2018 Emerge on Main artist Liam Hockley (clarinet) asks Quasar’s Marie-Chantal Leclair (soprano saxophone) 5 questions.
LH: I’ve been fortunate enough to have attended many Quasar concerts in the past (I think my ears are still ringing from a performance of Xenakis’ XASat at the University of Victoria 8 or 9 years ago!) and am always struck by the aesthetic diversity of your programming. Do you have a particular vision, ideology, or guiding principle that defines your repertoire as an ensemble?
MCL: New commissioned works have always been a major part of our repertoire. By commissioning works, we aim to foster the development of an original and significant repertoire. We want to provide a platform for those artists whose compositions embody a strong, original voice, regardless of their nationality, generation or aesthetic allegiance. Composers, musicians, and artistic collaborators are considered a unit, a creative team. Quasar supports their work by facilitating workshops for research and creation where these team members can take risks, innovate, and express their creative ideas to the maximum. We also see our role as first-rank ambassadors for composers from Québec and Canada. At the same time, Quasar constantly seeks out new works from the international scene, which we integrate into our repertoire. This includes works by major figures like Xenakis, Berio, Haas, Aperghis, and Andriessen.
LH: More specifically, what is it that draws you to the composers that you work with and the pieces that you program? What are you looking for in a piece of music?
MCL: Quality, creativity, personality, and originality are what I am looking for. All of these can be found in very different aesthetics. To explore different aesthetics, broaden my perspectives and nourish me as an artist. The best way for me to discover a composer is through live concerts. I trust my instinct, my first impressions, and my physical response to the music through exposure. Most often, I have a crush on a composer first, and then I intellectualize my choice.
LH: To date, what has been your most rewarding or illuminating musical collaboration?
MCL: The ensemble has been together for so long that it’s hard to choose only one. Collaboration is at the heart of our musical projects, and it is through those collaborations that we have evolved and grown. I will mention very rewarding collaborations with Jean-François Laporte, Klas Torstensso, and here on the West coast with Daniel Peter Biro and Wolf Edwards.
LH: Given that the saxophone is a relative newcomer to the field (in comparison to stringed instruments or keyboards, for example), what is the role of tradition and the past within your practice? Do you see your focus on experimental idioms as a way of establishing new paradigms of musical creation and reception?
MCL: We certainly do not have to carry the weight of a long tradition and that gives us more freedom. With composers, we’ve developed the sound palette of the instrument, developing new “modes de jeu” or developing existing ones. This is exciting and rewarding. It feels like there is still so much to explore and refine. At the same time, we do not have the legitimacy and credibility of instruments with long tradition. There is still some prejudice towards this instrument. But this is a challenge we can deal with. To me, the saxophone is the vehicle and the destination is the artistic project.
LH: Aside from the incredible musicianship and vitality of your quartet, what factors have been the biggest contributors to your continuing success? What advice can you impart to emerging artists and ensembles working in a similar field?
MCL: Focus, integrity, and persistence. Quasar is not an ensemble that has had spectacular debuts, but we always stayed focused, passionate, and have slowly constructed what Quasar is today. Patience is certainly a keyword, and I don’t take anything for granted. A strong dose of audacity is also essential. You need to try the crazy things that you are dreaming of. Not everything we try will work but in the process we learn a lot. Partnerships (with composers, organizations, ensembles, etc.) have and still play a huge role for Quasar. One should not isolate. I believe in strength in numbers. Be a part of the community, involve yourself, give of your time, share ideas, and you will be fed back.
Quasar: De souffles et de machines takes to the stage on March 27, 2018 at The Fox Cabaret.
Clarinetist Liam Hockley stepped into the spotlight with pianist Nicole Linaksita and Composer & Sound Artist Nancy Tam for Emerge on Main on April 24, 2018 at The Fox Cabaret.