PARZIVAL & FIEREFIZ

A New Narrative of Race


A contemporary musical narrative of the Grail myth

by John McDowell & Emmanuel Vukovich

Libretto - George Elliot Clarke

Narration/Baritone - Philippe Sly

Violin - Emmanuel Vukovich

African Drum - Kwasi Dunyo

TorQ Percussion Quartet

String Chamber Ensemble - including current and previous recipients of the Canada Council for the Arts Instrument Bank


June 23rd 2020, Chicago: Performance at the Association of Waldorf Schools of North America

100th Anniversary Conference in collaboration with the Eurythmy Collective, directed by Alexandra Spadea.


November 2020, Toronto: in conjunction with the Canadian Opera Company’s production of Wagner’s Parsifal and the University of Toronto's “Opera Exchange” Conference.


This project has applied for funding from the Canada Council for the Arts and is in the process of identifying additional funding as well as further performance opportunities and a recording of the work in 2021.

Parzival & Fierefiz - A New Narrative of Race is produced by The Parcival Project - a Canadian charitable corporation founded and directed by Emmanuel Vukovich in 2012.


Parzival & Fierefiz - A New Narrative of Race

A new and original composition for strings and percussion ensemble with solo voice, violin, and African drum inspired by Wolfram von Eschenbach’s medieval poem, Parzival & Fierefiz - A New Narrative of Race

is currently being co-created by internationally award-winning American composer John McDowell and emerging Canadian violinist Emmanuel Vukovich. Through an open score and space for improvisation, a collaborative development of story, and a general creative process based in principles of collaborative leadership, this work explores reconciliation in a contemporary musical context. It also includes vocal narration and sung text in the medieval troubadour tradition.

This project has assembled a renowned and committed team of contributors who all value the collaborative process and artistic intent of the project. The Canadian Governor General Award-winning poet George Elliot Clarke is known for his libretto of the opera Beatrice Chancy, Kwasi Dunyo is considered to be one of the finest Ghanian drummers in North America and has worked with the Canadian percussion quartet TorQ which is known for its collaborative and contemporary approach to music making, and Canadian baritone Philippe Sly performs internationally with the world’s finest conductors and opera companies and has collaborated with Vukovich on projects previously. The string ensemble involved will include current and past recipients of The Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank many of whom have performed together regularly over the past years.

All of the above artists are drawn to this project for the importance of its message, the possibility for shared creative exploration, and the artistic cross-cultural expression of the rich heritage of musical languages it proposes and espouses.

Parzival & Fierefiz - Emmanuel Vukovich, 2018

"There once was a knight who was searching for something.

But he was lost.
This knight had grown up in the forest with the birds, beasts, trees and water.
One day, this knight meets a stranger, another knight who comes from a distant land and who is very different.
And as is the custom, the two lower their lances, spur their horses, and begin to fight.
And never before in their lives, had either one encountered an opponent of equal strength and courage.
At one moment, one of the swords breaks and the two stop fighting and ask each other:
"Who are you?"
They discover that they are related.
They are half-brothers.

The stranger's name is Fierefiz. He comes from a land called Zazamanc, and his name means ‘of many colours.’
The other knight's name is Parzival - who's name means to pierce-the-veil or to reunite the opposites."

From Parsifal to Parzival

Richard Wagner based his final opera Parsifal on Wolfram von Eschenbach's 13th-century ballade Parzival. Wagner, however, chose to omit a critical element of Eschenbach's story - the encounter between Parzival and an unknown dark-skinned knight who reveals himself to be Parzival's half-brother and whose name - Fierefiz - means 'he of many colours.’ Eschenbach’s story cannot be more timely today in its description of the modern individual’s search for identity and understanding as pathways towards inclusivity and reconciliation. Eschenbach's tale is about a ‘brave soul, yet slow to wise’ who initially fails to ask a critical question - a question which has the power to heal an ancient wound. It is only after this encounter between these apparent strangers has taken place that the reunited brothers can return to the Grail together and redeem the question which Parzival had failed to ask alone.

Retelling Eschenbach’s original story challenges our current understanding of the grail myth which has been dominated by Wagner’s legacy of individualism and exclusivity for the past 140 years. This new re-telling of the story which inspired Wagner's opera, however, explores a more contemporary narrative of the myth. It aims to transform the elitism around an ideal of purity through a confrontation, recognition, and eventual reconciliation between apparently irreconcilable polarities. In honouring Eschenbach’s original narrative - a reunion between strangers, Parzival & Fierefiz - A New Narrative of Race strives to transform the Grail narrative from the individual-centred quest of Wagner's Parsifal into a more contemporary and collective journey of collaboration, community, and a return to wholeness. Parzival's transformation from ignorance occurs not only through understanding - the power of the individual intellect, but is also through the awakening of compassion - a re-discovery of identity through relatedness.


John McDowell

Internationally award winning composer John McDowell achieved worldwide recognition with his soundtrack to the Academy Award winning documentary Born Into Brothels. Winner of Best Musical Score at the Bend Film Festival, the score blends Western and Indian music in a mesmerizing mix. Subsequent film scores by McDowell include Who Does She Think She Is?, Orgasmic Birth, and the film Sold, a narrative, feature film adaptation of the globally acclaimed novel by Patricia McCormick.

McDowell is also a highly gifted pianist, percussionist, producer, commissioned composer and conductor. His work over the past 30 years draws on classical, jazz, pop, and world music. McDowell served as founder, artistic director and leader of several musical projects including The Born Into Brothels Ensemble and the world music band Mamma Tongue. He has toured and recorded with Rusted Root and Krishna Das and has produced several albums including his solo CD Speaking the Mamma Tongue. McDowell’s formal education and subsequent informal global training has made him a largely self-taught ethnomusicologist of widely-ranging scale.

After receiving music composition degrees from DePaul and Northwestern Universities, McDowell lived in Europe and Africa. His research took him to Senegal, Gambia, India, and to work with Native American drummers and singers from the Tuscarora and Oglala tribes. In Europe, his dance scores have been featured at the Brussels Dance Festival, the Holland Festival, and the Berlin-Amsterdam Festival.He has written over 100 pieces ranging from solo flute music to dance scores, a requiem, and works for a world music ensemble and orchestra. He has performed at major venues and festivals including the Montreal Jazz Festival, Lincoln Center Out-of-Doors, and the United Nations. McDowell is also a biodynamic farmer and has performed and toured in the U.S. and Canada with Emmanuel Vukovich in the chamber music project Music for Farms.

The Parcival Project

Parzival & Feirefiz - A New Narrative of Race is a project produced by The Parcival Project - a registered Canadian charity founded in 2012 by Emmanuel Vukovich and directed by Vukovich and co-artistic director Dominic Desautels. Vukovich, a three-time recipient of the Canada Council Musical Instrument Bank, is currently a doctoral candidate in music performance at Stony Brook University, New York. Desautels is Principal Clarinet of the Canadian Opera Company and adjunct professor at the University of Toronto.


The Parcival Project is dedicated to the creation, production, presentation, of the inherited and evolving musical tradition, with a particular focus on a collaboratively led approach to performance. It builds ensembles for programming and touring, frequently including recipients of the Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank joined by other exceptional Canadian and international performers and composers who are interested in this artist driven approach.