A New Classic

By Tamara Vallejos

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Posted January 17, 2013 in Music

Photo by Stephen S. Taylor

Victoire’s new paradigm blends centuries-old instrumention with indie rock touches

In 2010, the seven-piece group Victoire saw its debut record, Cathedral City, land on several critics’ year-end best-of lists of the best albums in classical music. But press “play” on a piece by this group of New York-based women and you won’t hear your grandparents’ classical tunes—unless they were listening to moody compositions that paired traditional instruments like violin with electronic flourishes and eerie, distorted voiceovers.

Founded by composer Missy Mazzoli, the group began playing shows in 2008 after meeting each other in New York’s contemporary music scene. Classically trained in rigorous programs such as those Juilliard and the Manhattan School of Music, the women were drawn together by their desire to forego the usual path to a career in classical music. Instead of playing works written a couple hundred years ago, they wanted to dive into the here-and-now of the scene.

“As a composer, I’ve always felt my heart was in creating new things and not being bound by a particular genre,” says Mazzoli, whose compositions have been performed by New York City Opera, the Kronos Quartet and others. “As performers, the other women really felt the same way and were very drawn to contemporary music and its energy and aliveness. Aesthetically, we were all on the same page of wanting to do something new and wanting to combine the classical training with everything that we were seeing our friends do in indie rock bands.”

That included releasing albums, spending days in a car while travelling around the country on tour and meeting lots of new people with whom to collaborate on future projects. Because of that, Mazzoli sometimes describes Victoire as “indie classical,” for lack of a better term.

“It implies two things: independent classical music, but also this tradition of indie rock and pop and its influence on classical music,” she explains, although she’s not comfortable that the phrase has begun to also imply a watered-down version of classical music. Trying to explain Victoire’s sound to strangers is tricky, she says.

“Instead, I try to explain what’s going on: ‘There are seven women on stage, and we’re playing violin and double bass and keyboard, but there are also electronics and singers.’ Then people can start to form their own idea of what it could be.”

Those people run the gamut, from teen skate punks at a Detroit underground punk club to the older, more conventional classical audience at a university concert series. So it’s anyone’s guess which type of concertgoer will show up to Victoire’s performance on Jan. 23 at Culver Center of the Arts, particularly considering this show will have an additional component: the band will be accompanied in performance by MFA dance students from UC Riverside. And the free price tag means Victoire will get a particularly ideal opportunity to tackle any stereotypes about what classical music can be.

“I kept facing all these misunderstandings about my music and what it meant to be a composer in 2012,” Mazzoli says. “People don’t often meet a composer in their daily life, so I hear things like, ‘I thought you were all dead,’ or ‘What do you do all day?’ But if you say to someone, ‘I have a band and we’re going to play for you,’ that’s a paradigm they’ve experienced a hundred times. So by having Victoire function like a band, we can break down a lot of these misconceptions and get to a place where people stop trying to name what they’re hearing, and just listen.”

Victoire at Culver Center of the Arts, 3834 Main St., Riverside, (951) 827-4787; culvercenter.ucr.edu. Wed, Jan. 23. 8pm. Free.


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