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Emilie-Claire Barlow: Dreaming Big

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Emilie-Claire Barlow

Photo by Steve Webster

In advance of Emilie-Claire Barlow’s February, 2016 performance at Massey Hall, we caught up with the acclaimed chanteuse and asked about her musical journey, her preparations for her 10th studio album – recorded with the acclaimed Dutch jazz/pop orchestra Metropole Orkest – and about the concert experience to come.

How did working with the Metropole Orkest change the way you prepared for, recorded and conceived of the new album?

Preparing for the recording of Clear Day was a different experience for me in so many ways! It's the first time I've collaborated on a musical project. My co-producer, the immensely talented and creative Steve Webster, and I spent six months working on the arrangements and writing the orchestrations in preparation for heading to Holland to record the Metropole Orkest. This record has nine tracks that feature the orchestra, and we had a mere two days in the studio with them, so we needed to be completely prepared. The proofreading and music preparation alone was a tremendous amount of work.

Creatively speaking, it was a luxury to have such a large palette to work with: An orchestra provides such an array of colours, textures and combinations, and we dreamed up arrangements with the orchestra in mind – which is a very important distinction. This orchestra is not layered on top of the tracks, it's an integral part of the arrangements, and fully integrated with the rhythm section. It's been a challenging and exciting project, and I've put my whole self into it.

This album has made me believe in dreaming big!

What can audiences expect from your Massey Hall performance with this massive ensemble?

I'm pulling together the best of the best musicians in Toronto to bring my new album, Clear Day, to life on stage. We'll also be revisiting some of my classic material, but with the addition of the orchestra. I'll also be featuring my quintet for some of the smaller-group material.

We're also going to bring the Metropole Orkest's head conductor Jules Buckley to Toronto for this special concert. Because he conducted the MO on Clear Day, he’s deeply connected to the material, and I'm so honoured to have him here to debut this music in Toronto.

You recently worked with the Massey Hall Band – the Hall’s resident band that collaboratively works with artists to create new versions of familiar music through the use of re-composition, arrangement and improvisation – which must have been another different kind of experience for you.

I was totally flattered to be asked to perform at the inaugural performance of the Massey Hall Band. I love the concept of a band acting as an ambassador for Massey Hall, and one that features Toronto's younger players and collaborates across genres. Re-imagining songs is my passion, and I understand the craft and the challenge of it. I think it has great potential, and I believe that it would work well with a mentorship approach, whereby multiple generations of Toronto musicians work together to represent our city, and to honour the prestige and legacy of the Massey Hall name.

Massey Hall’s jazz reputation precedes it. Does the Hall’s history have an effect on how you’re preparing for your big night?

In thinking about being on stage at Massey Hall, it's easy to become overwhelmed with the rich history of the Hall. Not just in jazz, but in all kinds of music. If the weight of it starts to creep into my thoughts, I remind myself just to feel proud, excited, and joyful at the opportunity to make music in that space – and how it feels to be in the audience there! I'm going to make the absolute most of it, and give the audience an evening of the best and most heartfelt music I've ever made. I'm also incredibly proud to be able to share the stage with so many of our city’s finest musicians. What a thrill!

You’ve worked with Massey Hall for quite a while, from performances at Glenn Gould Studio through the Winter Garden Theatre, with the Massey Hall Band on the Roy Thomson Hall Patio, and soon, your Massey Hall debut. Can you talk about the collaboration and its effect on your career development?

It's very important to me to have the support of Massey Hall. We've been collaborating for several years now, and it continues to build. I think it's a relationship where we have continued to prove ourselves to each other. We’ve worked together to consider the right venues at different stages of my career, and worked hard to make those endeavours successful. I've continued to invest myself fully in each opportunity I've had to build the story here in my hometown of Toronto. I'm so grateful that we have a venue like Massey Hall. It has it all – the location, the team, the musical history, and most importantly, great sound!!