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Musica Intima celebrates women in song

Vocal ensemble performs special concert at Heritage Hall
In Womeninspiration, the vocal ensemble Musica Intima (artistic director Joanna Dundas and violist Isabelle Roland, in photo) perform a program of works written by women, including a new work commissioned by composer Jennifer Butler. Photo Mike Wakefield

When Musica Intima’s artistic manager Joanna Dundas joined the ensemble as a soprano in 1999, she couldn’t have predicted she would remain with the organization for the next 18 years.

But now, after almost two decades with the three-time Juno-nominated, Vancouver-based group — founded in 1992 and known for its collaborative approach to music-making — she is preparing to retire from the role that has fulfilled her talents for so long. And she will go out on a high note, so to speak, as the last show she will help direct will be a first-ever for musica intima: a special program called Womenspiration, timed to this week’s International Women’s Day, which was March 8.

Taking place tonight (Friday, March 10) at Main Street’s Heritage, the program was designed with a feminine theme in mind and will showcase a new commission by Canadian composer Jennifer Butler, using the words of Canadian playwright Maria Reva’s short story “Uta’s Escape.” There will also be a work by composer Katerina Gimon, with accompaniment by instrumentalist, and principal viola, Isabelle Roland of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra.

Although it’s a departure to have a female-only repertoire, says Dundas, it is an opportunity to work with a piece that will reflect “the textures in the female voice.” For this show, the ensemble will consist of nine singers and guest violas (instead of the usual eight to 12 members), the benefit of a smaller group. “You can hear more of the individual voices — the tonal ranges that they can represent,” Dundas says.

When commissioning the story that would inspire the program, Dundas was very specific about the type of work she was looking for. She started to ask writers, including Maria Reva, who also happens to be a composer, which pieces they thought would work well with music. “Maria sent us a short story that had been published by the Guardian online, and we worked with her to adapt the text so that it would work [for the program].”

For the concert, “Uta’s Escape,” which is about the disappearance of a synchronized swimmer at the pool during a group training session, fit the bill. “It’s a very evocative story, very well written with some very dark humour. There were many layers that we thought we could explore,” explains Dundas.

In addition to featuring this commission, tonight’s performance will be an opportunity to showcase a variety of other pieces that Dundas feels will be given texture with the all-female voices. “There was just so much good music that we wanted to [present],” says Dundas.

Before the performance, Butler, Gimon and Reva will hold a discussion where audience members can get a behind-the-scenes perspective on the program. This interaction is consistent with Musica Intima’s philosophy of “intimate” engagement — the ensemble is known for using eye contact with audience members. As Dundas puts it, “It’s not just a performing group, it’s a culture onto itself.”

When asked how she feels about leaving her role at Musica Intima (longtime member Siri Olesen will step in as artistic manager), Dundas says: “I’ve come to a point where I’m very good about where the ensemble is at and I feel it’s a good moment to pass it on and have the next person’s ideas come to fruition.”

And with Womenspiration, her departure couldn’t be more harmonious.

“We’re having a great time and we’re really in love with the program.”

Womenspiration takes place March 10, 7:30 p.m. at Heritage Hall. The pre-concert discussion will commence at 6:45 p.m. For more information, visit