Concert review | The Silakbo Ensemble: Merging cultures together

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This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)

On November 2, the Silakbo Ensemble launched its Canadian tour with a first stop in Montreal, at Jeunesses Musicales Canada’s Joseph-Rouleau Hall. Formed by  three Bulgarian musicians (Angelina Gotcheva, clarinet, Yoanna Bozhkova, soprano, Bogdan Ivanov, piano), Portuguese violinist Edgar Gomes and Filipino American cellist Mikko Pablo, this quintet was joined exceptionally by Adam Vincent Clarke, composer and piper proud of his Nova Scotia roots. Together they presented their latest project, named Est-Ouest. More than a gathering, it is an exchange, an interconnection, between the Canadian and Bulgarian musical cultures.

As part of this project, three creations commissioned by the Silakbo ensemble were performed. The first, Grains by Canadian composer Liam Elliot, drew on the repertoire of Bulgarian dances and songs. The impression we were left with from this music in 7 movements was that of an echo to a long tradition and to an ancestral territory. Yoanna Bozhkova began with a humming before singing in her full voice, thus setting the tone for what was to be heard. Liam Elliot’s choice of textures seemed to suggest the great landscapes. This was evidenced by the brushed playing of the clarinet and cello, especially in the finale, which appropriately imitated the wind blowing across the plains. Also noteworthy is the uncommon use of the piano as a guitar in the movement “Shadow 3” (Biala roza). Leaning over the soundboard, Bogdan Ivanov produced a dry timbre by plucking the strings with his fingers.

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The second work on the program, Images, was by Bulgarian composer Svetlin Hristov and featured, in return, echoes of traditional Canadian music. Some of the sung texts included passages in English and French, while the final piece of the cycle, simply entitled “Final”, transported us to the Maritimes, to the sounds of Edgar Gomes’ fiddle in what we imagined as an Irish-style pub. The musical language deployed in this work struck us as being more Avant-Garde, especially with the numerous frictions between the different instruments of the quintet. For the second time of the evening, the piano was used in an unconventional way, no longer as a plucked instrument, but as a percussion instrument whose strings were struck by hand.

The Danse Balkanique was the third and final work, composed by Adam V. Clarke. This proved to be the most explosive and festive of all, with occasional waves of lyricism. Always in the spirit of merging cultures together, the driving force of the project, the work borrowed from Bulgarian rhythms which gave it a exhilariting character. It allowed us, once more, to appreciate what we already knew from hearing the ensemble’s previous renditions, namely the individual quality and rigor of the musicians. The timbre of the soprano appeared to us very close to that of the clarinet in the duet passages. The intricate dialogue between the violinist and the cellist was also excellent and even fusional in the high register.

After Ottawa (November 3), the Silakbo is heading to Toronto (November 5 and 7), then to Nova Scotia (November 10, in Wolfville, and finally November 13, in Halifax) to introduce the Canadian public to the creativity and chemistry of these six musicians.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


About Author

Justin Bernard est détenteur d’un doctorat en musique de l’Université de Montréal. Ses recherches portent sur la médiation musicale, notamment par le biais des nouveaux outils numériques, ainsi que sur la relation entre opéra et cinéma. Membre de l’Observatoire interdisciplinaire de création et de recherche en musique (OICRM), il a réalisé une série de capsules vidéo éducatives pour l’Orchestre symphonique de Montréal. Justin Bernard est également l’auteur de notes de programme pour le compte de la salle Bourgie du Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal et chargé de cours à l’Université de Sherbrooke. Par ailleurs, il anime une émission d’opéra et une chronique musicale à Radio VM (91,3 FM).