Global Soundscapes Festival From differences comes musical harmony

VICO Tour ensemble 2018.| Photo courtesy of VICO.

The Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra’s (VICO) Global Soundscapes Festival will feature the debut of the mini-opera Debris by Rita Ueda, inspired by the debris that traveled across the ocean to Canada in the aftermath of the 2011 tsunami.

“The opera is based on a documentary film of the same name by John Bolton,” says Ueda. “In Japan, the earthquake was already in the past, where in Canada this is still the beginning. I wanted to tell about the people in Tofino who didn’t treat the debris as garbage and went through everything to tried to send back the things they could. It is about that kind of Canadian generosity, to tell the story of who we are as people.”

Featuring a Japanese theme this year, the 2019 Global Soundscapes Festival will also showcase a series of world music concerts at various venues in Vancouver from May 31–June 13.

The debris that connects Japan and Canada

Rita Ueda.| Photo courtesy of VICO.

Debris is Ueda’s second opera. The first one, One Thousand White Paper Cranes for Japan, premiered five years ago. It was based on a story about a boy in Halifax who folded 1000 paper cranes to raise funds for Japanese tsunami victims, inspiring the entire community to get involved. That opera has since been performed all over the world.

“With both operas, what I wanted to do is to tell a Canadian story, to tell how Canadians reacted to what happened in Japan. With the 1000 cranes, I was very impressed with the boy. I wasn’t even interested in composing operas until I heard this story,” she says.

While her first opera was written for Western instruments, Ueda took on a new
artistic challenge with Debris by featuring both Western and Japanese instruments, including Japanese Sho (reed instrument), Koto (stringed instrument) and Shakuhachi (wind instrument).

“With intercultural music, every single piece is new ground,” explains Ueda. “The notation system for this is totally different. I have to start with how to write it down. It will be a bit arrogant to expect people from other cultures to know how to read the Western notations, so to get everyone onboard to know exactly what to do is a huge challenge.”

Beyond this project, Ueda hopes to create more works in the future that can bridge the gap between instruments of different music traditions.

Intercultural communication through music

Mark Armanini, composer and artistic director of VICO.| Photo courtesy of VICO.

By commissioning Ueda’s opera, the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra gives a glimpse of the ever growing intercultural music scene in Vancouver.

As one of the largest intercultural orchestras in the world, VICO has spent years training players of non-Western musical instruments and has a growing team of 35 orchestra members, says composer and artistic director Mark Armanini. He echoes the challenges Ueda mentioned when dealing with other musical traditions.

“Everyone has different challenges. In Western traditions, we know what Western music can do but in world music you need to deal with the players. The instrument is very much tied to the player, so that is the challenge,” he says.

As an experienced composer who has written 20 to 30 pieces for Chinese instruments alone, Armanini said the secret was to find a balance where the composer and the player can meet halfway.

“The benefit of VICO is to help facilitate communication. It is like what immigration is all about, you have to adjust a bit and they have to adjust a bit, it goes both ways, that is the secret of VICO and that is the secret of Canada,” he adds.

This year’s festival will also feature a Japanese flute piece composed in the 1970s by Armanini’s teacher, Elliot Weisgarber, which has never been performed in Canada before because there was no one who played the Shakuhachi.

“I am very proud of this. It shows the difference then and now. Our society needs to be able to appreciate this; we want to hold the riches that come here,” Armanini concludes.


For more info, go to