Ichmouratov’s Youth Overture

This weekend we’re thrilled to be performing Airat Ichmouratov’s Youth Overture.  The piece is a fantastical explosion of sound and energy, and asks a great deal from the orchestra – we’ve been looking forward to bringing his music to the Saskatoon audience for a few years!

The music of Russian-Canadian composer and conductor Airat Ichmouratov, has been performed by a wide range of ensembles and musicians in countries around the world, including Maxim Vengerov, Quebec Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Metropolitain, Les Violons du Roy, New Orford Quartet, Yuli Turovsky & I Musici de Montreal, 13 Strings (Ottawa), Tatarstan State Symphony Orchestra (Russia), Alcan Quartet, Orford Camerata Ensemble, Mark Simons, Andre Moisan, Jean Francois Rivest, Alain Trudel, Yegor Dyachkov, and Stephane Tetreault, just to name a few. Versatile in form and style, Ichmouratov’s compositions have been influenced by Mahler, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, and Mussorgsky.

Some of his recent works such as Fantastic Dances and Second String Quartet, were recorded by I Musici de Montréal for “Analekta,” Alcan Quartet for “ATMA,” and Cadenzas for Beethoven Violin Concerto by Alexandre Da Costa with Taipei Symphony Orchestra and Johannes Wildner as conductor for “Warner Classics.” His latest projects include the composition of Klezmer-influenced Quintet for Andre Moisan & Molinary Quartet, “Youth” Overture for Orchestre de la Francophonie, and Symphony No. 1 for Longueuil Symphony Orchestra.

Ichmouratov was named as Resident Composer 2012 at Concerts aux îles du Bic (Canada), in 2013 Composer of Summer at Orford Arts Centre (Canada) and in 2015 Summer Composer at 17e edition of the Festival Classique des Hautes-Laurentides (Canada). As of 2010, Ichmouratov is the Associate Composer with Canadian Music Centre.
Holding a PhD in orchestral conducting from the University of Montreal, Airat Ichmouratov has frequently been invited as the guest conductor of the Tatarstan’s State Symphony Orchestra, the Kazan Chamber Orchestra “La Primavera” (Russia), Orchestre Metropolitain, Laval Symphony Orchestra, Orchestra London, New Brunswick Symphony Orchestra, and also I Musici of Montreal and 13 Strings (Ottawa). Airat Ichmouratov served as Conductor in Residence of Les Violons du Roy in Quebec City from 2007 until 2009. One of their concerts under Ichmouratov’s direction, “Russian Impressions” also presented the world premiere of his Cello Concerto, which won the Opus Prize in the “Best Concert of the Year” category. Airat was appointed to the position of Assistant Resident Conductor of the Quebec Symphony Orchestra from 2009 until 2011. In August 2011, Ichmouratov conducted I Music de Montreal on tour in USA, Brazil, and Peru. In October 2011, he made his debut with Tatarstan Academic State Opera and Ballet Theatre (Russia) and was immediately re-invited to conduct Puccini’s Turandot during the 2012-13 season and on the following European Tour.

Born in Kazan, Russia, Airat Ichmouratov studied clarinet at the Kazan State Conservatory. In 1993, when he was appointed as Associate clarinetist of the Tatarstan’s Opera and Ballet Theatre, and of the Kazan State Symphony Orchestra, he began to extensively tour Europe. In 2000, he obtained a Master degree at the University of Montreal. He then founded the Muczynski Trio, which won first prize and the Grand Award at the National Music Festival (Canada, 2002) and First Prize at the 8th International Chamber Music Competition in Krakow (Poland, 2004). The Trio has also recorded for CBC and has given performances in Canada, China, Russia, and Europe.

In 2000, Mr. Ichmouratov joined the Klezmer group Kleztory, in which he plays the clarinet, composes, and arranges. In 2004, Kleztory recorded a unique CD; Klezmer Music with I Musici de Montreal and Yuli Turovsky, recorded on the “Chandos” label (Great Britain). In 2007 Kleztory’s album “Nomade” won the Opus Prize. His most recent (2014) Album Arrival was nominated as Best album of the Year in the Traditional music category by ADISQ. In 2012, Kleztory won Klezmer Furth Prize at International Klezmer festival and Competition in Amsterdam, and as a result appeared at the Furth Klezmer Festival during the following spring. With Kleztory Ichmouratov has appeared as soloist with several orchestras, including the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, the Quebec Symphony Orchestra, I Musici de Montreal, Les Violons du Roy, and Brussels Chamber Orchestra and toured intensively in Canada, USA, Brazil, Mexico, Costa Rica, Romany, Belgium, Austria, Hungary, Switzerland, Netherlands, Germany, and China.

You can hear his Youth Overture February 9th at TCU Place with the SSO!

Introducing Andréa Tyniec

As Andréa says, “we learn so much about ourselves when we experience a brand new piece of music.”  And we like to think that experiencing a new artist on stage is also a wonderful chance to learn.  Andréa Tyniec makes her SSO debut on February 9th, and ever since the day we planned this concert we’ve been looking forward to this very special artist taking the stage to captivate our patrons.

Violinist Andréa Tyniec has created a versatile performance career as a soloist and as a collaborator with dance and theatre; and is recognized asa promoter of contemporary music, particularly of Canadian new works.

Acclaimed for her “exceptional musicality and intensity” (La Presse), she has performed as a soloist internationally and across Canada with orchestras such as l’Orchestre Métropolitain de Montréal led by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, the Calgary Symphony led by Eric Paetkau, the Münchener Kammerorchester (Germany), and I Virtuosi Italiani (Italy).

​Andréa premiered and recorded violin concertos by André Ristic and Ana Sokolovic with the ECM+, led by Véronique Lacroix (ATMA). She released her “simply stunning” (The WholeNote) recording of the Six Sonatas for Solo Violin by Eugène Ysaÿe in 2015.

​Her latest performances include the premiere of her meditation-concert “Forgiveness is Freedom”, a performance and healing ritual for brave audiences. Highlights of the 2018-2019 season include performances of Peteris Vasks violin concerto with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, and Christos Hatzis “Arabesque” violin concerto with Sinfonia Toronto.

​Among the many awards and honors she has received, Andréa is the 1st Prize winner of Italy’s Andrea Postacchini International Violin Competition 2008. Andréa performed her Debut recital at the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam in 2009, and has performed internationally in Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Italy, Holland, Germany, France, Poland, Turkey, and in the USA.

​Born to Polish and Bolivian parents and raised in Montreal, Canada, she completed her bachelor’s degree in Music Performance at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal with Sonia Jelinkova, followed by a master’s degree in Music Performance at Michigan State University. While she was based in Europe, Andréa completed her Solistendiplom at the
Hochschule Musik und Theater Zürich and her Konzertexamen at the Hochschule für Musik Karlsruhe with Josef Rissin. She also participated in masterclasses with Salvatore Accardo at the Fondazione Walter Stauffer in Cremona, Italy, and was greatly inspired by her studies with Ana Chumachenco. She is a graduate Fellow of the Glenn Gould School of the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.

Raum’s King Lear

Saskatchewan composer Elizabeth Raum has left her imprint on the classical music landscape of Canada.  We’re always delighted when we get a chance to play her music – and are very excited for the SSO Wind Quintet to be playing Raum’s take on Shakespeare’s King Lear.

Elizabeth was commissioned by Regina’s Globe Theatre to write incidental music to their 1987 production of King Lear. After the production, she decided to use the themes in a woodwind quintet with four connected movements: ‘King Lear’s Fanfare’; ‘The Fool’s Song’; ‘Regan and Goneril’; and ‘Cordelia’s Death’. The original quintet has the alto trombone playing the usual French horn part of the woodwind quintet …, but she also wrote a version with French horn which is featured in the storm section of the third movement as representing Lear’s ‘Blow winds blow and crack your cheeks’ monologue.

Raum’s is one of many musical takes on Lear – maybe most curiously is the tale of Verdi’s failed opera King Lear.  Though the great opera composer had begun work on Lear, he sadly abandoned it. Shakespeare’s darkest play about an aging, mad monarch and his beyond-sadistic daughters maybe needed to wait until the invention of modern dissonance to penetrate its dark heart.  So Verdi repurposed much of the music he had planned to use for Lear and used it in his masterpiece Simon Boccanagra.

Hear Raum’s King Lear with the SSO Wind Quintet on February 3rd at If Music Be the Food of Love.

A Winter’s Tale from Brian Burman

As part of our week exploring the musical impact of Shakespeare, the SSO Chamber Ensemble is exploring chamber works inspired by the plays of the bard.  And we’re thrilled to be performing Brian Burman’s Winter’s Tale.

Brian Burman was grew up in Los Gatos, California, on the edge of what today is known as Silicon Valley. An avid cartoonist since early childhood, he began official art studies at Humboldt State University in 1979, and after a few semesters changed to a major in Film Production. At the same time he was studying piano and composition, as well as performing with the school Big Band and several jazz ensembles.

Temporarily interrupting his formal education, in 1982 he moved to Santa Cruz to start a Rock/Jazz Fusion band with friends, and began composing classical chamber music. His first chamber works were performed with the Santa Cruz New Music Works in 1983. In 1984 he decided to continue his film studies at San Francisco State University, and completed a BA in Film Production, following it up with a Masters’ diploma in 1994.

He had always composed the music for his own films, and other film students began asking him to compose for theirs as well. It became clear that film was the place to unite his passions for visual art and music, with editing as the key to the synthesis.

Upon completion of his Masters in Film Production in 1994, Burman emigrated to Switzerland. After a year toiling in a low budget video studio, he was hired by the state sponsored Swiss Television SRF, where he is employed to this day. He is mostly editing documentaries and reports on art, music and culture in general, writing online articles and making video reports on film history, as well as composing music for documentaries. Alongside his work at television, he  freelances as a video director, with such varied employers as the Rose d’Or television festival, the Catholic Church of Kanton Zug (making video portraits of art objects and historical relics), and election spots for the Green Party. He has continued composing music for theatre and dance performances, as well as classical music for concert performance. His works have been performed in the Luxembourg Philharmonic, the Mainz Ballet and the Düsseldorfer Schauspielhaus (Germany), and many theatres in Switzerland.

In 2006 Burman  received a commission from the Zürich Conservatory of Music, which was soon to be fusioned together with the Theater School and the College of Arts into the Zürich Hochschule der Künste (ZHdK). The commission was for a work for Conservatory students to perform in a production together with actors the theatre school, which had never been done before, under the direction of Seraina Sievi. Brian chose a Woodwind Quintet, for music to Shakespeare’s play “The Winter’s Tale”.  At the same time, he was directing a documentary for Swiss Television on the Film Music of Dmitri Shostakovich, and deeply immersed in his music for theatre and film versions of various Shakespeare plays, which ended up having a strong influence on the music. The story’s settings in Sicily and Bohemia (the modern day Czech Republic) summoned shades of Corelli, Dvořák and Bartók. The piece was revised in 2018, and our performance on February 3 will be it’s premiere in a concert setting.

We can’t wait for you to hear this incredible work!

Juliet’s Tomb and Beethoven’s Quartet

Beethoven never wanted his string quartets to have a programmatic nature, as some other composers had been given their own works.  But years after being published, a story came to light that expressed Beethoven’s love of the work of William Shakespeare.

As part of our upcoming If Music Be the Food of Love concert featuring chamber music inspired by Shakespeare, we’d have been remiss to leave out Beethoven’s small nod to his enjoyment of Romeo and Juliet in the String Quartet Op 18 No 1.

While sketching some striking passages near the end of the second movement, Beethoven jotted down references to Romeo and Juliet, curiously in French. He writes these words for successive musical phrases: “il prend le tmobeau,” “dese[s]poir,” “il se tue,” and “les dernier soupirs,” thus depicting Romeo at Juliet’s tomg: his arrival, his despair, his suicide, and the last sighs.  Reflecting Beethoven’s love of Shakespeare, these allusions are confirmed by a remark attributed to Karl Amenda, Beethoven’s close friend and the recipient of the first version of the quartet.  Amenda reported that when he hear Beethoven play this slow movement (presumably at the piano), Amenda said, “It pictured for me two lovers parting,” whereupon Beethoven said, “Good! I was thinking of the burial vault scene of Juliet.”

Though he shared these insights with his friend, he did not include the references in the printed score, showing his reluctance to provide explicit literary programs for his string quartets.

Join the SSO Chamber Ensemble on February 3rd to hear this beautiful work.

Milhaud’s Creation of the World

In the 1920’s, Darius Milhaud was part of an avant-garde group of French composers designated by the music critic Henri Collet as “Les Six.” This association was loose to say the least, and not unified, as The Mighty Five had been in Russia in a single mission. Sometimes they did collaborate with one another, but generally each composer was independent. The whole set only collaborated once on a set of piano pieces known as L’Album des Six. What they all agreed upon was to “refresh” French music with new artistic perspectives.

According to Milhaud, “Collet chose six names absolutely arbitrarily, those of Auric, Durey, Honegger, Poulenc, Tailleferre and me simply because we knew each other and we were pals, and appeared on the same musical programs, no matter if our temperaments and personalities were not all the same. Auric and Poulenc followed ideas of Cocteau, Honegger follower German Romanticism, and myself Mediterranean lyricism.” (Benjamin Ivry in Francis Poulenc).

Les Six socialized frequently, especially at the Gaya Bar, where Milhaud liked to hear Jean Wiener play “negro music” in a popular style. Black exoticism in dance and music was embraced by in-the-know Parisians. During the jazz age in Paris this music was often labeled “le tumult noir (the black noise).”

Wiener was also a composer who had a particular fondness for “the blues” and “hot American energy.” In his own works and concerts, he was a steady promoter of jazz. The new American sound was attractive to European tastes, even though it smacked of populism and a certain uneducated quality. In Der Steppenwolf, the main character expressed the jazz effect;“This kind of music, has always had a certain charm for me…Jazz was repugnant to me, and yet ten times preferable to all the academic music of the day… its raw and savage gaiety reached an underworld of instinct and breathed a simply, honest sensuality… Unblushingly negroid, it had the mood of childlike happiness.”

Milhaud was fascinated by American jazz and credited the (American) Billy Arnold’s Novelty Jazz Band as having introduced him to jazz when he heard them during his visit to London in 1920. He was particularly drawn to the freedoms of jazz and its rhythms. “Their constant use of syncopation in the melody was done with such contrapuntal freedom as to create the impression of an almost chaotic improvisation, whereas in fact, it was something remarkably precise.” In 1922 he came to New York and listened to many genres of jazz, paid close attention to the ensembles, and wrote musical sketches.

By the time Milhaud wrote his music for the ballet La création du monde 1923, he was writing for a well-established popular taste. The ballet references African creation myths taken from Blaise Cendrar’s Anthologie negre. Leonard Bernstein summarized: “The Creation of the World emerges not as a flirtation but as a real love affair with jazz.” Milhaud explained, “This is a work making wholesale use of the jazz style to convey a purely classical feeling.”

The ballet has five parts …

1. Chaos before Creation: slow and mysterious, gradually growing in intensity. Listen for elements of polytonality and the soft closure.

2. Lifting darkness and creation of trees, plants, insects, birds and beasts: jazzy solos for flute, oboe, and horn. Life and the making of it is an exhilarating and delicate process.

3. Man and woman are created: increase of movement and excitement, exuberant.

4. The desire of man and woman: beautiful seduction music from clarinet.

5. The kiss: a beautiful conclusion, introduced quietly by oboe, a bit of excitement, followed by softly fluttering flutes with a tender goodbye from the saxophone.

Ravel’s Jazzy Concerto

The works on this concert remind us that it didn’t take long for jazz to become the global music it is today. When jazz emerged around 1915—the word first appeared in a San Francisco sports column to describe a wild curve ball—it referred most often to dance music that was particularly “hot,” definitively southern, and unabashedly creole. Like the creole spoken in New Orleans, jazz was a second-generation language, merging African-American, Caribbean, and white dance styles. By the 1920s, jazz was also the soundtrack of urban modernity, still absorbing musical languages into a patois that now included French neoclassicism alongside instrumental and songwriting styles from the south side of Chicago to New York’s Tin Pan Alley and Harlem. “Symphonic jazz” like you will hear this evening was meant to open a conversation between jazz and classical music, although many rejected the term and its implication that the “symphonic” part should come first. Jazz musicians like Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington had always heard and responded to classical music—it was the “long hair” composers who were just now figuring out jazz. Nonetheless, with the ambitiously named “Experiment in Modern Music,” held in New York’s Aeolian Hall on February 12, 1924, conductor Paul Whiteman laid out his case for the role of jazz in the formation of a new symphonic music. The program culminated in the premiere of George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and the ripples from that performance spread all the way to Paris and back. Tonight’s program ends with Rhapsody in Blue (there really is nothing that could follow it), and each of the other three works has traces of its influence.

The most familiar version of Rhapsody in Blue is not just Gershwin’s work, but is also the product of Ferde Grofé’s arrangement (heard at the premiere and in most orchestral performances today). It was Grofé who filled in many of the distinctive timbres and colors we associate with the piece. There have been countless other versions of the Rhapsodyover the years, including an arrangement for banjo octet that George’s brother Ira said he would “like to hear once and then promptly forget.” Duke Ellington also periodically rearranged Gershwin’s piece for his own jazz band through the 1920s and 1930s, and many of us may remember hearing the “love theme” from the Rhapsody as the soundtrack to United Airlines commercials in the 1980s. (This excerpt still plays in the underground walkway in Terminal 1 of Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, a United hub.) Each of these versions attests not only to the skills of arrangers, but also to the durability of the themes Gershwin crafted for the Rhapsody. All based on the blues scale and each related to the opening notes of his song “The Man I Love,” the themes of the Rhapsody are still as diverse in character as they are recognizable. The “ritornello” theme appears the most frequently, introduced first in the opening clarinet cadenza and then closing out the work in a grand statement from the whole orchestra. The “train,” “stride,” and “shuffle” themes (appearing in that order) borrow from jazz piano styles from Gershwin’s era and immediately conjure the hustle and bustle of New York’s streets and subways. This verve is contrasted by the sweeping love theme (eventually coopted by United) which one suspects began its life as an attempt at an actual love song, probably consigned to the un-used pile until it could be finished or re-purposed. In fact, most of themes were likely “trunk songs” of this kind, which Gershwin then strung together, forming a series of piano cadenzas with connecting material from the orchestra. The work hangs together not because of any “symphonic” development, but because of the shared jazz vocabulary of the themes: blues-based harmonies, syncopation and energetic rhythm, call-and-response gestures, improvisatory character, and an affinity with popular song. Many of these characteristics, as well as the loose episodic form typical to theatrical genres, whether ballet or the Broadway revue, can be heard in the symphonic jazz that followed in Gershwin’s wake.

Like Gershwin, Jacques Ibert prized variety in his music and often gravitated toward the theater. His Suite symphonique: “Paris” (1930) provides an almost cinematic panorama of Paris in the jazz age, from its suburban parks to its urban thoroughfares. As with the Rhapsody, there are motoric passages—as in “The Metro” and “The Steamship Île-de-France”—that depict the machinery of modernity. Many composers of the interwar period were fascinated with planes, trains, and automobiles, and jazz seemed like it could capture their kinetic energy, albeit with a more ominous tone in Ibert’s music. These two movements and “The Restaurant au Bois de Boulogne” also feature orchestral sound effects—chiming signal bells, the rumble of a train, or a car horn—that recall Gershwin. In fact, the first movement features several brief quotes from American in Paris, albeit cleverly disguised by a darker minor-mode harmony. The fourth movement, however, is Ibert’s own impression of the way in which American popular song and dance music like the Charleston and foxtrot had infiltrated the cafes and cabarets of Paris and melded with the waltzes and mélodies already popular there.

Maurice Ravel and Ibert also share some harmonic affinities with jazz, like the prevalence of extended chords and the blurred distinction between major and minor triads heard in both the blues and in modernist language like Stravinsky’s. For Ravel, however, this harmonic language stemmed from the music of Mozart and Saint-Saëns, and he valued clarity of line as much as he did the striking juxtapositions of jazz harmony. It is perhaps unsurprising, then, that his Piano Concerto in G major (1929-31) stays closer to classical concerto form and style than Gershwin’s Rhapsody. In the first movement, Ravel uses the blues as the more lyrical counterpoint to a bubbling first theme. Like Gershwin, Ravel aims for a piano tour-de-force, where the virtuosity of a jazz improvisation and a concerto overlap, but within the more traditional context of a modified sonata form. After a hazy developmental section, the cadenza halfway through the first movement sounds as if it might just as easily fly from the fingers of an Art Tatum or a Bud Powell as from a Mozart or a Chopin. Gershwin hovers over this cadenza, too, as there is the briefest flicker of the “ritornello” theme from the Rhapsody in Blue. The second movement is a slow, sentimental waltz, equal parts Tin Pan Alley and French melodie. The last movement is a quick sprint to the finish, as if the pianist were trying to outrun the orchestra.

The strongest response to the call of Rhapsody in Blue, however, was William Grant Still’s symphonic poem Darker America. Also premiered in Aeolian Hall in November of 1924, Still’s attempt to speak in both symphonic and jazz languages was received more coldly than Gershwin’s. This is perhaps because, as an African American composer, Still was expected to stick mostly to piano music or theatre and band arrangements, like his predecessors Will Marion Cook and Scott Joplin. Still’s music also expanded the dissonance inherent in blues harmonies into a striking chromaticism more typical of his teacher, the French composer Edgard Varèse. There simply was no space in the American imagination for a black modernist. Nevertheless, Still persisted, and Darker America treats the blues to a thorough symphonic development in order to chart a triumphant course “representative of the American Negro.” Still introduces three themes in sequence: the “theme of the American Negro” rises and falls in the strings, the “sorrow” theme echoes from the English horn, and the “hope” theme follows in the brass, accompanied by strings and woodwinds. The long interior section of the work then adapts the strategy of countless symphonies in which musical development is an analogy for struggle or transformation. Fittingly, the call-and-response structure common in African American music, whether the spiritual or jazz, is the primary developmental force at work on these symbolic themes. Still’s journey ends with a “triumph of the people” in which the three themes are blended together. Near the end of this arc, after a dramatic cymbal crash, we hear a majestic theme from the tutti orchestra that bears a striking resemblance to the end of Rhapsody in Blue. It is hard to say if this similarity is a deliberate reference or a result of the shared blues-based vocabulary of Gershwin and Still’s pieces. Either way, Still entered the symphonic jazz conversation with a bilingual, cosmopolitan fluency that challenges us even now.

Godwin Friesen – 2017 Shurniak Concerto Competition

Godwin Friesen made a big impression on the patrons of the SSO in the fall of 2016 when he was on stage with Thomas Yu to play Saint Saens Carnival of the Animals – and then a few months later he won the Shurniak Concerto Competition!

The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra partners with the Saskatchewan Music Festival Association to present the winners of both the Shurniak Concerto Competition and the Wallis Opera Competition.  This is not only an exciting opportunity to support the exceptional young talents in our province, its proven to be a remarkable stepping stone for emerging Saskatchewan artists.  Past winners of the competitions include Thomas Yu, Lahni Russell, Oxana Ossiptshouk, Samuel Deason, and many more!

Godwin Friesen was born into a home rich with music and quickly realized his own love for composition and performance. He learned a lot as a young singer and multi-instrumentalist in the Friesen Family Band, which recorded three albums and toured across the country. While studying piano with Saskatoon’s Bonnie Nicholson, Godwin placed first at the 2015 National Music Festival and received the national Senior Mary Gardiner Award in Canadian contemporary music. In 2016 he performed Saint-Saens’ Carnival of the Animals with pianist Thomas Yu and the SSO. As winner of the 2017 Shurniak Concerto Competition, he performed Shostakovich’s 2nd Piano Concerto with the RSO in October. Last June, Godwin was one of ten pianists selected to compete in the 2018 PianoArts North American Competition in Milwaukee, where he won the Audience Communication Award. His first composition for orchestra, Pilgrimage, was premiered by the Saskatoon Youth Orchestra last spring. Godwin is a regular keyboardist in worship at Toronto’s C3 Church and Saskatoon’s The Rock. One of his acquired skills—as whimsical as parts of Ravel’s Concerto in G—is juggling five balls. He is currently studying on full-tuition scholarship at The Glenn Gould School in Toronto, under the direction of John O’Conor.

Godwin’s Ravel Concerto is something very special – so we can’t wait for you to hear it live with the SSO this weekend!

Atayoskewin by Malcom Forsyth

Atayoskewin is one of Forsyth’s most frequently-played compositions, and for a good reason: it is a brilliantly scored, imaginative, highly enjoyable evocation of three aspects of the Albertan northland, music that could only have been written by a Canadian.

Forsyth composed his suite Atayoskewin (the Cree word for “sacred legend) in 1984 on commission from Shell Canada to mark the opening of its $1.4 billion Scotford refinery and petrochemical complex northwest of Edmonton. When the Edmonton Symphony under Uri Mayer first performed it on November 16th of that year, the critic of the Edmonton Journal wrote: “I concur with the consensus of audience opinion: gorgeous, wonderful … brilliantly depictive.” The composition won Forsyth the Juno Award for Best Classical Composition in 1987.

The composer explains what he attempted to portray in Atayoskewin: “The inspiration behind this title is something of a mood, a feeling that I had when I made my first-ever trip to northern Alberta during the winter. It was very cold, and I saw this barren land where the tar sands are being developed. It’s a very forbidding land, but it has a kind of majesty which is unmistakable. It’s a very quiet place, and the people who have lived there for so many centuries are a very quiet people, and it somehow is the influence of the place that they’ve lived in.”

Each of the three movements conjures up a mood or image. “The Spirits” opens with the captivating sound of woodwinds and mallet instruments reminiscent of a Balinese gamelan ensemble. The four-note motif featured in the slow introduction will pervade the entire movement in one form or another. A soaring flute solo over harp ostinato sets in motion the main section in which much of the writing features glistening, shimmering effects that reflect Forsyth’s encounter with the “brilliant sunshine and crystalline air” of northern Alberta. Gentle, peaceful thoughts pervade “The Dream.” A repeated, four-note scale pattern in the strings supported by softly glowing chords in the trombones serve as the backdrop for another four-note motif making sporadic appearances in the woodwinds, an idea borrowed from the Fifth Symphony by another composer well familiar with northern climes and landscapes, Sibelius. Brass and percussion (especially timpani and xylophone) come to the fore in “The Dance,” full of spiky melodies, asymmetrical rhythms, pounding drums and exuberant spirits.

credit -Robert Markow

Hear it live with the SSO and guest conductor Gordon Gerrard this weekend!

Ravel’s Tribute to Fallen Friends

This exuberant and elegant orchestral suite was arranged from selected movements of the composer’s original piano version. Three movements (“Forlane,” “Minuet,” and “Rigaudon”) from this orchestration of Le tombeau received a dance interpretation from Désiré-Emile Inghelbrecht, Jean Borlin, and Rolf de Maré which was premiered on November 8, 1920, at the Champs-Elysées in Paris.

The Tomb of Couperin was intended by the composer as an homage to eighteenth-century French music, of which a majority of characteristic forms are found in the creations of François Couperin. The “tomb” of the title came to have further resonance; with the outbreak of the First World War, several of Ravel‘s comrades fell in battle, and each movement of the piano work is dedicated to one of them.

The first movement is a “Prelude”, in memory of First Lieutenant Jacques Charlot (transcriber of Ma mère l’oye for piano solo), in a lively triple meter marked Vif. The largely pentatonic theme is taken by the oboe, echoed by the clarinets, and gradually builds to a brief lush texture in the strings. Woodwinds are employed percussively at times, and the bassoons are sometimes combined with low clarinets for reedy timbres. Muted and pizzicato strings with harp harmonics at times form velvety “impressionist” textures that briefly contrast with the clear, pastoral timbres. The piece concludes with a surprising harp glissando into a sustained tremolo on flutes, oboes, and muted strings.

Although the rhythm, sprightly mordents, staccatos alternating with offbeat accents, and structure of the “Forlane”, in memory of First Lieutenant Gabriel Deluc (a Basque painter from Saint-Jean-de-Luz), are the same as the historical dance, Ravel employs major sevenths and chromatics, giving the tune a decided contemporary edge. This dance is lively like the preceding prelude, but has a more earthy feeling and is at a slightly less hectic Allegretto. An unusual touch is the combination of staccato woodwinds with string and harp harmonics.

The “Menuet”, in memory of Jean Dreyfus (at whose home Ravel recuperated after he was demobilized), opens with the theme in the oboe with mostly semi-staccato accompaniment figures and wonderful modal harmonies. The musette theme is scored with cello drone and subtle rhythmic harmonics. Thick, dramatic chords descend over a pedal and introduces the combination of minuet and musette themes.

The fourth movement “Rigaudon”, in memory of Pierre and Pascal Gaudin (two brothers and childhood friends of Ravel, killed by the same shell in November 1914), is in two contrasting sections: an animated dance in C major and a charming pastoral-like C minor oboe melody accompanied by guitar-like pizzicati. The first section is recapitulated for a bright conclusion.

Hear it live with the SSO Saturday, November 10th – click for more information.