Brandon-bred, Winnipeg-based five-piece Sebastian Owl released their fourth record, Captain Tomorrow & the Dream Orphans, less than a year ago, but are already gearing up to drop their next-full length, From the Ashes, Saturday at the West End Cultural Centre.
It may seem like a quick turnaround, but guitarist/vocalist and main lyricist Blair Atkinson, 26, says after a couple of lineup changes the band is in a great place and just wants to "strike while the iron is hot" and create as much new content as they can.
"I just like to keep working, and set an end game for every year, a goal… I love writing music and I love making albums. If I could make an album every year I’d be a happy man — a poor man, but a happy man," laughs Atkinson.
Each of the blues/folk-rock bands’ records follows the life of the fictitious character Sebastian Owl, and From the Ashes is no different. This record, though, has a bit closure to it, explains Atkinson. It’s not the final chapter of Sebastian Owl, but it is where "his whole story comes full circle."
"He’s had a very long experience and this album is where he comes home to face what he’s left behind so that’s thematically what it’s about," says Atkinson.
"It’s one of our more emotionally mature albums, I guess you could say. It kind of deals with the realization of mortality and it’s a very self-reflective album, as most of ours are, but this one goes deeper.
"There’s familial ties as well — the opening tune is about my mother and I had her make voicemails for the song, so my mother is on the album… it’s a pretty personal album," he continues. "That’s where I’m most comfortable as a lyricist. I don’t want to pontificate in a political way, I’m not much of storyteller, but I’m comfortable reflecting and exposing my vulnerability through the guise of the character. It’s easier that way."
Tickets for the album release show are $15 at the WECC, Music Trader, Into the Music and online at Ticketfly.com. Music starts at 8 p.m.
— Erin Lebar
Polycoro Chamber Choir
Polycoro Chamber Choir is sure to whisk listeners to the land of ice and fire when it unveils its newest concert, Between Gods: Exploring Mythic Iceland, an exploration of the Pagan and Christian roots of Icelandic choral music sung a cappella in Icelandic, English and Latin.
"The theme is based on the power of pragmatism," says John Wiens, the choir’s visionary artistic director/conductor who co-curated the concert with chorister and Icelandic scholar Peter John (P. J.) Buchan. "A thousand years ago a Norwegian king sent an emissary to convert Iceland to Christianity. They sequestered the emissary and held a parliament. Pagans were able to keep their religion as long as they kept it quiet, while Christianity became the official religion. It was a huge compromise, but both have safely coincided side by side since that time."
Notably, five of the 13 offered works will be Canadian premieres. One of the more pagan-inclined pieces, Orlog, by Icelandic composer Dora Marteinsdottir, spins a tale of dancing witches and mythological giants while Nu legg eg ber i lofa is rooted in ages-old tradition of psalm-chant.
Island farsaelda fron and Solseturjiod by Jon Leifs extol the power of the sun and sea. They are both well-known in Iceland yet rarely are performed outside the rugged island country. The program also features eight large tableaux by Winnipeg-based visual artist Inga Torfadottir and opens with Canadian composer Cy Giacomin’s There was a Time, which grounds the entire show in historical context.
Wiens, a Morden-born conductor who moved back to Winnipeg from Montreal last August, was recently named Chorus Master of the newly created Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Chorus. He’s the first to admit audiences might initially be taken aback hearing bold new sounds inspired by ancient worlds. However, he says the (mostly) tonal music is audience-friendly, underscored with a strong emotional resonance.
"Each piece has such an incredibly individual character that’s really amazing," he says. "But I think these composers are writing from a position of colour. They were looking for a special tonal colour that expresses these individual worlds, so the style of sound that we’re using from piece to piece changes sometimes quite dramatically to embrace the feeling of what the words are expressing."
Most singers, by trade, are polyglot chameleons, called upon to sing in a multiplicity of languages on the downstroke of a baton. French, Latin, Spanish and German often trips off the tongue as easily as English. Icelandic much less so. Is Wiens anxious about the knotty linguistic challenges of performing this particular music?
"It’s a challenging concert but that’s what Polycoro is. Polycoro is a challenging ensemble that’s pushing limits," he says, adding accolades to Buchan for his steadfast assistance with pronunciation.
"When I first chose this music, I liked the way it looked on the page. I liked the way it sounded in my mind, but then I heard it in the voices and was really struck by just how great it sounded," Wiens says of the concert three years in planning.
"On the paper it didn’t look complicated. It didn’t look like it was a revelation, but having rehearsed now for a couple weeks, I’ve realized that it is," he says. "It really is just that good."
Between Gods: Exploring Mythic Iceland will be performed Saturday, Apr. 22 at 7:30 p.m. at Crescent Fort Rouge United Church. For tickets go to: www.polycoro.ca/
— Holly Harris
Manitoba Book Awards
This year’s Manitoba Book Awards will look decidedly different than previous years.
Until 2015, the event was free; last year, organizers added a $10 admission to cover basic costs of hors d’oeuvres and renting the space to host the awards. But this time around, organizers are hoping make a bit more of a splash.
The 29th annual awards will be handed out Saturday at the Fort Garry Hotel at a $75-per-ticket gala that includes a sit-down three-course dinner. "For years, the awards were losing money, in an organization that can ill afford to do so,’" explains Ellen MacDonald of the Manitoba Book Awards. "This will be in many ways a much more satisfying experience for people on many levels."
MacDonald sees the change in format as a way to bring additional attention to the awards, which will this year be hosted by former CBC personality Terry MacLeod and comedian Lara Rae. "We’re trying to bring the awards out of the shadows. It’s been a little bit low-key."
Reaction from jurors to the books in contention for the 18 prizes worth over $30,000 has been overwhelmingly positive, says MacDonald. "This is an extraordinary year for books. I’m impressed, and jurors right across the country have said they’re really thrilled by the quality of work they’re seeing."
Among this year’s multiple nominees are Katherena Vermette for her novel The Break — which has been shortlisted for a number of awards, most recently the Amazon.ca and the Walrus Foundation First Novel Award — Angeline Schellenberg’s book of poetry Tell Them it Was Mozart and multiple titles from prolific author David Alexander Robertson.
And while the results of the awards for fiction, non-fiction, poetry, children’s books and graphic design won’t be made public until Saturday’s gala, MacDonald revealed the recipient of this year’s lifetime achievement award will be David Arnason. Arnason was has been a pivotal figure in Manitoba’s literary community for decades. He was instrumental in helping establish local imprint Turnstone Press and the Journal of Canadian Fiction in the 1970s, and taught in the University of Manitoba’s English department from 1972 until 2006. He’s also an accomplished author whose contributions to Canadian fiction include The Dragon and the Dry Goods Princess, King Jerry and The Demon Lover.
The Manitoba Book Awards begin at 7 p.m. at the Fort Garry Hotel. For additional information visit manitobabookawards.com.