RDSO Chamber Series kicks off with Debussy

Through the Looking Glass, the first concert in the latest RDSO Chamber Series, is based on the at one time radical combination of harp, flute and viola.

Conductor Claude Lapalme

Conductor Claude Lapalme

Through the Looking Glass, the first concert in the latest RDSO Chamber Series, is based on the at one time radical combination of harp, flute and viola.

Claude Debussy was the first composer to add the viola to the traditional flute-harp pairing as part of an experimental project to write music for unlikely instrumental combos.

The French composer’s resulting Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp, a ground-breaking piece from 1915, is on the program for the Sunday afternoon concert at the First Christian Reformed Church in Red Deer. But then so is Debussy’s Three Movements from Children’s Corner, an upbeat work that was originally written for piano but latter arranged for the three instruments.

Red Deer Symphony Orchestra music director Claude Lapalme said this shows how popular the flute-harp-viola trio had become, that many pieces were later adapted for that particular combination.

“People found the sound very attractive. You have the brightness and the filigree (of the flute and harp). And all this fluidity is offset a bit by the warmth of the viola. It’s a more exotic sound than the cello — like having a warm tenor voice in there.”

Sunday’s concert will feature Calgary’s Looking Glass Duo, of harpist Gianetta Baril and flutist Lucy Jones. As well, Dean O’Brien will play the viola.

All three musicians will be familiar to RDSO audiences, as O’Brien and Jones are principal players with the orchestra, and Baril is a regular guest who has played as part of the RDSO and as a soloist.

Besides Debussy’s serious sonata and his playful Children’s Corner piece, the Looking Glass Duo will perform Ástor Piazzolla’s Two Tangos from L’histoire du Tango and Bernard Andrés’ Narthex.

Piazzolla was an Argentine composer who also played the bandoneón, a type of accordion used for tangos. He revolutionized the traditional tango style by incorporating elements from jazz and classical music to create the “nuevo tango.” The two tangos on the program were written in the new style, which plays with rhythm and provides some smoky harmonies, said Lapalme.

French composer Andrés was inspired to write Narthex after visiting Romanesque churches in Burgundy. He was struck by the poetry and drama of these medieval structures. And he drew inspiration from Old Testament scenes that were sculpted in stone inside the narthex, or entrance hall, through which pilgrims would pass in order to rest, eat and contemplate.

This Through the Looking Glass chamber concert was rescheduled from last year, when the harpist broke her foot and had to take some time off.

Lapalme believes the long wait will be worth it.

Tickets to the 3 p.m. chamber concert are $25 ($10 for students) from Ticketmaster — or $63 for all three concerts in the chamber series.

lmichelin@bprda.wpengine.com