Five Friends Blend Compositional, Musical and Performance Skills
By Joe Aiello
Victoire. It’s the French feminine of Victoria. And since the name doesn’t provide a clue to the group’s music, I listened.
The female quintet’s latest CD is Cathedral City (New Amsterdam Records). The cut “A Door in the Dark” features a laconic keyboard line overlaid by violin and woodwind, and the music is ethereal, sometimes atonal and sinister — yet sometimes very melodic and hopeful. “I Am Coming for My Things” spotlights a constant, pulsing clarinet line overlaid by audio of a phone call by a disembodied voice. The title cut (“Cathedral City”) showcases an up-tempo rhythm line and a wordless vocal with a recording of a male voice speaking intermittently.
Victoire manages to develop an introverted, moody, thought-provoking percussive motif without the use of percussion of any kind. Overlaying layers of melody create more of a musical tapestry than what one might consider a standard compositional format. Every instrument is not only featured, but also integral and interwoven with the others. Violin parts range from concerto-like solos to Mark O’Connor-ish fiddle riffs.
Classifying the music composer/keyboardist Missy Mazzoli creates and Victoire performs is no easy task. What comes to my mind while listening are descriptions such as chamber rock, rock-ish, pop-structured, minimalist, consuming, new age, world music, electronic and pop-paced. Mazzoli herself uses terms like arresting, dreamlike, mysterious, and chaotic. “Labels are hard for me (and for most composers),” she states, “since I’m interested in creating new genres and writing music unlike anything that has been written before. But I actually don’t mind the label indie-classical, since I feel like my music comes from a classical tradition, is very ‘do-it-yourself,’ or independent, and is also influenced by indie rock.”
Not to muddy the water, but my personal observation is that Victoire’s music begs listeners to close their eyes and allow the music to seep into their psyches. Having said that, I find the easiest way for me to describe it is to say “think Cirque Du Soleil meets Phillip Glass … and Maurice Ravel.” For me, it’s New Age and Glass-ish in a quintet, chamber format, but without the mindless repetition.
It starts you thinking about the purity of music, and makes you wonder how one goes about composing it. I asked and found that it’s a multi-part process that starts with a well-grounded musical education.
“I got a Bachelors degree in composition at Boston University,” notes Mazzoli, “and a Masters degree at the Yale School of Music. I also studied at the Conservatory of The Hague in the Netherlands.” Mazzoli’s not alone in that regard. Clarinetist Eileen Mack received a Masters degree in 2006 from the Manhattan School of Music, and is currently a doctoral student at Stony Brook University. Bassist Eleonore Oppenheim is an alumna of Yale University School of Music and the Julliard School. She is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in performance at SUNY Stony Brook University.
As a group Victoire has been together about four and a half years. “We’ve all been in the group from day one,” recalls Mazzoli.
The second part that drives Mazzoli’s compositional technique consists of her friends, the musicians. Two keyboards, violin, woodwind (clarinet) and bass are not a typical chamber configuration. In Victoire’s case, Mazzoli composes the music to suit the unique talents of her musician-friends, hence the orchestration. Which prompted me to ask: what is it about them or their talent that inspires Mazzoli to compose the music?
“I actually thought of the musicians as performers and friends, before writing any music,” remarks Mazzoli. “Obviously I needed performers who could play and read anything, people who have great stage presence and experience performing classical and pop music, but I also needed to find people with whom I wanted to spend a lot of time. It’s very trying to be on the road all the time, so it was important to me to work with friends who could travel and have fun together. The music is really written for these specific women. Eleonore Oppenheim, our bass player, is an incredible improviser, so I gave her a big solo in the piece ‘India Whiskey’. Lorna Krier, our keyboardist, does a lot with vintage synths and loop pedals, so I’ve written all these strengths into the pieces.”
Acceptance and approval of Mazzoli’s unique compositional approach has come from the legendary Kronos Quartet, which has performed her music all over the world.
Unlike a classical chamber quartet or quintet, members do not perform together exclusively as Victoire. And this places extra demands on Mazzoli and the others. “Having any kind of band or ensemble in New York is difficult to schedule,” she states, “since everyone has to make a living and take on a lot of freelance work. We have a lot of late nights practicing in my tiny living room. But we’re all really committed to making it work, so we find the time.”
Unlike typical classical chamber groups, Victoire exhibits a flair for personal performance quite apart from simply playing the music.
“We really love performing! I think that any live performance needs to take into account visual as well as musical elements, so we think long and hard about costumes, lighting, projections and our stage presence. In this way I’m taking a cue from rock bands, who think about this stuff a lot.”
Unique Quintet Victoire will perform for Dayton audiences on Thursday, March 15 at 8p.m. in the University of Dayton’s Sears Recital Hall, located in the Jesse Philips Humanities Center at the University of Dayton. Concert Tickets will be sold at the door or may be purchased in advance through the UD Box Office (229-2545) or online at http://artsseries.udayton.edu. General admission is $15; UD alumni, faculty and staff tickets are $10 and student tickets are $5.
Reach DCP freelance writer Joe Aiello at JoeAiello@DaytonCityPaper.com.