The China Post by Lin Yuting
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Canadian soprano Suzie LeBlanc discusses her work and philosophy during her brief touchdown in Taipei
Suzie LeBlanc made a surprising appearance in Taipei last week, as a soloist with the Taiwan National Choir (TNC, 國立實驗合唱團), conducted by her fellow Canadian Agnes Grossman. LeBlanc brought the “Pie Jesu” movement to life as part of the evening’s performance of the Requiem (Op. 48) by French composer Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924). After the whole work was performed, the appreciative audience requested an encore of LeBlanc’s “Pie Jesu,” as well as baritone Li Tzeng-ming’s (李增銘) “Libera me,” concluding the otherwise pensive evening with some star glamor.
LeBlanc’s appearance in Taiwan was serendipitous. She is on a sabbatical break and originally had no concerts scheduled until June. She has wanted to visit places in Asia for a long time, and after stopping in Taiwan she flew on to Bhutan.
The rose and the lotus
One of LeBlanc’s current projects, on a grant from the Government of Canada, is a multimedia concert, involving images, videos, and costumes. “The theme is the Awakened Rose, [after] a lieder by Richard Strauss,” she said. “It’s the beginning of a theme I want to develop [regarding] the rose but also the lotus flower. The lotus grows from mud, and the rose has thorns, which I think is an interesting concept to work with — out of the dark comes beauty; out of the shadow comes creativity.” The project, now “in its infancy,” will have some musical content by the end of the year and is expected to culminate in a performance in 2014.
Unearthing music from the past
In addition to her pristine and weightless soprano voice, Leblanc is known for specializing in 17th and 18th century European music, bringing many hitherto unrecorded or seldom recorded works to life.
For the first 20 years of her career, LeBlanc spent much time in libraries to acquaint herself with works by 17th century masters when recordings of them were rare. “One way to get to know a composer is to… listen to every note that he has written, then you start to understand the style. So I would go to the libraries and see the manuscripts,” she explained.
In addition, within the past eight years, LeBlanc has explored her own roots by researching and recording Acadian folk songs. “My family was not about traditional music… we listened to Classical music at home like Bach [and] Beethoven,” she recalled. She overcame initial hesitations and eventually venturing into the tradition.
“My record company suggested maybe I should do this. First I said no [because] there are a lot of people who can do this music [i.e. Acadian folk songs] really well… I don’t want to do this badly so I’m never gonna do it at all.” Four years later, however, LeBlanc realized: “Maybe I can sing this music because it actually comes from the Medieval, Renaissance and 17th century. The songs are old, and I know about old music. So why not? So that’s what I did.”
In learning about Acadian folk songs she worked with real musicians in addition to written sources, an approach that she wants to extend to her Awakened Rose project. “I’m going to plant some roses in my garden,” she said, so that she can learn about the flower “not only intellectually” but also experience it “on a three-dimensional level.”
How music bears on life
Leblanc is self-effacing when it comes to discussing her experience onstage. “It’s not about myself, but about the music,” she remarked, seeing herself as a medium for the power of music to come through. She enjoys observing the audience members in her mind’s eye, seeing their various states of engagement as they listen: some are transfixed, some are bored, some fall asleep, and the kids sometimes swing their legs back and forth. The most important thing though, for her, is to “let people be transported from their daily concerns” through art.
LeBlanc’s practice of music has also informed other aspects of her life. “Music requires a lot of discipline and a lot of precision, and this idea of getting out of the way. It puts you touch with something much larger than yourself. If you are daily in touch with something that is so much more powerful than you — it’s like living by the ocean and seeing it everyday — you see [many things] suddenly from a different angle. You learn to cope in certain situations, like jet lag, that how you feel is not important; the result as a performance is what matters.”