies, which have now been retitled The Supervillian Duos, and the first screening of Villainy, a short film by Emil Agopian which follows the adventures of a dancer (former Alberta Ballet director Yukichi Hattori) who encounters a group of villains, albeit with different names than DC’s infamous antagonists. Both the film and the choreography were inspired by the etudes, which will be performed live by Henchell and Tominaga on two grand pianos as the film unfolds in this old-school tradition of musicians providing a live soundtrack to silent movements. in theatres.

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Vincent Ho on the Juno Awards red carpet in London, Ontario.  in 2019. It was nominated for Classical Composition of the Year.  Postmedia files
Vincent Ho on the Juno Awards red carpet in London, Ontario. in 2019. It was nominated for Classical Composition of the Year. Postmedia files Photo by Derek Ruttan /Derek Ruttan/London Free Press

Ho worked with dancers and choreographers during the initial creation of Supervillain Études, which found him developing six characters based on comic book villains who had been placed in an asylum rather than a prison. He then delved into each villain’s psychological profiles that included the troubles that led them to a life of crime and provided them to the dancer-choreographers to discuss what their physical language would be like. It provided a fascinating jumping-off point for Henchell, who was drawn to the idea of ​​applying contemporary classical music to some of the more pop elements of pop culture, particularly comic books.

“It’s so popular today,” she says. “People are really interested in these films – the Batman universe, the Avengers – so I saw this as a unique opportunity to broaden our reach and focus on a different angle so people are more excited about it. idea to find out.”

Contemporary classical music in general, and Ho’s compositions in particular, are well suited to this kind of crossover, Henchell says. The The study inspired by The Joker, for example, begins as a wild and playful flourish and includes musical allusions to both Julius Fucik’s Gladiator’s Entry and Chopsticks’ famous piano waltz that sounds both comical , disturbed and threatening.

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The Penguin-inspired piece, Gotham’s flabby, respect-seeking crime boss, has a different vibe, Henchell says.

“It’s choppy and we basically play very rhythmic, accented, textured music,” she says. “When you have the image of the Penguin himself, with the long nose and the short caricature of a man, you make it more irregular. You feel the accents and a little different and you can play one against the other. another in a different way.

Hechell is originally from Calgary and is currently a professor of piano at the University of Calgary. She made her orchestral debut with the Calgary Civic Symphony at age 13 and performed as a soloist with the Portuguese Orchestra Orquestra Classica do Centro and the Montreal Chamber Orchestra, among others. Tominaga was born in Japan and currently works at the Mount Royal Conservatory in Calgary and has collaborated with the city’s Juno-nominated Land’s End Ensemble.

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Ho, who is artistic director of the Land’s End Ensemble and advisor to the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, is used to finding musical inspiration from unusual sources. His Arctic Symphony, which earned him a Juno nomination in 2019, stems from a 2008 excursion he took as an “artist on board” the CCGS Amundsen, an Arctic research vessel.

Henchell says she hopes to launch similar events in theaters across Canada at some point, though she admits it’s not easy to find theaters that can handle two grand pianos. Given its connection to comic book culture, she also believes the project has educational potential in schools.

Either way, the idea of ​​artists breaking out of isolated silos to collaborate across disciplines offers a map of the future, she says.

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“These unique creative processes that we all got to participate in really challenged and stimulated our own artistic skills in a way that we had never done before. It really ended up being a collaborative study. The whole project was a study,” she says.

“Our sector has really suffered during the pandemic. It’s been really exciting to bring people together again and reconnect with our community and in this new way we’re able to connect with different parts of this artistic community and not just be separated in our own little worlds like we have been. I hope this will be a creative new way to experience art and an opportunity for Calgarians to hear new music in a new and fun setting.

The world premiere of Villainy and Supervillain Duos will be at Globe Cinema on October 22 at 7 p.m.

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