Aventa marks milestone – Sept. 2012

Aventa Ensemble marks milestone
Aventa Ensemble
Michael Finnissy, piano
Helen Pridmore, soprano
Bill Linwood, conductor
Whitman and the Ignite Workshop for emerging composers
By Kevin Bazzana, Times Colonist

The 2012-13 season will be the 10th for the Aventa Ensemble, the local sinfonietta specializing in modern music, and this momentous anniversary offers a convenient excuse to reflect on the group’s considerable achievements.

Aventa’s 14 core members include some of Victoria’s best and most dedicated professional musicians, and the ensemble is still conducted by its original artistic director, Bill Linwood, who is also the Victoria Symphony’s timpanist. When he and his wife, hornist Darnell Linwood, founded Aventa in 2003, it was unique on the local music scene. A decade later, it still is. Indeed, it is one of very few such groups anywhere in Canada, though its adventurousness and high musical standards have earned it an international reputation.

Aventa’s first concert, on Nov. 22, 2003, included Stravinsky’s Histoire du soldat and works from the 1970s and ’80s by two Quebec composers. The ensemble has continued to program Canadian classics alongside music by some of the most important international composers (Adès, Benjamin, Boulez, Ferneyhough, Kagel, Ligeti, Saariaho).

But Aventa’s repertoire also quickly began expanding to include composers – veterans as well as younger figures – from Victoria and around B.C., and to include more recent and, eventually, brand-new music. To date, the ensemble has given an astonishing 87 premières (10 last season alone) and has commissioned 40 works.

Aventa’s repertoire now encompasses an immense range of countries, periods, genres, styles and media, and its seasons sometimes include thematically unified programs and series.

In 2007, Aventa gave the North American première of Anders Nordentoft’s opera On This Planet, and in 2010, at the Banff Centre, it workshopped Gavin Bryars’ opera-in-progress about Marilyn Monroe, Anyone Can See I Love You, which will have its première here in September 2013. Also in 2007, Aventa released a CD on the Centrediscs label, Le signe du lion, devoted to music by Quebec composer Gilles Tremblay, and a recording it made at Banff of Bryars’ The Sinking of the Titanic is forthcoming.

Aventa did not remain a merely local phenomenon for long. Over the years, it has collaborated with many noteworthy performers from across Canada and even some composers of international standing – Bryars, Peter Maxwell Davies, Gordon Mumma, Poul Ruders. And since 2007, it has undertaken six successful tours – three in 2011 alone – which have included cities across Canada and in Europe, as well as New York. It will tour again in February and March of 2013.

Aventa’s 10th-season programming begins this weekend with the welcome return of a major figure in contemporary music: English composer and pianist Michael Finnissy. Last September, on Aventa’s initiative, Finnissy came to the University of Victoria to participate in concerts, give a public lecture and a piano recital and work with composition students; Aventa also recently commissioned him to write an opera.

On Saturday evening, under Aventa’s auspices, New Brunswick-based soprano Helen Pridmore, who performed Finnissy’s Mr. Punch here last year, will give the Canadian première of his song cycle Whitman, with the composer himself at the piano. Begun in 1980 and completed (after passing through several versions) in 2005, the hour-long cycle is based on poems from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, interspersed with excerpts from his miscellanea Specimen Days.

“Together, these form an autobiography,” Finnissy writes, “in which both singer and pianist are Walt Whitman at various stages of his life: reporting directly, quoting, enlarging with enthusiasm or tenderly recollecting his experiences.” Finnissy’s music refers to a hymn and an opera mentioned in the text, as well as to “three other quaint old songs.”

On Sunday, Aventa itself will appear in a concert that is the public face of its annual composer workshop, IgNITE!. First organized in 2008, IgNITE! offers emerging Canadian composers, selected by a jury, a chance to develop new work in collaboration with the ensemble and guest composers, who this year include Finnissy, Montreal-based Michel Gonneville and the workshop’s moderator, Christopher Butterfield, an associate professor in the university’s school of music.

Sunday’s program will feature works by each of the five participating composers, and will conclude with Luciano Berio’s Folk Songs, an anthology of 11 songs drawn from various traditions that Berio arranged in 1964 for the American virtuoso singer Cathy Berberian, who was then his wife. Mezzo-soprano Patricia Green, visiting from London, Ont., will join seven members of the Aventa Ensemble to perform this magnificent cycle.