French Canadian bass-baritone Philippe Sly has gained international recognition for his “beautiful, blooming tone and magnetic stage presence” (San Francisco Chronicle). Mr. Sly, a First Prize winner [...]
They spoke about it
This reinterpretation offered by Sly and his partners has the merit of breathing a new life into this masterpiece and allows it to open its heart and its soul to a different audience – in an intelligent and sensible way in spite of the audacity and the boldness of the proposition.
— ICI Musique
Winterreise (Winter Journey) by Franz Schubert
“I came here a stranger, as a stranger I depart.” These first lines of Schubert’s Winterreise speak an unshakeable truth – we are, all of us, alone on a journey in an unfamiliar landscape. The narrator of these 24 songs has forgone all that might be called home to him – a lover, family, and community. He wanders out of the town and into the wintry night. He has chosen exile, but to what end? What might we find when confronted with the barren landscape of our souls? Perhaps Winterreise, more than any other work, is concerned with the search for meaning in a seemingly meaningless world. Through a kaleidoscope of polarized musical forms and poetic images, these 24 songs circumambulate a constant theme, a kind of leitmotif that permeates the entire cycle both musically and philosophically: the call to wander.
This imperative to move forward, ever on and on, to find one’s home in one’s impermanence, is beautifully made manifest in the musical traditions of the Ashkenazi Jews and the Romani. It is through this lens that baritone Philippe Sly joined with stage director Roy Rallo and a group of four musicians to create a collaborative staging of Schubert’s masterpiece. The ethos of the Klezmer/ Roma style is steeped in pungent harmonies, folk-inspired melodies, and aching solo lines.
At once joyous and filled with longing, this form of music is associated with both celebration and a collaborative Roma spirit, making it an ideal genre to explore and highlight the intimate relationship between Schubert’s devastating music and Müller’s poetic vision.
„Fremd bin ich eingezogen…“ (« I came here as a stranger… »)
Our Winterreise project came from an idea planted in my mind by Philippe Sly some years back. It was an idea about engaging with what naturally animates us rather than doing what is expected or rewarded. Over time this idea developed into an attempt to understand and experience the apparatus of music, the physics of singing and playing, the process of studying, and what it means to ingest music as a life practice. Eventually we assembled a group of people to explore a piece of music together. One of the results is this recording.
The first thing one is confronted with when considering Winterreise is the very clearly documented history of the cycle’s well-known interpreters. Easy access to the many recordings, video performances, books, and essays on the cycle inform our experience of the piece in a way that would have been unimaginable to Schubert himself. Consider the irony of a group of Schubert scholars, classical music buffs, and Schubert lieder coaches defining a proper Schubert style based on a tradition and a reality not yet invented in Schubert’s lifetime. It seemed worthwhile to find a way of divorcing ourselves from the media/ scholarly tradition and return to the music itself to see what it inspired in us.
We asked ourselves how this music would sound if it were interpreted by a stranger to that tradition, a kind of outsider, knowing that for us this was no longer possible. A strange coincidence led Phil to a group of four musicians who were willing and able to take on the project – outsiders to the classical tradition and post-Schubertian baggage we were trying to question. First there was the matter of the arrangement, bravely undertaken by Félix de l’Étoile and Samuel Carrier, then an initial rehearsal where we heard it for the first time and made changes, then more rehearsals and refinements, and then the memorization process. It was important to us from the beginning that the music reside in the bodies of the players, unbound by the notation.
The complex web of tradition that surrounds the performance of the classical music repertoire can be seen as a metaphor for the traditions and expectations that make up society. Often what is at the centre of any matter can be obscured and contorted by what it is dressed in. It seemed to me that the most stripped-down truth we could arrive at was already present in the room – an open, poetic text about an outsider that inspired an outsider composer on his deathbed to write his final cycle. To this we added a young, classically trained singer, and four musicians, each from another realm of musical performance. That seemed enough of a start to express the juxtaposition between inside and outside, between the socially constructed and the primal that lies at the centre of the piece.
Work with our designer Doey Lüthi focused on paring everything down to essentials, adding nothing that would distract from the actual ingredients. The piece was staged over a two- week period, fittingly in the dead of winter in Charlevoix, Québec at Domaine Forget, where synchronicity granted us the entire campus to ourselves. We lived communally, cooked all of our meals together, and focused on the work at hand. With that the Chimera Project was formed.
Our first performances were the following spring and summer at Domaine Forget and in Mont- Tremblant, and in early winter in Montréal. Directly following the Montréal performance, this recording was made. The nature of the performances that preceded and followed it were unique to the spaces that contained them and to the audiences who experienced them. The same is true of this recording, which ironically enters the media space we sought to avoid at our Domaine Forget refuge. We see it as a humble document of our ongoing fascination with Schubert’s sounds and the emotions they convey, Müller’s text and the profound contemplation it inspires, and of our experience of living with such a complex object in the presence of others.
Roy Rallo, stage director