Victoriaville music festival: Organized, improvised sound

Normally placid Victoriaville becomes a musical Mecca May 16, as musicians and fans from across North America gather for the 29th edition of the Festival International de Musique Actuelle.

With 20 concerts over four days, it offers a panorama of musical territories and sonorities, expanding the possibilities of organized and improvised sound, from rock to contemporary classical. And it’s a great hang.

A record number of people have purchased advance tickets for the big festival highlight—the all-John Zorn day on May 19 when the award-winning saxophonist, composer, leader and Tzadik Records founder will lead or perform with 20 amazing players who are part of his musical family.

The event was booked as part of Zorn’s year-long birthday party—he turns 60 September 2—and will end with a midnight concert at Ste. Victoire Church, where he will improvise on its electrified 41-stop Casavant organ, which dates to 1900.

There is plenty to draw New Music enthusiasts from Day 1, including an elaborate sound-art installation that can be enjoyed while walking from one site to the other near the town’s linear park and bike path, once train tracks.

The main gig May 16 at 10 pm is an adventure in the contemporary classical field with a performance of Atacama: Symphony No. 3, a dramatic work in six movements by Montreal-based electric guitarist and composer Tim Brady. This sprawling work links the 21-member Viva Voce choir and 11-member Bradyworks ensemble, which includes guitarist Brady and such crossover stalwarts as clarinetist Lori Freedman and saxophonist André Leroux.

The Spanish vocals, reflecting the words of poet Elias Letelier, and the music they inspired are of epic

dimensions: They echo the terror of the murderous Augusto Pinochet regime in Chile, with, as Brady says, “striking metaphors of hope and love in the midst of the nightmare of torture and disappearances.”

May 18, Halifax-based Paul Cram returns with his 17-piece Upstream Orchestra, an improvising collective featuring vocalist Tena Palmer and such stalwarts as trombonist Tom Walsh and saxophonist Chris Mitchell. They will perform three works, including The Magic Order, based on saxophonist Steve Lacy’s concept of “a sequence of intervals that are very conducive to creativity.”

The festival highlight is Sunday with Zorn and crew. At 2 pm, he conducts three chamber works, Illuminations, with the piano part scripted, bass and drums improvised; The Alchemist, a formal string quartet; and The Holy Visions for five female vocalists, with Latin texts by Zorn based on the work of 12th-century mystic Hildegard von Bingen.

The Song Project at 4 pm presents three vocalists who have composed lyrics to some of Zorn’s favourite original melodies singing with an all-star sextet. One text is by Sean Lennon.

The Templars at 7:30 pm is based on a text Zorn wrote about the Knights Templar—a hardcore outing with the Moonchild ensemble.

The Dreamers and Electric Masada—two of his most popular formations—are back-to-back at 10 pm. Zorn performs with Masada.

At midnight, Zorn will improvise in a program titled Hermetic Organ.

On the avant rock side, vocalist/guitarist Thurston Moore performs May 17, with the Chelsea Light Morning quartet and May 18 with heavy-blowing Mats Gustafsson on sax and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, both at 10 pm.

Tickets: $22 to $44. Packages are available., 819-752-7912.

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