Scandinavian Treasures: A cultural travelogue of Europe North

Come to the north! The Vancouver Cantata Singers ( VCS) present Scandinavian Treasures: Songs of the North at the Scandinavian Cultural Centre on May 25. The singers will perform choral arrangements of songs with roots in Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland, offering a kind of musical travelogue that shares the experience of journeying through these northern countries.

Both VCS artistic director Paula Kremer and bass vocalist Chris Doughty seek to share a musical appreciation for their respective experiences in Scandinavia.

“I think what’s been chosen, and what the repertoire is about, so much of this music is in exploration and appreciation of the landscape,” says Kremer. “I hope really just to honour the countries because I loved being there. I loved the countries; I loved the trip; I’d love to go back.”

“It’s really nice to reconnect after having spent time there,” agrees Doughty.

Darkness and light

Paula Kremer, VCS artistic director.| Photo by Chara Berk.

There’s usually a guiding theme to the year of VCS’ concerts. This year’s theme is “Darkness and Light.’ Drawing on his own experience living in Norway, Doughty notes that in Scandinavia, which is situated so far to the north, people’s relationship with light and darkness is very much present in both Scandinavian cultural events and music.

“You’ve got plenty of darkness in the winter, and how do you handle that psychologically and culturally? On the flipside you have the summer where the sun would go down, but it isn’t quite dark enough to see the stars. So I think the importance of light and the experience of darkness are keenly intertwined with the culture in the Nordic countries,” says Doughty.

Having arranged two pieces for this concert himself, Doughty says that the experience of sharing the depth and beauty of Scandinavian music and culture is a special opportunity.

“I would love to be standing in front of the choir and telling all of these stories and jokes, and explaining things about the culture,” says Doughty. “[I’ve] spent much more time in Canada than I ever did living there in Norway, but it’s a place that’s very dear to me, so it’s really exciting to be able to get that out there.”

Sharing the experience

Kremer first joined the Cantata Singers as an alto voice in 1994. Having earned an ARCT from the Royal Conservatory of Music in both voice and piano, her combined experience both with the Cantata Singers, and with music in general, has put her in a prime position to lead the group, both as artistic director and conductor of the choir.

“I actually think it’s quite fantastic; it’s a marvellous opportunity and creates a special energy and sense of teamwork that’s a little bit different than a more ‘top-down’ sense of conducting and leading,” says Kremer. ”I think that we are collaborative, and I know some of them so well just from singing with them for so long. And I feel it’s really a privilege to be able to be able to do this.”

As artistic director, Kremer is involved in planning and coordinating a majority of the season’s programming. From Christmas concerts to shows centred around space and the cosmos, Kremer’s curation process tends to centre around a particular theme.

With this latest concert, the structure and layout of the songs follow the reverse order of Kremer’s trip to Scandinavia last summer. The song order is separated by country, rather than genre or style, and so a real theme of exploration emerges which carries the listener through the folklore and natural beauty of Northern Europe.

“I did feel that there’s a simplicity but a beauty to the Icelandic music that, in the use of harmony, makes it feel ‘bare’, or ‘vast’, ‘cold’, ‘open’, but beautiful. Finland has a huge amount of Baltic Blues that that music is based on, and there’s a mythology there, but there’s also sort of a haunting [feeling],” says Kremer.


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