soprano, soprano saxophone and string quartet

Premiere: February 22, 2009, Montréal / Nouvelles Musiques 2009: Hozhro, Fonderie Darling, Montréal (Québec)

In memory of Jean-Pierre Perreault (1947-2002) and a tribute to Pierre Dansereau


Hozhro is first and foremost a staged cantata, completed in 2003. It is an expansion of music I conceived of ùin 1991 for the choreography for the late Jean-Pierre Perreault’s Îles. Originally composed mainly for a microtonal organ and a female voice that appeared near the end, these 45 minutes of “dance” music have evolved into an independent work that lasts about an hour, in which the voice is assigned to a character surrounded by soprano saxophone, a string quartet, and pre-recorded sounds. My confidence that this music could become an independent piece underpinned my work on it. Tony Hillerman’s multicultural thrillers, set on a Navajo reserve, and the writings of Quebecois ecologist Pierre Dansereau also contributed to a coming together of the original music with the dramatic theme that runs through Hozhro—a work that brings to mind both a First Nation’s ritual (the “shaking tent”) and an ecological demonstration. Still, the real “subject” lies elsewhere.


In Hozhro (harmony or beauty in Navajo), music and words evoke the journey of a woman haunted by the ecological crisis and in search of an internal harmony vital to every undertaking that affects the earth. A speaker opens the work with a manifesto that exposes the needs and rights of the individual, society, and even the entire planet. He anxiously notes his pettiness, and flees his impatience and the indignation he feels when confronted by forces that thwart the satisfaction of his needs and the respect of his rights. This theme is magnificently synthesized in Pierre Dansereau’s writings. Later, the 4 protagonist enters as herself, and through the composer’s words, sinks into sleep, dreams, and mysterious poetry that is both abstract and sensual, right up to the pure sonority of syllables closely linked to the music that she sings near the end of the work. Paradoxically, in her flight, she returns “re-harmonized” and ready to resume her role. Constructed to suggest, the music moulds itself to the stages of this journey. The relationship between the character and her conscience is revealed through the interplay of the voice (spoken, rhythmicized, and sung) and a pre-recorded (and thus invisible) microtonal organ that is at times as large as a cathedral. The soprano saxophone and the quartet respectively assume the roles of the voice and the body of an accompanist (shaman or priest?) that provokes, mocks, observes, supports, and enriches this interior journey to the point of bringing nature herself into play, in the form of various bird songs.


Hozhro has become a multi-disciplinary event that brings together various production artists-videographer Mario Côté, choreographer Danièle Desnoyers, lighting designer Jean Gervais and architect Pierre Thibault. These individuals have appropriated the staged cantata’s music, text and theme to deepen the vision it inspires in them and to create a global artistic undertaking in which each discipline may develop its own terms and necessities, and deploy its own means to motivate receptiveness in the spectator. The choice of venue (Fonderie Darling, a dismantled industrial site) creates great tension with the cantata’s subject matter, and was a fundamental aspect of the creative process. Like the performers, the faith in and engagement with the project that my longtime collaborators have demonstrated has touched me deeply, and I would like to extend my warmest thanks to them.


This staged cantata is dedicated to the memory of Jean-Pierre Perreault and constitutes a tribute to Pierre Dansereau. This multi-disciplinary event could not have been realized without the vital collaborative efforts of the Bozzini quartet, Hexagram-UQAM, the Montreal/New Music festival, the Montreal Conservatory and the Carré des Lombes company, as well as the support of Anne-Marie Messier and Nicole Charbonneau who contributed to mounting the project, and the invaluable financial support of the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Québec, the Conseil des Arts de Montréal, the Canada Council for the Arts, and our generous supporters.

Michel Gonneville [xii-08]