Saint-Saens Piano Concerto 2

In the spring of 1868, conductor and pianist Anton Rubenstein asked Camille Saint-Saëns to arrange a concert at the Salle Pleyel in Paris, with Saint-Saëns as piano soloist and Rubenstein conducting. Upon discovering that the hall was booked for three weeks, Saint-Saëns proposed that he spend the time writing a new piano concerto that he could premiere, along with a performance of his first piano concerto (1858) and his Tarantelle (1857). Saint-Saëns knocked off the work in about two weeks, but that was barely enough time to rehearse, and the piece suffered from the lack of polish at the May 8 premiere. The audience was not very receptive, and pianist Zygmunt Stojowski famously joked that its musical styles were all over the map: “it begins with Bach and ends with Offenbach.”

Franz Liszt, however, to whom Saint-Saëns sent a copy of the score, knew a crowd-pleaser when he saw one. He wrote:

“I want to thank you again for your Second Concerto, which I greatly applaud. … you take into just account the role of the pianist without sacrificing anything of the ideas of the composer, which is an essential rule in this class of work… The totality of the work pleases me singularly. It ought to meet with success in every country.”

And indeed, the concerto soon began pleasing both soloists and audiences, who admired its dash, flair, and musical showmanship.

The concerto breaks from the ordinary by placing the ‘slow’ movement in first rather than second position. The Andante sostenuto begins with a Bach-like improvisation (hence Stojowksi’s quip) that soon segues to dramatic arpeggios–typical for Saint-Saëns, who began his career as a child keyboard prodigy. The main theme was based on a Tantum ergo motet that Gabriel Fauré had shown to his teacher Saint-Saëns, who is said to have exclaimed, “Give this to me. I can make something of it!” And so he did, pairing the melancholy tune with a second motif of his own, embellished in thirds. The movement closes with a huge cadenza for the soloist, and the reprise of the Bach motif.

From the G minor of the opening we move to E-flat major in the Allegro scherzando. Marked leggieramente, “light and brisk,” the movement is a witty conversation in 6/8 between the soloist and orchestra, with flashes of the same humor we know so well from the composer’s later Carnival of the Animals (1886).

The finale, Presto, returns to G minor in a tarantella, the fast and furious Italian form well-loved by the Romantic composers. The piano soloist exchanges rapid-fire dialog with the full orchestra, in what one current critic has described as “chase-me-Charlie up and down the keyboard.” The 2/2 rondo ends with a brilliant coda that Liszt no doubt recognized–being something of a ham himself–as a chance for the soloist to pull out all the stops and “bring ’em home.”

Tchaikovsky’s Final Symphony

After completing his 5th Symphony in 1888, Tchaikovsky did not start thinking about his next symphony until April 1891, on his way to the United States. The first drafts of a new symphony were started in the spring of 1891. However, some or all of the symphony was not pleasing to Tchaikovsky, who tore up the manuscript “in one of his frequent moods of depression and doubt over his alleged inability to create.” In 1892, Tchaikovsky wrote the following to his nephew Vladimir “Bob” Davydov:

The symphony is only a work written by dint of sheer will on the part of the composer; it contains nothing that is interesting or sympathetic. It should be cast aside and forgotten. This determination on my part is admirable and irrevocable.

This work was the Symphony in E-flat, the first movement of which Tchaikovsky later converted into the one-movement 3rd Piano Concerto (his final composition), and the latter two movements of which Sergei Taneyev reworked after Tchaikovsky’s death as the Andante and Finale.

In 1893, Tchaikovsky mentions an entirely new symphonic work in a letter to his brother:

I am now wholly occupied with the new work … and it is hard for me to tear myself away from it. I believe it comes into being as the best of my works. I must finish it as soon as possible, for I have to wind up a lot of affairs and I must soon go to London. I told you that I had completed a Symphony which suddenly displeased me, and I tore it up. Now I have composed a new symphony which I certainly shall not tear up.

The symphony was written in a small house in Klin and completed by August 1893. Tchaikovsky left Klin on 19 October for the first performance in St. Petersburg, arriving “in excellent spirits.” However, the composer began to feel apprehension over his symphony, when, at rehearsals, the orchestra players did not exhibit any great admiration for the new work. Nevertheless, the premiere was met with great appreciation. Tchaikovsky’s brother Modest wrote, “There was applause and the composer was recalled, but with more enthusiasm than on previous occasions. There was not the mighty, overpowering impression made by the work when it was conducted by Eduard Nápravník, on November 18, 1893, and later, wherever it was played.”

Tchaikovsky critic Richard Taruskin writes, “Suicide theories were much stimulated by the Sixth Symphony, which was first performed under the composer’s baton only nine days before his demise, with its lugubrious finale (ending morendo, ‘dying away’), its brief but conspicuous allusion to the Orthodox requiem liturgy in the first movement and above all its easily misread subtitle. . . . When the symphony was done again a couple of weeks later, in memoriam and with subtitle in place, everyone listened hard for portents, and that is how the symphony became a transparent suicide note. Depression was the first diagnosis. ‘Homosexual tragedy’ came later.” Yet critic David Brown describes the idea of the Sixth Symphony as some sort of suicide note as “patent nonsense”. Says critic Alexander Poznansky, “Since the arrival of the ‘court of honour’ theory in the West, performances of Tchaikovsky’s last symphony are almost invariably accompanied by annotations treating it as a testimony of homosexual martyrdom.” Other scholars, including Michael Paul Smith, believe that with or without the supposed ‘court of honour’ sentence, there is no way that Tchaikovsky could have known the time of his own death while composing his last masterpiece.

It has been claimed that Soviet orchestras, faced with the problem of an enormously popular yet profoundly pessimistic piece, switched the order of the last two movements in order to bring the work to a triumphant conclusion in line with the principles of Socialist realism.

The Russian title of the symphony, Патетическая (Pateticheskaya), means “passionate” or “emotional,” not “arousing pity,” but it is a word reflective of a touch of concurrent suffering. Tchaikovsky considered calling it Программная (Programmnaya or “Program Symphony”) but realized that would encourage curiosity about the program, which he did not want to reveal. According to his brother Modest, he suggested the Патетическая title, which was used in early editions of the symphony; there are conflicting accounts about whether Tchaikovsky liked the title.

Tchaikovsky’s “Cross”-motive, associated with the crucifixion, himself, and Tristan, a variation of which first appears in mm.1-2 of his Pathétique Symphony About this sound Play (help·info). Tchaikovsky identified with and associated the cross-motif with “star-cross’d lovers” in general, such as in Romeo and Juliet.

Tchaikovsky dedicated the Pathétique to his nephew, Vladimir “Bob” Davydov, whom he greatly admired.

The Pathétique has been the subject of a number of theories as to a hidden program. This goes back to the first performance of the work, when fellow composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov asked Tchaikovsky whether there was a program to the new symphony, and Tchaikovsky asserted that there was, but would not divulge it.

A suggested program has been what Taruskin disparagingly termed “symphony as suicide note.” This idea began to assert itself as early as the second performance of the symphony in Saint Petersburg, not long after the composer had died. People at that performance “listened hard for portents. As always, they found what they were looking for: a brief but conspicuous quotation from the Russian Orthodox requiem at the stormy climax of the first movement, and of course the unconventional Adagio finale with its tense harmonies at the onset and its touching depiction of the dying of the light in conclusion”. Countering this is Tchaikovsky’s statement on 26 September/8 October 1893 that he was in no mood to write any sort of requiem. This was in reply to a suggestion from his close friend Grand Duke Konstantin that he write a requiem for their mutual friend the writer Aleksey Apukhtin, who had died in late August, just as Tchaikovsky was completing the Pathétique.

Tchaikovsky specialist David Brown suggests that the symphony deals with the power of Fate in life and death. This program would not only be similar to those suggested for the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, but also parallels a program suggested by Tchaikovsky for his unfinished Symphony in E flat. That program reads, “The ultimate essence … of the symphony is Life. First part – all impulse, passion, confidence, thirst for activity. Must be short (the finale death – result of collapse). Second part love: third disappointments; fourth ends dying away (also short).”

Anastasia Rizikov

It’s not everyday a stellar 19 year old pianist comes to town, and even more rare that they give their first performance of a concerto that is new to their repertoire.  March 24th we’re thrilled to be joined by Anastasia Rizikov for the Saint-Saens Piano Concerto No. 2.

Canadian pianist Anastasia Rizikov is a remarkably poised and precocious seventeen year old who is already showing signs of being “one to watch”. At age seven, she made her orchestral debut, and has since appeared as soloist with major orchestras of North America and Europe. In 2015 alone, Ms. Rizikov won first places at the Jaén International Piano Competition and the Ettore Pozzoli International Piano Competition, recorded a CD with NAXOS, and performed at the Verbier Festival in Switzerland.

Since placing first at The Vladimir Horowitz International Young Pianists Competition in Kiev, Ukraine (where she also received a special award for Best Artistic Performance) and first sharing the stage with orchestra playing Polunin’s Concertino in A minor with the National Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra of Ukraine conducted by Mykola Diadiura at age seven, Anastasia stepped on to the international competition circuit, winning many awards in the process. Resolving to compete in adult competitions since the age of twelve, Anastasia won first places over musicians twice her age in the following competitions: the Ettore Pozzoli International Piano Competition, along with prizes for best compulsory work by E. Pozzoli, and audience prize (Seregno, Italy, 2015); the Jaén International Piano Competition, as well as taking all three additional prizes- for the best interpretation of Spanish music, for the best interpretation of the compulsory work, and the audience prize”(Jaén, Spain, 2015); the 13th «Giuliano Pecar» International Piano Competition (Gorizia, Italy, 2013); George Gershwin International Music Competition (Brooklyn, NY, 2013); as well as Rotary International Piano Competition (Palma de Mallorca, Spain, 2011), where she became the youngest person to compete and win in their history.

In 2015, Ms. Rizikov played Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor twice with the Granada Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Paul Mann in Granada and Jaén, Spain, and in 2014, tackled one of the most technically challenging piano concertos – Rachmaninoff No. 3 in D minor with Laval Symphony Orchestra in collaboration with conductor Alain Trudel in Quebec. With over 30 orchestral performances and 20 concerti in her repertoire, Anastasia has already played with such major orchestras as Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Nova Scotia, Michigan Philharmonic Orchestra, Orchestra London Canada, International Symphony Orchestra, National Academy Orchestra of Canada, Baleares Symphony Orchestra, and Sinfonia Toronto, and has worked with such conductors as Peter Oundjian, Shalom Bard, Bernhard Gueller, Alain Trudel, Boris Brott, Ovidiu Balan, and Salvador Brotons,  to name a few.

Anastasia’s concert schedules have taken her to Asia, all over Europe – Spain, Italy, Switzerland, France, Poland, Ukraine, Russia – the United States, and Canada, where she has played in such prestigious halls and spaces such as Carnegie Hall, Roy Thomson Hall, Koerner Hall, Fazioli Hall, Auditorio Manuel de Falla, Hong Kong City Hall, and the Kremlin. In 2015, Ms. Rizikov performed in major international music festivals like the Orford Music Festival, and the Verbier Music Festival. In the fall of 2013, Anastasia gave 20 performances over two weeks throughout all the Atlantic provinces of Canada as winner of the prestigious Debut Atlantic Award.

Anastasia Rizikov studies with award-winning professor Maia Spis, teacher at the Nadia Music Academy in Toronto. Since beginning her studies at the age of five, she has shown unparalleled dedication to both practice and performance. Ms. Rizikov has played in master classes for Sergei Babayan, Arie Vardi, Robert Levin, Ferenc Rados, Anatoly Ryabov, Oxana Yablonskaya, and has worked with András Schiff, Emanuel Ax, Menahem Pressler, Gabor Takács-Nagy, and Olga Kern.

In December, 2012, in honor of Glenn Gould’s 80th Anniversary Year and his Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, The Glenn Gould Foundation has provided a C1X Yamaha baby grand piano Anastasia. She has the piano on an indefinite loan-basis to aid in her artistic and career development.

Adept in English, Russian, Ukrainian (and working towards mastering her French), Anastasia has given interviews for many major newspapers as well as live television shows. She is fanatic about literature – reading being “an escape from reality and entrance to a very different world, where my imagination goes wild”, and is enthusiastic about art. Being a person who loves and understands her audience, she dreams of being able to share her unique musical voice with the entire world

Both Sides Now Downtown YXE

It’s sometimes easy to forget that the iconic Joni Mitchell grew up here in Saskatoon – in fact, Saskatoon and the Canadian prairies make many appearances in Joni’s catalogue of songs.  In Cherokee Louise we hear her talk about the Broadway Bridge, and Paprika Plains is a hymn about her love for the plains.  

To coincide with the SSO’s performance of Joni’s music from her albums Both Sides Now and Travelogue, we partnered with DTNYXE for a photo display along 2nd and 3rd Aves downtown.

The photos bridge Joni’s more than fifty year career, and each is paired with a line from her legendary song Both Sides Now.

“The title of the concert, Don’t Give Yourself Away, comes from a line in Both Sides Now,” says SSO Executive Director Mark Turner.  “There’s such an incredible passion in her eyes that is present no matter what year the photos were taken.  And her orchestral jazz recording in 2000 of Both Sides Now show that, like her eyes, her search for art and life never faded in her music and lyrics either.”

The posters are on display until March 5th – take a walk all the way down 3rd Ave to read from the first lines, “Rows and flows of angel hair” to the end of the song.

“She deserves so much more celebration than we’re able to give her, but we felt so compelled to bring this music to life as her orchestral jazz albums are amongst the best the genre has ever offered.”

The concert features Vince Mendoza who arranged and conducted both albums for Joni.  He’s joined by bassist Edwin Livingston, jazz legend Peter Erskine on drums, vocalist Sarah Slean, and the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra.

Win A Print of Denyse Klette’s Joni

“I am a Lonely Painter, I Live in a Box of Paints” – Denyse Klette

In 2017, artist Denyse Klette helped us celebrate our Mozart Festival with a one-of-a-kind portrait of Wolfgang – and when she found out that we had a concert celebrating the music of Joni Mitchell, a new idea was born.

Denyse is known for her remarkable ability to capture a moment in paint – her art is full of life and colour, and shows her absolute love of life.  The painting’s title comes from a line in Joni’s classic A Case of You, and the painting references that Joni has often said she sings her sorrow and paints her joy.


Anyone who purchases a ticket by March 1st at 12 noon will be entered into a draw to win a limited edition artist-enhanced canvas print of the painting (valued at $995).  If you’ve already purchased a ticket for the show, don’t worry – you are already entered into the draw.  Denyse will make the draw live on stage the night of the concert.

Don’t Give Yourself Away – the Music of Joni Mitchell features the SSO conducted by long-time Joni collaborator Vince Mendoza and features Sarah Slean on vocals – the concert marks the first ever live performance of the music from Joni’s albums Both Sides Now and Travelogue.

Click here to get your tickets!

Sarah Slean – Artist Profile

When we first began to conceive of this show featuring Joni’s music from Both Sides Now and Travelogue, the big question was “who do we get to sing it?!”…the question only lingered in the air a few moments frankly, as one name was on everyone’s mind.  We needed someone who, beyond being able to sing this music, would feel this music as deeply as its written.  Sarah was the clear choice.

Her 2016 performance with the SSO was more than memorable…and we’re certain that this performance will be too!

Signed to Atlantic/Warner Records at the tender age of 19, three-time Juno nominee and modern-day Renaissance woman Sarah Slean has since released 11 albums in over 10 countries worldwide – but perhaps the most astonishing aspect of her artistry is its breadth. Over her 20-year career, Slean has published two volumes of poetry, starred in short films and a movie musical (spawning two Gemini Award nominations), penned two string quartets, held numerous exhibitions of her paintings, and shared the stage with 8 of the country’s professional orchestras. Classically trained from the age of 5, she routinely collaborates with cutting-edge contemporary classical ensembles like The Art of Time, and has been invited to sing world premieres by Canada’s leading living composers. Citing such diverse influences as Leonard Bernstein, philosophy, Joni Mitchell, Buddhism and Bach, her music borrows aspects of cabaret, rock, pop, and orchestral: all knit together by the startling poetry of her lyrics, virtuosic piano-playing, and that voice, described by the CBC as “a 19th century Kate Bush”. In addition to headlining theatres across Canada, Sarah has also toured Europe, the US and Scandinavia and has opened internationally for such artists as Bryan Ferry, Rufus Wainwright, Alanis Morissette, Andrew Bird, Feist, Ron Sexsmith, Chris Isaak, and Buck 65. Metaphysics, her first recording in 5 years, is described as a breathtaking amalgamation of Slean’s dramatic orchestral arranging and her signature take on songwriting.

See Sarah on March 3rd with Vince Mendoza and the SSO for Don’t Give Yourself Away – the Music of Joni Mitchell.

Edwin Livingston – Artist Profile

For our concert on March 3rd, we’re joined by bassist Edwin Livingston – maybe you’ve seen him on Ellen?

Hailing from Dallas, Texas, Edwin Livingston was exposed to music early on.

After receiving his B.M. in music performance he relocated to Austin, TX & New Orleans, LA, in pursuit of new musical terrain. He now resides in Los Angeles, CA.

In his various travels he has played and recorded with many notable artists and masters. Livingston has performed and/or recorded with:

Elvin Jones, Ellis, Delfeayo, and Jason Marsalis, The Headhunters, Los Hombres Calientes (Grammy nominated Latin Jazz album), Bill Summers, Munyungo Jackson, Donald Harrison, Jr., Alvin Batiste, Ronnie Laws, Debra Laws, Lionel Loueke, D.J. Logic, David ”Fathead” Newman, John Beasley, Otmaro Ruiz, Mike Garson, Russell Ferrante, Sadao Watanabe, Justo Almario, Leni Stern, Kevin Toney of The Blackbyrds, Dave Weckl, Will Kennedy, Peter Erskine, Vince Wilburn, Jr., Jimmy Branly, Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Tootie Heath, Dave Weckl, Joe LaBarbera, Hot Buttered Rhythm, Gecko Turner, Henry Butler, James Clay, Barbara Morrison, Queen Latifah, The Benjamin Wright Orchestra(Raphael Saadiq, Justin Timberlake, Will.I.Am, Brian McKnight, Mary J Blige, Aretha Franklin), Vince Mendoza, Bob Mintzer, Yellowjackets, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jovanotti, Keiko Matsui, Melody Gardot, Seal, Natalie Cole and many others.

In addition to a full playing, touring, and recording career he is on the faculty at the USC Thornton School of Music, teaching bass & small ensembles in the jazz studies department. He is also part of the faculty of the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA).

Livingston has appeared in several feature films, including Ray and Dreamgirls, and has performed on The Late Late Show with James Corden, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, The Ellen DeGeneres Show, The Today Show, LIVE with Regis and Kelly and the A & E show Private Sessions with Queen Latifah.

Peter Erskine – Artist Profile

Legendary drummer Peter Erskine can be heard on Joni Mitchell’s album Both Sides Now – and now you can hear him play the music live with the SSO on March 3rd.

Peter Erskine has played the drums since the age of four and is known for his versatility and love of working in different musical contexts. He appears on 700 albums and film scores, and has won two Grammy Awards, plus an Honorary Doctorate from the Berklee School of Music (1992).

Fifty albums have been released under his own name or as co-leader. He has played with the Stan Kenton and Maynard Ferguson Big Bands, Weather Report, Steps Ahead, Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Diana Krall, Kenny Wheeler, Mary Chapin Carpenter, The Brecker Brothers, The Yellowjackets, Pat Metheny and Gary Burton, John Scofield, et al, and has appeared as a soloist with the London, Los Angeles, Chicago, Frankfurt Radio, Scottish Chamber, Ensemble Intercontemporain, Royal Opera House, BBC Symphony, Oslo and Berlin Philharmonic Orchestras. Peter premièred the double percussion concerto Fractured Lines, composed by Mark-Anthony Turnage, at the BBC Proms with Andrew Davis conducting, and has collaborated frequently with Sir Simon Rattle. He also premiered the Turnage opera “Anna Nicole” at the Royal Opera House in London. Turnage has composed a solo concerto for Peter titled “Erskine,” which received its world premiere in Bonn, Germany in 2013, with a US premiere at the Hollywood Bowl with the LA Philharmonic. Peter has been voted ’Best Jazz Drummer of the Year’ ten times by the readers of Modern Drummer magazine and was elected into the magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2017.

Peter graduated from the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and studied at Indiana University under George Gaber. In 1972 Peter commenced his pro career playing with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. Four years later, he joined Maynard Ferguson before working with Jaco Pastorius in Weather Report and moving to Los Angeles. Peter recorded five albums with the band. He won his first Grammy Award with their album ’8.30’. During this time in LA, he also worked with Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Chick Corea, Bobby Hutcherson, Joe Farrell and George Cables. Peter then moved to New York City where he worked for five years with such musicians as Michael Brecker, Mike Mainieri, Eddie Gomez and Eliane Elias in Steps Ahead, John Scofield, Bill Frisell and Marc Johnson in the legendary group Bass Desires, the John Abercrombie Trio plus Bob Mintzer’s Big Band.

Peter’s lived in LA since 1987 but has been travelling around the world all of that time, working with such artists as Diana Krall, Joni Mitchell, Vince Mendoza, Steely Dan, plus European musicians Jan Garbarek, Kenny Wheeler, Palle Danielsson, John Taylor, Kate Bush, Nguyen Lê, Rita Marcotulli, the Norrbotten Big Band in Sweden plus Sadao Watanabe in Japan. He won his second Grammy Award as the drummer of the WDR big band in Köln along with Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, Vince Mendoza and others for the “Some Skunk Funk” album. Meanwhile, Peter keeps busy in on the road and in LA with such artists as Seth MacFarlane, Patrick Williams, plus John Beasley, Bob Sheppard and Benjamin Shepherd (all 3 musicians members of his Dr. Um Band), as well as playing in the studios. Films where Peter’s drumming can be heard include “Memoirs of a Geisha,” all three of the Austin Powers movies, “The Secret Life of Pets,” plus the title music of the Steven Spielberg/John Williams collaboration, “The Adventures of Tintin.” He also played the jazz drumming cues on the Academy Award-winning soundtrack for “La La Land,” and can be heard playing on the scores for “Sing,” “Logan” and “House of Cards.”

Peter produces jazz recordings for his record label, Fuzzy Music, with 4 Grammy nominations to its credit. Peter is also an active author with several books to his credit; titles include “No Beethoven (Autobiography & Chronicle of Weather Report),” “Time Awareness for All Musicians,” “Essential Drum Fills,” and his latest book (co-authored with Dave Black for Alfred Publishing), “The Drummers’ Lifeline.” He is also authoring a series of iOS Play-Along apps suitable for all instruments.

Peter is Professor of Practice and Director of Drumset Studies at the Thornton School of Music, University of Southern California. Peter plays Tama Drums, Zildjian Cymbals, Vic Firth Sticks, Remo Drum Heads, Meinl Percussion, and uses Shure Microphones and Zoom digital recording devices.

Vince Mendoza – Artist Profile

One of the most versatile and prolific composer–arranger–conductors of the last two decades, multi-Grammy Award winner Vince Mendoza has written arrangements for a wide variety of pop and jazz artists, from Joni Mitchell, Sting, Melody Gardot, Elvis Costello and Bjork to Joe Zawinul, John Scofield, Charlie Haden, Al Di Meola, Dave Liebman, Randy Brecker, the Yellowjackets and the GRP All-Stars. His compositions have appeared on recordings by the likes of saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist John Abercrombie, drummer Peter Erskine, pianist Joey Calderazzo and singer Kurt Elling. As a leader, Mendoza has released 10 recordings for the Blue Note, ACT, Blue Jackel and Zebra labels, including 1997’s Epiphany (with the London Symphony Orchestra) and 2011’s Nights on Earth, featuring an all-star cast and members of the Metropole Orkest, which Mendoza has led as chief conductor for the past six years.

Vince was recently honored with a Grammy Award for his work on the John Scofield “54” album on Emarcy records. It is his 6th Grammy and 25th nomination. He was also nominated by the Jazz Journalists Association as “arranger of the year”. His new CD “Nights on Earth” on Horizontal and Art of Groove records will be released on 7 October.

The wide scope of his works demonstrates an extraordinary understanding of many musical languages. He has written scores of compositions and arrangements for big band, extended compositions for chamber and symphonic orchestra settings and his jazz composing credits read like a who’s who of the best modern instrumentalists, singers and composers. Heralded by critics as a master of contemporary idioms, composer and arranger Vince Mendoza has become a primary choice for the world’s most sophisticated contemporary musicians.

Born in 1961 in Norwalk, Connecticut, Mendoza began learning classical guitar and piano from an early age. His musical influences ran from Bach to Aretha Franklin to Henry Mancini. However, discovering Miles Davis, Gil Evans, and later, Igor Stravinsky and Alban Berg gave him a further complex perspective of the construction of musical forms and ideas. Taking up the trumpet during high school, he later earned a degree in music composition at Ohio State University, before moving to Los Angeles. The music of Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter became a strong influence on his big band writing. He began working in the studios, composing music for television, while continuing to add to his extensive body of work written for big band. He completed his post-graduate composition and conducting studies at the University of Southern California. During this time he met a kindred spirit in drummer Peter Erskine, who included him in his mixed ensemble recording, “Transition” on Denon records. Mendoza contributed several compositions to this recording as well as on some of Erskine’s subsequent recordings. They have since become frequent collaborators.


His early solo albums on Blue Note Records, “Start Here” and “Instructions Inside”, were critical triumphs that featured such artists as John Scofield, Joe Lovano, Ralph Towner, Bob Mintzer, Randy Brecker, Peter Erskine and others. “Start Here” was voted one of Jazziz Magazine’s “Top Picks” and Mendoza was recognized as “Best Composer/Arranger” by Swing Journal’s critics poll in Japan. Through his profile-building stint as guest arranger and conductor of the WDR Big Band, based in Cologne, Germany, Mendoza became widely known in Europe as a multi-talented composer arranger with a deep understanding of contemporary styles. His work on the CD “The Vince Mendoza / Arif Mardin Project: Jazzpaña” with the WDR Big Band, brought him a Grammy nomination for “best instrumental arrangement”. Since then, Gary Burton, Pat Metheny, Michael Brecker, Charlie Haden, Andy Narell, Kurt Elling and John Abercrombie have prominently featured Vince Mendoza’s compositions and arrangements on their albums.


Mendoza’s work as an arranger can also be heard on many expansive jazz projects from the mid-1980s onwards, that include work with the Yellowjackets, Al DiMeola, Gino Vanelli, Joe Zawinul, Mike Stern, Kyle Eastwood and the GRP All Star Big Band, among many others. His television music has also received nominations for an Emmy Award, while his music for the “World Cup” closing ceremony was broadcast worldwide.


There is no end to the versatility of his skills or opportunities to exercise them. Mendoza has written commissioned compositions and arrangements for world-renowned classical and jazz groups that include the Turtle Island String Quartet, the Debussy Trio, the L.A. Guitar Quartet, the Metropole Orchestra, the Berlin Philharmonic, and the BBC. His music was featured at the Berlin Jazz Festival. He has performed major works at the Montreux and North Sea Jazz Festivals. And he actively conducts concerts of his music in Europe, Japan, Scandinavia, and the U.K.


His CD “Epiphany” is a stunning set of compositions for the London Symphony Orchestra and jazz soloists. Effortlessly combining his beautifully crafted orchestral arrangements, strong melodic compositions, extended forms and inspired jazz soloists, this is an album only Mendoza could conceive and execute with such grace. Joined by old friends, Abercrombie, Brecker, Erskine, Lovano and Kenny Wheeler, as well as the sublime bass work of Marc Johnson and piano of John Taylor, Mendoza sets the scene of each piece with the orchestra, allowing these seven great jazz “voices” to deliver the next layer of emotive harmony and expression. With such a huge palette of both sounds and sonorities the results conjure up strong narratives. Mendoza’s skill for “casting” the hard-edged brilliance of Michael Brecker for the harder tempos alongside the soft lyricism of Joe Lovano for the poetic pulse of quieter songs defines his huge talents as a truly modern composer, conductor and arranger.


Mendoza’s alliance with the Metropole Orchestra of the Netherlands began in 1995. The Metropole is in its 61st year and is the only full time symphonic Pop/Jazz orchestra in the world today. He is now the Music Director and Chief conductor of the Metropole and is frequently seen working with them at concerts, festivals and recordings with the likes of Elvis Costello, Herbie Hancock, Ivan Lins, Al Jarreau and more.

Managing to combine his own sophisticated solo work with widely acknowledged skills as a sympathetic vocal arranger has seen him earn the respect and ear of both the serious minded jazz and classical audience as well as that of discerning contemporary music fans and artists. Mendoza’s arranging has appeared on many critically acclaimed projects that include dozens of albums with song writing legends such as Björk, Chaka Khan, Al Jarreau, Bobby McFerrin, Sting and Joni Mitchell. He has 6 Grammy awards and 25 nominations. among them the Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist for his beautiful arrangement of Joni Mitchell’s “Both sides now” and again in 2004 for the epoch-defining song “Woodstock”.


The latter was one of many symphonic arrangements that Mendoza wrote for Mitchell’s ‘final’ studio album, ‘Travelogue’, which in itself offered the singular challenge of scoring selected highlights of Mitchell’s multi-faceted and deeply emotional songs from her 40-year career. For this project Mendoza drew on many of his most important stylistic references, from Gil Evans to Brahms and Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky and Gyorgy Ligeti. And once again he found himself working with the cream of the jazz world, including Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock among a top-draw supporting cast of musicians featured on this album. His skill for creating classic, sophisticated string arrangements also led to his orchestral score on the multi-million selling album “Swing When You’re Winning” by the enfant terrible of British pop, Robbie Williams. He was the orchestral voice behind the score to Lars van Trier’s “Dancer in the Dark” featuring Björk, as well as the dreamy orchestrations on her recent CD titled “Vespertine.”


Mendoza’s CD, Blauklang, is his 7th as a leader. It combines jazz, classical, and modern art to form an ambitious and beautiful work. It features Nguyen Le on Guitar, Peter Erskine, Lars Danielsson and a mixed ensemble of strings and winds . Mendoza shifts his focus back to his own compositions on the new CD Nights on Earth (due in September 2011) is his most personal and compelling project to date. For Nights on Earth Mendoza recruits an all-star cast of longtime collaborators like guitarists John Abercrombie, John Scofield and Nguyen Le, drummer Peter Erskine, percussionist Luis Conte, organist Larry Goldings, steel drummer Andy Narell, pianists Kenny Werner and Alan Pasqua, saxophonists Bob Mintzer and Joe Lovano. He is also joined by such new friends as Brazilian vocalist Luciana Souza, Malian kora player and singer Tom Diakite, Argentinian bandoneon master Hector del Curto,Algerian drummer Karim Ziad, French saxophonist Stéphane Guillaume and young American jazz stars in bassist Christian McBride, drummer Greg Hutchinson and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire. According to All about Jazz Mendoza “daringly expands the vernacular by including elements of abstract impressionism, romanticism and a highly unorthodox palette to position him as the clear and natural successor to the late Gil Evans.”

Lahni Russell – Artist Profile

This weekend’s concert features our Principal Cellist Lahni Russell in a unique piece.  Canadian composer Jocelyn Morlock’s work Exaudi is scored for solo cello and choir – it’s become a bit of a calling card for the Canadian Chamber Choir, and has quickly gained fame as one of the great Canadian choral works.

Lahni Russell joined the Saskatoon Symphony as Principal Cellist/Artist in Residence in 1989. A student of the world-renowned cellist, Janos Starker, she completed Bachelor and Master of Music degrees from Indiana University, both with High Distinction. She served as an Associate Instructor of Cello at IU and was awarded the IU School of Music’s prestigious Performer’s Certificate. She has performed in the master classes of Yo Yo Ma, Paul Tortelier, Zara Nelsova, Aldo Parisot, Anner Bylsma, Ronald Leonard, Zoltan Szekely, Timothy Eddy, and Joel Krosnick.

She is the only cellist to have won the Saskatchewan Concerto Competition and has played solos with the Regina Symphony, the Calgary Philharmonic Players, the Saskatchewan Chamber Orchestra, Saskatoon Symphony and the Tanglewood Centre Orchestra. Her orchestral experiences include numerous performances as Solo Cellist with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet (North American tours), the Colorado Music Festival, Principal Cellist with Saskatoon Opera, and earning tenure as a member of the Vancouver Symphony. She is the founding cellist of the University of Saskatchewan Amati Quartet, the Black Pearl Alkemykal String Quartet and Prairie Virtuosi.

Ms. Russell is also an accomplished luthier and bowmaker, with a focus on restorations. She has studied the art of violin and bow making/restoration with Ole Stefan Dahl, Benjamin Ruth, Hans Nebel, Horst Klaus, Rodney Mohr and William Salchow. For over three decades Lahni has served musicians from beginners to professionals across Canada.  Her clients have included the principal players of the Vancouver Symphony, Erica Raum (Royal Conservatory of Music, Toronto), Lara St. John, and many string players of the Victoria, Regina and Saskatoon Symphonies.

In the tradition of her cello mentor, Janos Starker, Lahni considers teaching a fundamental aspect of performing. She has an avid interest in neuroscience and its applications to teaching, performance and being human.

Hear her this weekend with the Canadian Chamber Choir in this remarkable piece.