Global Soundscapes FestivalWhen: May 31 to June 13Where: Waterfront Theatre w/ concerts at other Vancouver venues and the Ucluelet Community CentreTickets: $20 – $35 at vi-co.org plus free and pay-what-you-can performancesEight years have passed since the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Here on the West Coast of Canada, we still receive tsunami debris.Park ranger Pete Clarkson helped with the cleanup and, with the debris that couldn’t be sent back, created a memorial, the Tohoku Tsunami Memorial in the Tofino Botanical Gardens. Inspired by his story, Rita Ueda has written an opera, Debris.“With Debris, I wanted to tell the story about Pete and also the people of Tofino/Ucluelet, who right from the beginning said we’re not going to treat this as garbage, but with respect, as it once belonged to people who died tragically in a disaster,” Ueda said.The chamber opera will premiere at the Ucluelet Community Centre on June 1 and in Vancouver at the Waterfront Theatre on June 5. Both performances are part of this year’s Global Soundscapes Festival.
Miyama McQueen-Tokita plays the koto in a number of concerts as part of the Global Soundscapes Festival, which runs from May 31 to June 13. Photo: Masanori Yoshie
Masanori Yoshie /
Presented by the Vancouver Inter-Cultural Orchestra (VICO), the festival celebrates musical traditions from all over the world. This year’s edition focuses on the instruments and traditions of Japan, with local musicians playing alongside international artists. These include Naomi Sato (sho) and Harrie Starreveld (shakuhachi), from Amsterdam, and Miyama Tokita-McQueen (koto), and Yuji Nakagawa (sarangi), from Japan.Along with Ueda’s opera, the festival features 10 concerts. Zen and Now, the Festival Gala Concert (June 8), features guest conductor John Zoltek and visiting artists performing world premieres of new works by Leslie Uyeda and Tomoko Fukui, the Canadian premiere of a composition by Ueda, and Chidori No Kyoku (Song of the Plovers) by Yoshizawa Kengyo.Armanini, VICO’s artistic director and arranger of Chidori No Kyoku, describes the latter as “a wonderful example of intercultural music” and credits the late UBC ethnomusicologist Elliot Weisgarber as a pioneer in that regard.“He was quite a character,” Armanini said. “He was the first professional shakuhachi (traditional Japanese flute) player in North America. We like to point out the differences between his situation 30, 40 years ago and the present situation, where we have an abundance of traditional players in town and the ability to bring in top players from elsewhere as soloists.”
Rita Ueda brings her opera Debris to Ucluelet and Vancouver as part of the Global Soundscapes Festival. which runs from May 31 to June 13.
A number of guest artists perform in Debris. Naomi Sato, who plays the traditional Japanese reed instrument sho, is Mayumi, the ghost of a young mother who drowned in the tsunami in Japan with her five-year-old son. Unaware that she is dead, she wanders the beach looking for her little boy. Koto player Miyama McQueen-Tokita is the narrator. She sings the narration while playing the koto, a stringed instrument. Harrie Starreveld and Richmond’s Geling Jiang (on the stringed, fretless sanxian) also appear onstage, playing sound effects on their respective instruments to represent the conditions of the ocean and forest.Baritone Willy Miles-Grenzberg is Pete Clarkson and Montreal soprano Sarah Albu is a fictional character, Alice. An Ontario woman who has moved to the West Coast to buy a beachside condo and then has second thoughts following the disaster, she represents the fears of many of us.“I saw lots questions at the time (of the tsunami) asking, What are we going to do with 20 tonnes of debris, we can’t handle that?” said Ueda, who was inspired to write her opera after seeing a short documentary of the same name by John Bolton.“I was very impressed by how people in Ucluelet and Tofino weren’t like that. We know that one day the big one will hit us, and our property might be on a slow-floating passage to Japan. Once this happens, how do we want people to treat our stuff?”