The Canadian Mavericks of Aventa Ensemble Come to Brooklyn

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Search for Aventa Ensemble on YouTube and you’ll find the group high atop the various diving boards at the Vancouver Aquatic Center in a setting that is nicely apropos of the group's inventive approach to music-making. For the past ten years, the Victoria-based ensemble has enriched Canada’s presence in the new-music scene by commissioning over 100 works, and hosted an annual workshop to develop the talents of young Canadian composers. On Thursday, Feb. 28, the group appears at Roulette as part of the Ear Heart Music series to premiere works by Simon Steen-Anderson and Rolf Wallin.

    Artistic director Bill Linwood took time out to answer a few questions about the origins of Aventa, the group's mission and what to expect from future projects and premieres.

    Talk about the origin of the ensemble's name – does "Aventa" have special meaning?

    Aventa does not actually have a meaning! The name is entirely fabricated and was loosely based on “event” – from there it just morphed into Aventa. We tend to present a wide range of repertoire; so one aspect of the name we were careful to avoid was any reference to a composer or work.

    Aventa Ensemble’s mission statement is to promote and cultivate new music in British Columbia and Canada. In the ten years of the group’s existence, how have you seen the new-music scene develop in these areas?

    Over the past several years the Canada Council for the Arts (as well as many of the provincial governments) has increased support for national and international touring giving our ensembles the opportunity of presenting Canadian repertoire both at home and abroad. In turn this has opened the door for meaningful international exchange, further enriching our own musical community. The last several years has also seen stability within the commissioning program, which allows for the strategic programming of Canadian repertoire.

    The instrumentation of the group is a mixture of brass, wind, string and percussion instruments. How did you decide on this specific formation?

    Aventa is based on the Sinfonietta model, which features a string quintet, wind quintet, additional brass, percussion and piano. It’s an extremely versatile instrumentation, which allows our ensemble to tackle a wide range of repertoire. That being said, we’re not locked into this – for example some seasons may feature repertoire as diverse as Pierre Boulez’s Le Marteau sans maître to Georg Friedrich Haas’ expansive masterpiece in vain.

    Aventa works heavily with young Canadian composers in its annual Ignite! Workshop. Speak on the experience of working with these emerging talents.

    Ignite! has proven to be as valuable for our ensemble as for the emerging composers who attend the workshop. Over the past years, we’ve been introduced to some incredible talent – young composers that we continue to work with today. In addition, it’s been an honour for our ensemble to work with composers such as Britain’s Michael Finnissy, who has acted as mentor for two recent Ignites.

    The ensemble has a long standing relationship with composer Gavin Bryars, having recorded and performed The Sinking of the Titanic, as well as commissioning a full-length opera based on the life of Marilyn Monroe. Bryars’s Marilyn, Forever is set to debut in Victoria later this year. What can we expect from this brand new work?

    Gavin Bryars’ Marilyn, Forever brings two extraordinary artists to the role of Marilyn and “her men” – the Faroese chanteuse Eivør Pálsdóttir and Copenhagen’s Thomas Sandberg. Sharing the stage is a jazz trio featuring Canada’s Phil Dwyer (saxophone), Anthony Genge (piano) and the composer on double bass, with a small chamber orchestra in the pit.  More importantly, rather than just relating a story, Bryars has the genius to release the emotional triggers beneath the surface.

    The works on your Roulette program present an eclectic mix of style and medium. What’s the connecting thread as a concert experience?

    Initially our concept revolved around the combination of percussion and voice – this was especially evident in the commission from Michel Gonneville where each vocalist has a “companion” percussionist. As the program developed we explored the relationship of music to theatre, from the more operatic approach of Quebec’s Michel Gonneville to the more formal, yet sensuous, setting of Kaija Saariaho’s The Tempest Songbook. As a contrast – or perhaps challenge – we offer the North American premiere of Denmark’s Simon Steen-Andersen’s Black Box Music. On one hand a parody of the theatric and orchestral experience – on the other completely joyful, understanding and respectful.

    You mentioned Simon Steen-Andersen’s Black Box Music, which is one of the works receiving its U.S. premiere. How would you describe this piece to someone who has never heard or seen it before?

    Imagine a darkened stage, completely empty with the exception of a black box and the soloist’s (Norway’s Håkon Stene) head emerging from behind. In the opening minute we see a light flickering across the back wall in complete silence. Suddenly the stage is filled with the image of drawn stage curtains and we see the interior of the box projected across the entire back wall of the hall. After several stuttering attempts at the opening flourish of a concert we can finally follow Håkon’s hands as he performs from within the box. At first his relationship with the ensemble is more passive – he responds, cajoles and mimics – but as the work proceeds into the third movement he becomes far more aggressive, “grabbing the baton” at the onset and eventually leading from within the box and wrestling away the conductor’s role.