Early music creationThe listening chronicle

Reviews 15.07.2022

During the Traversées de l'Abbaye de Noirlac, the ensemble Canticum Novum presented the premiere of "Shiruku" on 9 July: an (inter)cultural project as much as an authentic work of creation, resurrecting a utopian Middle Ages by making the link between the Mediterranean region and Japan

It was last Saturday 9 July, as part of the Traversées offered each summer by theAbbaye de Noirlac, in the Cher region (a magnificent place where, for deontological reasons, yours truly will have the honour of working from next September).
First of all, there was "Femmes d'esprit, jardins secrets", a very beautiful musical epic initiated by the accordionist Pascal Contet with Catherine Jacquet (violin) and Isabelle Veyrier (cello), sweeping through nine centuries of women's musical creations, starting with Sofia Goubet's deeply moving trio Silenzio (1991 ) by Sofia Goubaïdoulina (born in 1931), performed at the end of the concert.
Then there was the disappointment of not being able to attend, due to Covid-19, the creation of "Qui vive!", a new Mediterranean escape by Bruno Allary's company La Rassegna, which we hope to discover very soon(1).
Finally, there was the epiphany of Canticum Novum. This ensemble, founded and directed since 1996 by Emmanuel Bardon, a cellist and singer from Stéphane, who studied at the Centre de Musique baroque de Versailles, is dedicated to the rediscovery of early music repertoires: it endeavours to create a link - with a membership varying from 3 to 15 musicians, depending on the project - "between the music of Western Europe and the repertory of the Mediterranean basin". This is evidenced by several very fine recordings, the last two of which were published by the Ambronay Cultural Encounter Centre.

But Canticum Novum's programmes have "another ambition" above all: "that of placing the human adventure and interculturality at the heart of its projects and of constantly questioning identity, orality, transmission and memory".
Thus Canticum Novum's project is at least as much cultural as artistic, as is also shown by the fascinating " School of Orality " that Emmanuel Bardon and his colleagues have been running for the past 20 years in Saint-Étienne. It aims to place musical practice at the heart of everyday life, based on the premise that it "is part of life, it should be as simple and obvious as the everyday gestures that are shared in a community, whether in the family, at school, at work, in a place of worship, at the market or at the stadium".
This generosity, this spirit of conviviality (the other name for interculturality?) was fully tangible on 9 July in Noirlac, where the ensemble presented the premiere of "Shiruku". A new programme that takes us back to medieval times and, as its name suggests, takes us along the Silk Roads ("Shiruku" means "silk" in Japanese), following in the footsteps of "the missionaries, explorers, merchants and diplomats who travelled the world from west to east from the end of the 13th century onwards" . Three Japanese musicians were invited to take part in the programme: the koto player Tsugumi Yamamoto, the tsugaru-shamisen player Yutaka Oyama and the shakuhachi player Akihito Obama. 

Thirteen musicians, two singers (Emmanuel Bardon and the Argentinian soprano Bárbara Kusa), all magnificently engaged (special mentions to the hurdy-gurdy and lute player Nolwenn Le Guern and to the percussionist Henri-Charles Caget, but they all deserve to be mentioned), have thus offered us a memorable journey, starting from Toledo to reach the Land of the Rising Sun, by lingering on the whole Mediterranean rim, from Venice to Constantinople, passing by Sarajevo, Epirus, Bulgaria or Morocco. When asked after the concert about the absence of music from Central Asia, Emmanuel Bardon insisted that all the pieces on the programme - whether 'learned' scores or collections - had been proposed by the musicians themselves. This is where the'human adventure' mentioned above begins. All were then arranged by the group. Or even transformed: for example, Kokiriko, a traditional Japanese melody usually played at a very slow tempo, became, at the suggestion of the Japanese musicians themselves, a galvanising flight of fancy on which the programme ends.

How naturally this music blends into this cosmopolitan instrumentarium! And how obviously a Greek folk melody follows a traditional Berber tune! The musicians of Canticum Novum take us, sometimes within the same piece, from Italy to Japan, with contagious enthusiasm - the highlight of the programme being undoubtedly this poignant Sephardic melody from Constantinople, Durme, hermoza donzella, which unfolds over a slow ostinato koto motif, over which the three flutes - the recorder, the Japanese shakuhachi, and the Balkan kaval - gradually weave a delicate interweaving of textures...

As I listened to all these musicians appropriate and bring to life for us this imaginary, fantasised, perhaps illusory (even musicologically heterodox) Lower Middle Ages, with grace, inventiveness and virtuosity, I said to myself that creative music is a matter of musicians before it is a matter of music (of 'repertoire', period or style). I thought of the magnificent recordings of the lutenist and theorbist Rolf Lislevand - who, like Emmanuel Bardon, played alongside Jordi Savall - and his way of inserting into ancestral compositions completely contemporary modes of improvisation and playing. I also thought about the way in which many young French instrumentalists - the violinist Ernest Bergez (alias Sourdure), the collective La Novia or the hurdy-gurdy player Romain Baudoin, for example - are today reappropriating the folklore of their region to freely inject all their knowledge of experimental musicians...". Being contemporary in early music today": this will be the subject of a meeting organised on 29 July as part of the festival les in:entendu.es, proposed in Neuvy-le-Roi (Indre-et-Loire) by the excellent Ensemble Ptyx, hosted by our colleague Anne Montaron...

I also thought about what Michaël Dian, director of the magnificent Espace musical de Chaillol, in the Alpine valleys of the Gapençais region, recently said to me: "People's cultural needs are no longer related to the artistic object, but to the relational dynamic opened up by this object. And I said to myself that that evening, the musicians of Canticum Novum had succeeded in proposing an authentic work of creation whose raison d'être is precisely this relational dynamic. Sometimes we have to take liberties with tradition in order to make audible what it still has to tell us.

David Sanson

1. Shiruku is also being performed on Friday 15 July in Senones as part of the Festival des Abbayes en Lorraine.

Photos © Dominique Lavalette


buy twitter accounts