Vincent Ho’s The Shaman

On May 13th, the SSO will celebrate Canada and the music of four Canadian composers that you have to hear!

We’re thrilled to bring you Vincent

Vincent Ho’s The Shaman

The Shaman: Concerto for Percussion and Orchestra:

     I. Ritual

     II. Fantasia – Nostalgia

     Interlude: Conjuring the Spirits

     III. Fire Dance

I have always been fascinated with the music of indigenous cultures and the concept of shamanism. Practitioners of this tradition are known as “shamans,” and they are believed to be the intermediaries between the human and spirit world. They treat physical ailments by mending the person’s soul while connecting them to supernatural realms (by way of incantations, dance, music, and other methods). This is comparable to the role many great musicians have in our society and how listeners experience their performances. This is also how I see Dame Evelyn Glennie, one of the world’s greatest percussionists.

Throughout my years of attending her concerts, I always felt that her performances were more than just visual or aural experiences – they were “spiritual” events. She has the uncanny ability to draw the audience into a magical world and take us on wondrous journeys that are beyond material existence. Every performance she delivers leaves the audience spellbound and spiritually nourished. For me, Ms. Glennie is the modern day shaman I wrote this piece for.

The first movement, “Ritual,” showcases the soloist’s “shamanistic” abilities. It opens with otherworldly sounds (from the orchestra) that evoke the spirit world while the soloist makes her ceremonial entrance. As she “casts her spell” on the audience, the music becomes increasingly active, leading to a primal dance that harkens the ancient rituals of tribal celebrations and our modern day equivalents (ie. raves, discothèques, dance halls, etc).

The second movement is in two parts. The first, “Fantasia,” is a musical impromptu for solo marimba that captures the spontaneity of a free-form improvisation. The second part, “Nostalgia,” was initially inspired by three things: a photo taken by Doug Barber of an old man looking out of a window during sunset, a painting by Luc Leestemaker titled Voyager #7, and an accompanying poem to the painting by the same artist titled “Voyager” (about an endearing childhood memory). These three works shared a nostalgic quality that warranted musical interpretation. However, in order for me to capture this emotion, I had to search through my own personal history to find the one memory that brought me the same bittersweet longing; a moment in my life that I have treasured and kept close to my heart. Once I had found it, I was brought back to that sacred emotional space and the music soon wrote itself.

The “Interlude,” subtitled “Conjuring the Spirits,” explores the expressive possibilities of metal instruments. Here, the soloist summons up the “spirits of the earth” (as conveyed by the orchestra) as they prepare for the explosive finale.

Back when I was a college student, I was highly influenced by the concept of “primitivism” that many composers and artists had embraced during the early part of the 20th century. A number of great works were created from this direction and many of them showcased new ways of writing for the orchestra and individual instruments (from Igor Stravinsky’s ballet The Rite of Spring to Béla Bartok’s piano work Allegro Barbaro). As I was writing the last movement, I could not help but think of this period in music history. I went through many representative works and found two pieces that resonated with me: Stravinsky’s “Infernal Dance” (from his ballet score L’Oiseau de feu) and Manuel de Falla’s Fire Dance. Thus, I was inspired to compose a “Fire Dance” of my own that would capture the same degree of unbridled energy that these composers (and many others) have achieved in their own music. As well, this was the perfect opportunity to unleash my “inner inferno” (something that I have always wanted to do).

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