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Nov 26, 2017 Telus Studio, Chan Centre for the Performing Arts, Vancouver;   Download Orchid Ensemble Press Photo
Nov 30, 2017 Mary Irwin Theatre, Rotary Centre for the Arts, Kelowna BC.

“Could I ask you to explain the music of heaven for me?”
“Sounding the ten thousand things differently, so each becomes itself according to itself alone—who could make such music?” — Chuang Tzu (369-286 BCE)

Music of the Heavens tells the ancient legends about the stars in Chinese, Greek, and First Nations cultures through original cross-cultural music and animated visuals. The interest in the stars is shared in many cultures. In this project, the artists re-interpret the cosmological myths from their own cultural heritages and explore the meeting of cultures in their collaborative process. Each story is connected to a season, and characters from the heavenly world travel through time and space as the night unfolds.

For thousands of years, Chinese have told the story of Weaver Woman, who has traveled from Heaven to Earth and back to Heaven, crossing between yin and yang, human and god, to seek for eternal love. Her meeting with her lover once a year over the Milky Way reflects the movement of the Vega Star in the summer sky. The Oneida Nation tells the story of the hunters chasing the Great Bear (Big Dipper). They are able to reach the Bear when it is finally close enough to the horizon in the autumn, which explains why the leaves turn red at this time of the year. The Greek mythology sees human desires and emotions in the gods and goddess, who are the reflections of the human spirits. To contrast with the narrative stories, the final section features visual and musical improvisation, representing the meeting of three cultures.

Kelowna artists Dr. Aleksandra Dulic and Kenneth Newby lead the visual team to create a multimedia presentation of animated images performed in real-time. The characters have been hand-drawn and digitally processed. The JUNO nominated Orchid Ensemble performs music written by Lan Tung, John Oliver, and Stefan Smulovitz for a unique instrumentation: Lan Tung erhu/Chinese violin & vocals, Dailin Hsieh zheng/Chinese zither, Jonathan Bernard marimba and percussion. Together they create an immersive audio-visual inter-arts performance that marries the traditional art forms with modern technology and contemporary expression.

Dr. Aleksandra Dulic is the Associate Professor in the Creative Studies and Director of the Centre for Culture and Technology at UBC. Kenneth Newby is a media artist, composer-performer, educator, interaction designer, and audio producer. Their creative practice explores the use of technology to enable media performances and installations that are rich in aural, visual and cultural nuances. The animation team includes talented UBCO students and graduates: Jessica Dennis, lead animator; Indigenous artist Amberley John, the Bear story; Diane Schnieders, the Weaver Woman story; and Ardanna Semeschuk, the Greek astrology; with additional drawings by Taiwanese artist Li Tung.

Vancouver based Orchid Ensemble celebrates its 20th anniversary with this project. Rooted in Chinese traditions, the ensemble is known for its cross-cultural innovative works. The ensemble has embraced a variety of musical styles to its repertoire, ranging from Chinese music, world music, new music to jazz and creative improvisation. Its energetic yet endearing performance style consistently intrigues and delights its audiences.

Stefan Smulovitz translates the Greek cosmological designs into graphic musical scores with his custom software Kenaxis. Lan Tung sets haunting melodies to ancient Chinese poems about the Weaver Woman. To the Bear story, she contrasts vigorous rhythms with Asian sensitivity of space/breath, depicting the dramatic story from a cross-cultural approach. John Oliver’s “Celestial Storehouse”, inspired by the eternal balance of yin and yang, is divided into multiple sections to tie the stories together.

The Orchid Ensemble and media artists Dulic and Newby have been collaborating since 2006, creating interdisciplinary projects of critical acclaim. (see videos from previous production) Music of the Heavens creates dynamic fusions, both musically and visually. It is co-produced by The Centre for Culture and Technology (UBC Okanagan) and Orchid Ensemble (Vancouver).