In February 1990, while attending performances with orchestras in Calgary and Edmonton, I paid a visit to John Peter Lee Roberts. The hospitality, sophistication, and kindness of the whole family were augmented by a surprise discovery of a volume of John’s poetry entitled Dream People. Captivated by the depth of meaning, I resolved there and then to set some of the poems to music.
A few years later, when an invitation arrived from Pierrot Ensemble to write a work for a narrator and six instruments, I realized that I was faced with a unique opportunity to realize the project.
Dream People exists on several levels simultaneously and its one unifying element is derived from plainchant. At another level, while Roberts’ texts deal with the human condition, the players reveal a certain nonchalance or escapism in relation to it. The cellist starts the piece alone as if practicing Bach. Similarly, the violinist turns to “Bach” again at the conclusion and gets so absorbed that he doesn’t even notice that the other players have left the stage. From time to time, the narrator seems to battle the players who adopt a collective reaction to avoid confrontation and to silence their own conscience – frequently through escapism away from the present and into the shadows of history.
The escapism in the work is also reflected in the styles employed. For example: baroque (movements 1 and 12), jazz (movement 2), medieval (movement 3), and renaissance (movement 9). To put it more simply, while the poetry is concerned with elements of the human condition, the music integrates it with elements of musical styles while at the same time challenging the formal ritual of musical performance.
The selection of ten poems is placed into the context of twelve movements of approximately 35 minutes in duration. The chamber setting marks a rather rare departure from orchestral writing, the influence of which can be traced occasionally in an otherwise discreet instrumental setting.