Whitehorse ensemble offers orchestral manoeuvres in the dark

Fifteen Yukon musicians will be celebrating the longest night of the year with some new music and a touch of Russian silent cinema.

Fifteen Yukon musicians will be celebrating the longest night of the year with some new music and a touch of Russian silent cinema.

The Problematic Orchestra event, happening Dec. 21 at the Yukon Arts Centre, marks the return of a solstice tradition in Whitehorse after a three-year hiatus.

The name comes from a problem the group is trying to solve.

“The problem is we don’t have an orchestra, and we’re putting one together,” said director Daniel Janke.

For more than 15 years, the Longest Night Society put on an annual solstice event in Whitehorse before before taking a break after 2012.

The 2016 soiree is co-sponsored by the arts centre, Jazz Yukon and the Yukon Film Society.

The night will mark the first performance of a new semi-professional chamber orchestra Janke is working on developing. Musicians are paid for their work and have to audition to get in.

“There’s been lots of people who’ve moved to the community in the last 10 years who are professional or semi-professional musicians who are just saying, ‘Is there an opportunity to play?’” he said.

“It’s almost like an ‘if you build it they will come.’ People come out of the woodwork when they hear there is an ensemble, an audition ensemble.”

To mark solstice the musicians will be putting their skills towards performing a series of original works and a few classics.

Orchestra audiences are dwindling, Janke said, in part because they often focus on playing classics designed to appeal to an aging population.

Choosing to do a show with primarily original pieces is a reversal of the norm in an attempt to attract a younger audience.

“The norm now in orchestra programming is to perform and program mostly composers that are dead — long dead — (and) every once and a while they’ll do a special concert of living composers, that’s the norm,” he said. “But I think a lot of orchestras are flipping that over and trying to program music by living composers and occasionally doing a program of classics.”

Along with original music by Janke, Andrea McColeman and Scott Maynard, the orchestra will also be playing a live score to accompany the experimental 1929 silent film by Soviet-Russian director Dziga Vertov, Man With A Movie Camera.

The movie is completely silent and has no central cast. Instead, using various film techniques, it moves around town showing the daily lives of Soviet citizens.

The original movie came with no soundtrack, so members of the orchestra have created one for the night.

“The combination of the silent film and epic works like this one, with composition and improvisation and live musicians making it happen, it’s quite a sensory experience,” said Jazz Yukon’s president Duncan Sinclair.

“There’s a real appetite that’s developed for that kind of event here.”

Sinclair said the event is taking full advantage of the new sound system at the arts centre.

“That surround sound, visual and sound experience, is going to be very special and that’s a new thing.”

If everything goes as planned winter solstice won’t be the last time Yukoners get to hear the orchestra.

Janke has been commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra to write a new piece of music as part of its Canadian Mosaic project.

More than 40 orchestras from across the country have been asked to play new pieces of music to mark Canada’s 150th birthday next year.

Whatever Janke creates will be played by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in October 2017. It will then be performed again, by the Whitehorse orchestra, to mark winter solstice 2017.

While building support for this kind of music, Janke is also hoping to build the size of the orchestra before its 2017 performance.

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra will have about 50 instruments to play his piece, he said. He’s hoping the Whitehorse contingent can grow to about 27.

Keeping it all running depends on community support, he said.

“We need community people to join the board and that’s part of what this concert is about is to attract attention.”

Eric Epstein, the art centre’s artistic director, said the event is a chance for people who may not consider themselves classical music aficionados to come out and enjoy the music.

“It really is about access, about making it easy for people to come and enjoy this kind of evening.”

The event starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are still available at the Yukon Arts Centre box office or at Arts Underground.

Contact Ashley Joannou at ashleyj@yukon-news.com