You can hear the other side of three Ottawa musicians with strong ties to jazz, in a series of three concerts this winter at GigSpace.


Elise Letourneau's latest project follows an award-winning year for her   ©Brett Delmage, 2012
Elise Letourneau's latest project follows an award-winning year for her ©Brett Delmage, 2012
hat's the classical and new music side, although jazz won't be forgotten either.

Organized by vocalist Elise Letourneau, the series is called “The Composer Performs”. Each concert will feature a musician playing strictly their own music, with (or in one case without) other collaborators.

The series starts with cellist and guitarist Jan Järvlepp on Friday, January 4, followed by Letourneau on February 1, and ends with percussionist Jesse Stewart on March 1.

All three musicians write music that crosses boundaries, Letourneau said. Järvlepp “has done a lot of music on cello in symphonic and chamber settings as well as guitar. So he's long had a foot in both camps; I've long had a foot in both camps myself. Jesse is … so much of his stuff is improv-based, certainly, but it doesn't necessarily fit squarely in the box of jazz. A lot of music doesn't, anymore.”

The seed money for the project came from a grant from the Canadian Music Centre to “create new listening experiences for people in places where they weren't being done before. I thought it would be a great idea to have a chance to do contemporary classical crossover type of stuff at GigSpace and there wasn't any of that happening yet.”

She said she left it open whether the musicians wanted to “premiere brand-new stuff or revisit older stuff or if they wanted to do a combination.” The only requirement was that it had to be all their own work.

The audience will also have a special role at each performance: there will be time – either between pieces or at the end of the show – for them and the performer to chat. “So often there isn't much chance for artists and audience to dialogue on what they they've just heard. The GigSpace is an intimate space to begin with, and it just seemed so natural to have that as a place where the audience could ask questions or if there were reasons why that piece of music needed to get composed that the artist wanted to share with the audience … it's just so close and personal in that space that it just seems very natural.”

"This is going to be a fun concert for sure!"

Letourneau said she looked at many local composers: “it was very hard to pick”, but Järvlepp was early on her list. He has written music for jazz ensembles, chamber music groups, orchestras, and even the Peace Tower carillon.

“I figured that with each one it would be different sets of sounds, different focuses, and the music that I heard on Jan's website I really enjoyed. It was simultaneously serious and you could tell that he had a sense of humour at times, and quirkiness at times – and this passion that came through the music to me. And so I asked him more about it and he sent me a CD with more things and I was like 'Oh yeah … this is going to be a fun concert for sure!' And I was thrilled when he said yes.”

The January 4 concert is entitled “Järvlepp @ 60”, she said, because he's using it as a way to musically celebrate his 60th birthday. He will play cello, along with five other musicians playing violins, viola, flute and piano.

Jesse Stewart's concert in March will feature him playing solo percussion and drumset. He said he hasn't yet determined what will be on the programme.

Music enhances poetry

Letourneau's concert in February will include five pieces, ranging from pieces for solo piano and for flute and bass flute, to choral pieces, one based on a poem by 19th century Canadian poet Archibald Lampman. This won't be the first time Letourneau has combined poetry with choral music: several concerts by the Capital Vox Jazz Choir, where Letourneau is music director, have featured poetry, either sung or spoken.

But the centrepiece of the concert will be a new piece: “Four Love Poems by E.E. Cummings” for double choir and jazz trio. The jazz trio will be Mark Ferguson (piano), John Geggie (bass), and Marilee Townsend-Alcorn (percussion); they will be joined by Letourneau on bass flute and vocals, and seven other vocalists.

The 18-minute piece is actually being premiered a few weeks before (January 18) in Vancouver by the Vancouver Chamber Choir, accompanied by well-known B.C. jazz musicians Jodi Proznick on bass and Miles Black on piano. Letourneau said she would be flying there to hear the first performance: “I can't wait!”

And jazz will be part of the trip, too: she'll perform at Cory Weeds' Cellar on January 16 with Black and guitarist Bill Coon.

An award-winning year

The Vancouver choir performance culminates a successful year by Letourneau. Not only did Capital Vox release its first CD, consisting of her musical compositions based on poems by different authors, but two of her choral compositions won awards. Her "Ave Maria", written in response to the news of a friend's serious illness, won 2011 Ruth Watson Henderson Choral Composition Competition, and was performed in May by the Toronto Children's Chorus. Her “Peace Prayer” won the 2012 ACCC Competition for Choral Writing and was performed in May by the National Youth Choir at Podium 2012, Canada's national choral convention.

    – Alayne McGregor

See also:

Capital Vox:

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