Ana Sokolović: An Imagination for our Timeby Caroline Rodgers
/ December 1, 2011
Flash version here.
The Société de musique contemporaine
du Québec is putting the spotlight on composer Ana Sokolović this
year for the third season of their Série Hommage, previously devoted
to Claude Vivier and Gilles Tremblay.
Born in Belgrade in 1968, the composer
grew up in a creatively and culturally rich environment that gave her
the opportunity, while still very young, to learn ballet, take piano
lessons and act. She has been composing music for the theatre since
her teen years.
After studying composition at the
University of Novi Sad and at the University of Belgrade, she taught
for a few years before deciding to emigrate to Canada in 1992. She completed
a Master’s Degree in composition at the Université de Montréal with
José Evangelista and married Jean Lesage, a fellow composer.
For this neo-Quebecoise, Montreal
is an ideal environment for new music to flourish. “Here, we are very
closely linked to Europe, but there is a liberty in North America that
Europeans do not have. The burden of tradition and judgment weighs little
here; there is an extraordinary open-mindedness that doesn’t exist
anywhere else in the West. I am extremely happy to be able to work here.”
Ana Sokolović’s work is rich and
diverse; opera, chamber music, theatre and dance music, and pieces for
solo instruments have all crossed her creative path. Many prestigious
ensembles and soloists, for example the MSO and the Ensemble contemporain
de Montréal, have commissioned pieces from her and performed her works.
The public will discover Sokolović’s
colourful and original music, infused with the cultural baggage of her
native country, thanks to more than 80 concerts and activities across
the country that are part of the Série Hommage.
Opera, the universal language
Ana Sokolović: A Chronology|
Birth in Belgrade |
1979: Actress at the National Yugoslav Theatre
1980-1981: Television program presenter
1986-1990: Studies in music at the University of Novi Sad
1992: Move to Montreal
1993-1995: Master’s Degree in composition at the Université
1995-1996: First professional concerts in Montreal
1996 à 2011: Composition and premieres of around forty works in
Toronto, Montreal, Winnipeg, London, Halifax, and Banff
First Prize of the CBC Young Composers Competition and Grand Prize in
all categories for Géométrie sentimentale |
2005: Joseph S. Stauffer Prize from the du Canada Council for the
2007: Prix Opus : composer of the year
2009: Canada’s National Arts Centre Prize
Ana Sokolović has already written three operas, all of which were
premiered in Toronto by the Queen of Puddings Music Theatre company.
For her most recent opera, Svadba,
which means “marriage” in Serbian, she drew on the model of Stravinsky’s
Noces, which tells the story of a peasant marriage in Russia. In
this work for six female voices, Sokolović concentrates on the moments
that come before the marriage, on what we call a bridal shower in North
America. Her primary source: songs and texts related to this ritual
at different times in the history of her native Serbia.
“It was very difficult to find
texts, but I did succeed in finding, for example, a song used while
the hair of the bride was coloured. I wrote the libretto myself, drawing
on my research. I learned that the ritual of preparation for marriage
lasted seven days, so there are seven scenes in my opera. They include
everything that can happen when you’re very nervous during the preparation
for an important event: funny moments, touching ones, confrontation.”
The work was premiered last summer
in Toronto. Sung a cappella in Serbian, with English surtitles,
it was described as a tour de force by critics and was very well received
“Even if it’s in Serbian, the
theme is very universal,” says the composer. “There are surtitles,
of course. Nevertheless, what matters most is not whether one
understands all the words but whether one understands emotionally what
is going on. I incorporate made-up language and onomatopoeia into the
piece. I play extensively on the rhythms of the language; its colour
and pronunciation inspire my composition of the music.”
When choosing the main theme of an
opera, universality is essential in her eyes. “What interests me are
the human archetypes presented, the ones that can be transposed to any
age and to any nation. A young girl getting married, whether she is
in India or Quebec, is embarking on a new chapter of her life. The emotional
aspect I want to explore is present everywhere.”
Her two other operas, The Midnight
Court and Love Songs, deal respectively with celibacy and
love. “The Midnight Court deals with celibacy problems in 19th-century
Ireland, and it is based on texts from 1870,” she explains. “But
everyone can see themselves in the characters, because the themes are
human, universal and very contemporary.”
Despite their success, Ana Sokolović
would have very much liked to offer her operas to a Montreal audience!
“Very few operas are premiered here in comparison with Toronto,”
she says. “ Young composers want to write, young singers want to try
new things, and young audiences are hungry for them, but there aren’t
many institutions that offer new operas.”
Today’s music, today’s culture
Unfortunately, the words “contemporary music” often drive the
public away—a situation this composer wants to do all she can to change!
“I’d like to demystify this word
that scares people and that is linked, in their minds, to something
unpleasant. They’re wrong, because contemporary music, the music being
written nowadays, is very different from what was being written forty
or fifty years ago. During the years following the war, in the avant-garde,
there was a desire to discover music in a new way by deconstructing
the form and the parameters that had been in place for centuries. This
period was necessary for the evolution of music; the phenomenon took
place in all the arts. But today, new music takes on so many forms and
follows so many paths that even specialists have difficulty finding
their way around.”
Among the almost infinite choice
of styles and influences, curious listeners can certainly find something
to their liking, on the condition that they try it! Still, if you ask
the ordinary person on the street, it is very difficult to find someone
who can name a single Quebecois composer.
“If people are unable to name Quebec
composers, they will most likely also be unable to name painters or
poets. The problem is not solely linked to music,” she adds.
On this note, according to Sokolović,
the education system should play a more active role in discovery of
the arts and development of general knowledge. The state should also
support the arts and culture and do its part to make music accessible.
But everyone must do his or her part.
“It is also up to us, the composers,
to go out and get the audience. Culture stimulates the imagination.
And we must not forget that the world will always be more interesting
if we exercise our creativity in every area, whether it is the arts,
sciences or politics. Without imagination, the world cannot go forward.”
[Translation: Ariadne Lih]
Performances of Ana Sokolović’s
pieces in December and January:
» Université de Montréal Orchestra, December 3, 7:30 p.m., salle Claude-Champagne
» Ensemble musique avenir, Conservatoire de musique de Montréal,
December 7, 7:30 p.m.
» Voice and saxophone concert, Tanna Schulich hall, January 13, 8:00
» Molinari Quartet, Conservatoire de musique de Montréal,
January 26, 8:00 p.m.
For a complete list of the events
of the Série Hommage, visit the SMCQ’s website at www.smcq.qc.ca