On a purely musical level, perhaps the most dynamic and inspiring aspect of Nathalie Bonin’s exquisitely composed, arranged and performed album Aspirations is the opportunity the prolific veteran violinist had to record with a 28-piece string section at the famed Abbey Road Studios – part of a whirlwind UK jaunt that included other recording and mixing sessionns in London, which included tracking solos by her, pianist Paul Bateman and harpist Auriel Pawsey. Drawing from her clever album title, progressing so quickly from previous solo violin projects to this grander scale eight-piece neo-classical mini symphony, boldly telling her daring life story in melodies and unique musical phrases, is something all artists aspire to.
From the gingerly cautious and mysterious turned percussively adventurous opening track “Uncertain Path” through the hypnotic, uber-romantic, deeply Shakespearean reflection on the dramatic “Torn Love,” the artist uses her singular string voice to chronicle the leap of faith she took – and the extreme challenges she faced – to follow her heart’s calling and move from her roots in Montreal to the uncharted land of Los Angeles. It’s about the courage to follow her dream with grace, wherever it might lead.
For all that powerful, thought-provoking grandeur, the true miracle of Aspirations is that it exists at all. Nathalie composed these eight quite compact, but richly developed pieces barely over a year after a near fatal car accident that changed her life. Though blessed with a second chance at life, she could barely play her instrument for months as she endured the intense rigors of physical therapy. She reflects “My physical therapist asked if I really needed to continue playing the violin and I felt like she asked me if I could chop my arm! I realized that music is not only part of me. I am music and can’t live without it.”
Amazingly, after a year of treatments and diligent 90-minute daily stretches, she was not only playing again, but at a level better than ever before. She attributes this elevation to a feeling of being charged with “that deep gratitude and love” and the feeling that her will to live (which helped her in a split-second reflex action to avoid a worse accident) extended now to renewed purpose as a person and artist. Every precious note she shares on Aspirations fulfills her vision to speak to the heart through music. As they embark on the intricate, sometimes lighthearted, often poignant, always empowering musical journey with her, listeners will be grateful that the Universe in its infinite wisdom gave the artist this remarkable gift of renewed perspective.
While fans of violin and small ensemble contemporary classical music can certainly appreciate Aspirations on a purely sonic and aesthetic level, perhaps applying their own visuals and personal interpretations to Nathalie’s compositions and performances, the artist, perhaps as an exercise of self-reflection, also provides a straight from her heart and soul roadmap of the narrative from track to track. Once she commits to the aforementioned “Uncertain Path,” she is reassured by the caressing, lyrical sway of “Waves of Hope,” a piece she calls “a lullaby for a fragile soul.” Its sweet melody has an ironic touch of melancholy, but in the end Nathalie feels enough reassurance to keep striving.
The lush, originally soothing but ultimately tension filled “Betrayed Love” is a Nino Rota-inspired composition that taps into a deep wound of being misled, offset by the whimsical spirit of a fulfilling revenge fantasy. The at first soft-spoken, then increasingly intense, hypnotically swirling, emphatically orchestrated title track “Aspirations” captures the many emotions intrinsic to following a dream – the gentle whisper of desire, followed by a passionate nudge and the swelling faith that anything is possible. Nathalie says, “The relentless solo violin is that drive that keeps going while the string ensemble and the piano represent the doubts, the fears and all the demons I had to face as well as those telling me I was crazy to leave.”
For the artist, everything started with the “Dawn of Innocence,” which starts out with a simple devil may care spirit of light in the darkness before the swelling caress of love (illuminated by her quick dancing, faerie like violin melody) inspires her to embark on the whole “crazy” journey. Nathalie presents a hauntingly romantic and nostalgic side of her vast artistry on the violin-piano duet “Soupir D’Amour,” a meditation on her ability to at last let go of “forbidden, impossible love.” Pianist Paul Bateman, who provides beautiful harmonies and counterpoints throughout the project, is at his best here.
Aspirations’ penultimate piece is the dreamy, mystical, film-score-esque “Fawn’s Whisper,” a spritely, two-and-a half-minute mini-epic that takes her back in her mind and heart to the little whisper (as Spielberg calls them) that she heard in 2015 telling her to move to L.A. In more technical terms, she says, “The harmonies fluctuate between augmented, major, minor and diminished chords through a sequence of reverent cadences embellished by fairy timbres in the harp and the higher string section.” The closing track “Torn Love,” serves as a powerful, sweeping coda that serves as both a rejoinder to “Betrayed Love” and an open-ended question about the nature of the heart, as in “What is love now?” or in Shakesperean terms, “To love or not to love…”
“In each composition, carefully woven into the fabric of Aspirations, you will find a glimpse of my story, a testament to the intricate tapestry of events that have unfolded in these eventful seven years,” says Nathalie. “Through the music, I invite you to join me on this introspective and transformative expedition, where hope served as a beacon, guiding me forward through the labyrinthine passages of life.”