New CD by Yolanda Bruno and Isabelle David set to take flight

Yolanda Bruno and Isabelle David. Photo: Helen Tansey

With music, God has left people with the memory of paradise lost.
—Hildegard von Bingen.

There is nothing quite like the launch of a new CD. Ottawa’s Yolanda Bruno (violin) and Isabelle David (piano) will do just that on Monday Nov. 25 at uOttawa. Before that they answered some questions about the album from ARTSFILE.

Q. Yolanda, what’s going on in your life these days?

YB: Last year (2018), I began working as concertmaster of the Kingston Symphony Orchestra. And in September, I moved to Toronto to begin a position with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. I am absolutely loving my work with the symphony. I feel so lucky to be performing with such fabulous orchestras every week. I have a few special projects lined up in 2020 including solos with orchestra performing Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor with Ensemble Volte in February and Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires with l’Orchestre symphonique de l’Estuaire in April. And, I’m playing lots of chamber music with my fabulous partner-in-crime, pianist Isabelle David. Wild Swans is our debut album. We will release the CD on all major platforms on Dec. 13.

Q. How long have you two been working together?

ID: We met at McGill University. We were taking a lot of the same classes during our first year of undergrad. We decided to start a chamber music group (a piano quartet) during our sophomore year in 2008. Our collaboration has continued ever since. 

ID : I come from a family of musicians, my father is a conductor and my mother is a flutist and pianist. Music has always been present and it was something I knew I wanted to do from a very young age. My studies took me south and three years ago, I graduated with a master’s degree from the New England Conservatory in Boston. I moved back to Montreal and I am now pursuing a doctorate at the University of Montreal. My doctoral project involves editing and performing works by Quebec composer Auguste Descarries. Descarries taught and mentored Louise Lussier, a wonderful pianist who also happens to be my grandmother. 

Q. When did you decide you wanted to do a CD together? Why? 

ID: We started talking about making an album together two years ago, in the fall of 2017. We wanted to offer something tangible to our audience after our concerts. The project really took shape was during the winter of 2018, when we started actively searching for the repertoire we wanted to record. We fell in love with so many works and composers that were new to us. It was a true revelation for us, we simply had to dive in and record all this great music. 

Q. Where does the title The Wild Swans come from? 

YB: It’s from a fairytale written by Hans Christian Andersen in 1838. The wonderful Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin used the Andersen story as the basis for her ballet Wild Swans. Her Eliza Aria comes from that enchanting work, and we’ve recorded it on this album. In Andersen’s story, Eliza must save her 11 brothers, who have been turned into wild swans by an evil stepmother. It is by chance that we realized there were 11 swans in the story and there are 11 composers on our album: serendipitous!  

Q. Is there a central theme or motivation for the record?

YB: The inspiration is story-telling. The music we recorded draws from novels, fairytales, Irish folklore and spiritual texts. For example, we recorded a piece by Roxanna Panufnik called Down the Rabbit Hole. It’s meant to accompany the first chapter of Alice in Wonderland. The Wild Swans is a bit of a “concept” album. What we love about the music we recorded is that it evokes a strong sense of imagery and imagination.

We also wanted to record music by living composers. This is the music of “our time’ by artists who are experiencing the world today and breathing this into their compositions. It feels relevant, and relatable. We want to share their stories. Because most of the composers on this album are living, we created a special composer profile video series to accompany the album.

There are a lot of folk influences on the album, as well as fusions of Eastern and Western musical traditions. We recorded a fabulous work called Aalap and Tarana written by Indian composer and violinist Kala Ramnath. The piece was commissioned by violin-virtuoso Hilary Hahn and is a fusion between Kala’s North-Indian Classical compositional style and Western music.  Isabelle and I fell in love with the improvisational qualities of this work. In the violin, I had to use extended sliding techniques to mimic the sounds of a sitar. Aalap and Tarana is the first work on the album – it leads you into this fantastical world. Aalap means “introduction” in Persian so it seemed especially fitting. 

Q. What else is on the album?

ID: The Swans Parapraxis, by Ottawa’s Kelly-Marie Murphy is inspired by the Irish folktale Polly Vaughn. Hildegard von Bingen’s work is a setting of a spiritual poem describing wisdom as a three-winged bird.   

Other works are more folk-inspired like Pauline Viardot’s Bohémienne, Bucharian Melody also by Elena Kats-Chernin along with Aalap and Tarana.  

Another important work on the album is Lera Auerbach’s 24 Preludes for Violin and Piano, from which we have chosen six preludes. Each has a strong narrative quality. They convey such a strong, vivid imagery, and each prelude tells a story with its own, unique flavour. 

Finally, works like Snow by Elena Langer, D’un matin de printemps by Lili Boulanger and Echo Dash by Pulitzer prizewinner Jennifer Higdon are evocative in a more abstract way.

Q. Was it hard to pick?

ID: When looking for repertoire, we ended up having music to do at least three albums! But in the end, we really focused on the story-telling and folk qualities first, and we wanted pieces that would best complement each other. The composers featured on the album come from all around the world (Russia, Poland, Uzbekistan, U.K., U.S., etc.). It was important for us to offer a variety, as well as to showcase music from our own country. 

Q. Why Hildegard von Bingen?

YB: Saint Hildegard of Bingen lived in the 12th century. She was a German writer, philosopher, Christian mystic, and composer. She is the only “old” composer on the album. Her music has survived so many centuries and continues to have great meaning to us. What’s amazing is that more of her music has survived than any other composer from the Middle Ages. Her achievements include the creation of the oldest surviving morality play, Ordo Virtutum, the founding of her own monastery and the invention of a constructed language known as Lingua Ignota. On the album, we recorded an arrangement of O Virtus Sapientiae. It’s a Gregorian chant with religious text describing the energy of Wisdom as a three-winged bird. Isabelle and I were inspired by the imagery of the text, so we put together a rendition of the work with colleagues Nazih Borish (oud), Didem Basar (kanun) and Carmen Bruno (cello), creating improvisations on this sacred music.

Q. Tell me about Kelly-Marie Murphy‘s The Swan Parapraxis

YB: The Swan Parapraxis is a commission by me and my sister Carmen for violin and cello. Kelly-Marie wrote the piece for the album. We shared details about The Wild Swans story with her. We mentioned that we had guest musicians Nazih Borish and Didem Basar playing oud and kanun on the work by Hildegard Von Bingen and we explained the story-telling theme. She took all of this information and then wrote us this mesmerizing new work that is inspired by a haunting Irish folktale called Molly Ban (or Polly Vaughn). The story is about a young man who goes out hunting. He shoots a swan, only to learn he has actually shot his fiancée, who had drawn her apron over her head and stood under a tree to get out of the rain. It’s a very dramatic piece – emotional, virtuosic and uses imagery like flight. What’s also fun is that Carmen and I make our “percussion debut” — there are finger cymbals in the piece.

Q. What about Alexina Louie‘s Beyond Time. 

ID: Beyond Time is the central work on the album. We had already a part of our program chosen, with many short pieces by different composers, but we were in search for a larger work. This is when we came across Louie’s formidable piece. It had everything we were looking for: it’s filled with fantasy, overflows with otherworldly sounds, and it’s three substantial and contrasting movements (with the evocative titles Celestial, Eternal, Perpetual) take you on a journey. Louie reflects on the concept of time and her work captures how meaningful moments of our lives invariably linger on within our memories long after the original moment has passed. The piece was commissioned by James Ehnes in 2014 but had not been played since Ehnes’ Canadian tour. We are happy that the work is now available to purchase on the CMC website. Furthermore, we are honoured to be doing the first recording of this brilliant work. Alexina Louie will attend our CD launch in Toronto at Gallery345 as our ‘guest speaker.’

In town: Yolanda Bruno and Isabelle David will launch The Wild Swans on Nov. 25 at the University of Ottawa’s Perez Music School (Freiman Hall) at 8 p.m. Ottawa composer Kelly-Marie Murphy will attend. (The CD will also be celebrated in Montreal on Nov. 26 at 7 at Salle Cécile-Romaine and in Toronto on Dec. 2 at 7:30p.m. at Gallery345.)

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Peter Robb began his connection with the arts community in Ottawa in the mid-1980s when he was the administrator and public relations director of the Great Canadian Theatre Company. After a long career in journalism with the Ottawa Citizen where he served in a number of different posts he returned to the arts when he became the Citizen's arts editor.