Conductor’s symphony creation inspired by love

Nanaimo - The Vancouver Island Symphony presents Serenades for Spring Saturday (March 16) at the Port Theatre.

Soprano Nadya Blanchette performs during Serenades for Spring presented by the Vancouver Island Symphony.

Soprano Nadya Blanchette performs during Serenades for Spring presented by the Vancouver Island Symphony.

by Rosemary Phillips

Serenades for Spring is filled with timeless treasures by classical masters.

The Vancouver Island Symphony’s upcoming concert at the Port Theatre Saturday (March 16) at 7:30 p.m. features Barber’s emotionally fueled Adagio for Strings and Rachmaninov’s soaring Vocalise.

It also includes the world premiere of Nouvelles Illuminations, composed by Pierre Simard, the symphony’s artistic director, which he dedicated to his wife, international soprano and recording artist Nadya Blanchette, with love.

“As a composer living with a soprano there can’t help but be a love connection – the best thing I can possibly do is write new music for the one I love,” said Simard. “Sometimes I can write very quickly, it gets played quickly, and I can move onto the next.”

In this case, the piece dates back to 2005 when Simard received a research grant from the Quebec Council to go beyond what he would normally does as a composer, to find new ways of composing.

“My starting point was a piece by Benjamin Britten called Les Illuminations, a song cycle for high voice and strings with libretto from Illuminations, a collection of poems by French poet Arthur Rimbaud,” he said.

Rimbaud wrote with an inventive language full of symbolism that eventually influenced Symbolists, Dadaists and Surrealists.

Les Illuminations incorporates eight poems from the collection, including Enfance, Vies, Veillées and Genie.

“Rimbaud’s poems are close to what we call automatic writing; very abstract. During this performance we will be projecting the poems onto a screen, in both English and French,” said Simard.

Simard’s music begins where Britten’s leaves off, building and going somewhere else.

“I have made the music much more familiar and rhythmic, with a focus on beauty. The soprano voice leads the strings on a voyage of extreme emotion, colour, texture and rhythm,” said Simard.

Blanchette said she’s seen the score and it’s sublime.

“The text is out of the ordinary and very colourful. To be able to draw or compose music on that is masterful,” she said.

The evening begins as the symphony string section is joined by the Abbotsford Youth Orchestra to perform Bartók’s lyrical Romanian Folk Dances; then, as guest soloists, the youth orchestra, conducted by Calvin Dyck during the Nanaimo performance, follows with the lively Texas Swing. Simard returns to the podium to conduct Blanchette and the strings for Nouvelles Illuminations.

The deeply reflective Adagio for Strings by Barber becomes the segue into Blanchette’s return to the stage for the Vocalise by Rachmaninov.

“Vocalise is without words, as the voice becomes the true instrument, like a cello,” said Blanchette. “There is something in the piece that is like caressing the ear. It is the language of music which carries emotion beyond words. I can’t wait to become one with the orchestra.”

The concert is brought to a conclusion with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings.

“To work with my husband is always a true privilege and a real pleasure. We cherish the opportunity,” Blanchette said.

Tickets prices range from $18 to $84 depending on seating location and are available by calling 250-754-8550, at the Port Theatre box office, located at 125 Front St., or

The concert also features  pre- and post discussions with the musicians.