Inside the Process: Torchsongs Transformed

Artistic Director Debra Nagy talked with us about her inspiration and hopes for LD’s new Baroque-Jazz fusion program Torchsongs Transformed, with performances in Akron, Lakewood, and Shaker Heights OH, March 6-8, 2020.

Torchsongs Transformed will trace the arc of a love affair across the seasons as Les Délices artistic director and oboist Debra Nagy teams up with soprano Hélène Brunet and beloved collaborators from Quebec’s L’Harmonie des Saisons.

Who do you hope will come hear this program?

I really hope that we’ll reach new audiences with this Torchsongs. This program is a great introduction to our work since it really typifies what LD does best: it’s an intimate, thoughtful program combining both unusual and beloved songs – and it’s also deeply expressive.

 What are you most looking forward to with this project?

Whether one is talking about love – or great music-making – chemistry is key. I absolutely love working with harpsichordist Eric Milnes and viola da gamba player Mélisande Corriveau, who form the core of the Quebec-based ensemble L’Harmonie des Saisons. We all love working together and we speak a common language when it comes to spontaneity, improvisation, and making magic happen onstage. Torchsongs Transformed will really allow audiences to appreciate the personalities of and chemistry between these artists since the concert is so strongly rooted in improvisation.

LD’s first forays into combining jazz and French Baroque music were entirely instrumental, but you have a singer for this program…

Yes! Soprano Hélène Brunet is a frequent collaborator with Méli and Eric and she’ll add something new to the mix – and we’ll be able to put words to all those songs! But choosing the right singer wasn’t easy. I wanted to bring a singer who could sing both the Great American Songbook and who truly knows French Baroque style. Hélène is fabulous with audiences and can really do both! It will be a thrill to bring her into this collaboration.

What can listeners expect to hear?

The program’s emotional journey follows love’s first bloom in Springtime (with tunes like Edith Piaf’s famous “La vie en rose”) through the endless days of Summer (George Gershwin’s Summertime and Luiz Bonfà’s bossa nova anthem “A day in the life of a fool”). Fall’s changing winds (Johnny Mercer’s “Autumn Leaves”) give way to Winter’s seeming desolation in anticipation of verdant renewal (Jerome Kern’s “All the things you are”). Les Délices will juxtapose these 20th century tunes with love songs by French Baroque masters Michel Lambert, Jean-Baptiste Lully, and Sebastian Le Camus, creating opportunities for listeners to hear all of the music differently in a work that is truly timeless.

How do 17th and 20th century songs go together?

Several factors make this 17th–20th century combination work. Not only do the universal sentiments of love, longing, loss get similar treatment across the centuries, but 17th century French songs and jazz standards also share improvisatory traditions and an impressively rich harmonic language. To be honest, combining Baroque music with Jazz would a lot less convincing if we were trying to pair Telemann or Handel (i.e. German or Italian Baroque music) with Thelonious Monk! The harmonic language in their music is so much simpler and the melodies are very structured. We’ve also chosen the 20th century works very carefully. I sought out tunes that used harmonic sequences and repeating bass patterns that – while allowing us to stretch technically and expressively – would still feel pretty natural when played on period instruments.