Heidi yodels Vivaldi
OVA – the Valaisan Amateur Orchestra
Watch out for members of l'Orchestre Valaisan Amateur (OVA). This group brings together some 41 music fans — 80% under 25 years old.
Under its 29-year-old conductor, Vincent Métrailler from Chalais (now based in Berne), the orchestra has made a speciality of mixing classic and unusual contemporary music for its (unfortunately) rare public performances.
It closed its third season on 6 and 7 January with a programme that included yodelling Vivaldi's Four Seasons, a challenging feat for both the singer, Geneva's Héloïse Heidi Fracheboud, and the players.
Their successful performance was more than a gimmick. In fact, much interesting contemporary music seems to involving taking an unlikely idea and turning it into a fresh and original conception of what music can do.
Thus we get Cornelius Cardew's idea that the musicians can decide whether to follow a conductor or not, John Cage produced a "Lecture for Nothing" using words in musical patterns (I heard it last year at the ForumWallis in Leuk), and the Valais jazz group Le Pot recorded in the Raron Church using tunes by Benjamin Britten and Johann Christoph Pepusch (The Beggar's Opera, which satirised Italian opera).
The Vivaldi piece was part of a Suite for Yodel and Orchestra put together by Métrailler with Fracheboud, who teaches at the Ethnomusicologiques Workshop as well as composing and singing.
The other composers on the programe were Gustav Holst and Kurt Weill, with works that no-one but specialists are likely to know, but nevertheless made up an evening of accessible but inspiring music.
Métrailler, who has just become second trombonist for the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, showed his compositional skills in a superb overture before bringing in Fracheboud and an alphorn for the traditional, popular (I love to Yodel) and the humorous ('Vivaldi ist yodelbar/Vivaldi is yodellable').
This wasn't just a gimmick. OVA and Métrailler previously gave us a programme of Edith Piaf's music along with Jean Sibelius's Pelleas & Melisande.
The 2017 New Year's concert had a theme it did not promote strongly: composers who have turned to popular music out of social concern.
Holst, who once earned his living as a trombonist, is now famous for his grandiose Planets suite, drawing on his interest in astrology. But St. Paul's Suite, played as OVA's opening piece, is hardly known. He composed it 1912, two years before Planets for the opening of a music wing at the school where he taught. Despite the Planets he was never able to live purely from composing, and I had to name it on Spotify to find recorded versions.
A lifelong Socialist inspired by the crafts movement of William Morris, Holst reintroduced folk songs and dances into English music for their popular qualities — you'll even find Greensleeves in St. Paul's. He was a great influence on his friend Ralph Vaughan Williams and Benjamin Britten.
The second programme item was Kurt Weill's Little Threepenny Music. The 1927 opera version inspired by The Beggar's Opera is widely known, but this "greatest hits" version, assembled in 1928, adds a drummer and saxophone to give a jazzy tone to his collection of dances, marches and cabaret tunes. At the same time, Weill enchants with his trademarked dissonances, unusual orchestration and parodic style.
As the programme notes remind us, among many musical artists the First World War and its aftermath led to a disgust with elitist and comforting classic structures. Determined to offer a critical view of current artistic and political ideas, they turned to popular forms accessible to the ordinary public via radio. Weill here used the foxtrot, tango and Charleston, while Holst drew on the jig as well as traditional airs.
As for our yodeller, Fracheboud started her career as a solo street singer in 2004. After 10 years she began collaborating with other artists in groups such as EthnoYoutze and Yodel&Swing. A student of dance and theatre as well as music, she has performed in contemporary dance and as a clown.
Valaisan flautist Pauline Jean, a member of the Valais Cantonal Conservatory orchestra, founded the OVA at Sierre in 2014 when she found herself without a group or a way of playing regularly once she completed her studies. The orchestra now has some 50 members and finds work behind the scenes for anyone who is not playing in any particular concert.
All the OVA's concerts have been packed and enthusiastically received. The 2017 New Year's concert in Leuk/Susten on 6 January was no exception, visibly enjoyed by the musicians as well as the audience.
YouTube: Jean Sibelius, Pelleas & Melisande: 27 minutes.
Yodel improvisation: Héloïse Heide Fracheboud and Vincent Métrailler: 1 min. 44 secs.
Yodel and alphorn: Héloïse Heide Fracheboud and Jean-Claude Welche, Evolène: 4 min. 21 secs.
Édith Piaf by Christine Zufferey and OVA: 38 secs.