Gordon Gerrard, conductor
Godwin Friesen, piano
A concert that plans to jazz up your January: Milhaud’s jazz-infused take on the creation of the world is a perfect pairing for Ravel’s incredible piano concerto. Regina Symphony Orchestra’s Music Director Gordon Gerrard makes his SSO debut.
Saskatoon’s own Godwin Friesen returns to the SSO as winner of the Shurniak Concerto Competition. His playing is laced with energy and precision that will bring the Ravel to life.
The evening is rounded out by two Canadian pieces, Glenn Buhr’s Winter Poems and Malcolm Forsyth’s Atayoskewin.
La Création du monde – Darius Milhaud
Piano Concerto in G Major – Maurice Ravel
Winter Poems – Glenn Buhr*
Atayoskewin – Malcolm Forsyth*
Gordon Gerrard is a respected figure in the new generation of Canadian musicians. Trained first as a pianist and subsequently as a specialist in operatic repertoire, Gordon brings a fresh perspective to the podium. His passion and his dedication to producing thrilling musical experiences have endeared him to his fellow musicians and the public alike.
Gordon has most recently been appointed as the 15th Music Director of the Regina Symphony Orchestra, commencing in July 2016. He also currently holds the position of Associate Conductor of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, a position which was created for him after two highly successful seasons there as Assistant Conductor. For four seasons Gordon held the positions of Resident Conductor and Repetiteur for Calgary Opera. He led many productions while in residence in Calgary, including the Canadian premiere of Mark Adamo’s Little Women recorded for national broadcast on CBC’s Saturday Afternoon at the Opera; and a highly successful production of La Bohème chosen specifically to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the company. He was invited back to help launch Calgary Opera’s summer opera festival Opera in the Village with productions of Candide and The Pirates of Penzance. During his tenure at Calgary Opera, Gordon was honoured with the Mayor’s Award for Emerging Artists for his contribution to the musical life of the city of Calgary. Gordon has also conducted productions for Opera Hamilton to critical acclaim and was Assistant Conductor for several productions at Opera Lyra Ottawa. Gordon is also a regular guest conductor for Opera McGill, where he has led productions of Don Giovanni and Le Nozze di Figaro.
A passionate and gifted educator, Gordon has been engaged as a conductor and lecturer by many institutions, including McGill University, the University of Manitoba and Iowa State University. He has served as conductor for Opera Nuova (Edmonton) since 2001 and has been part of the music staffs of the Opera as Theatre Programme at the Banff Centre for the Arts, the Canadian Vocal Arts Institute (Montreal), Halifax Summer Opera Workshop and the Undergraduate Opera Studio at the Manhattan School of Music. He has been a regular vocal coach for Calgary Opera’s Emerging Artist Program and l’Opéra de Montréal’s Atelier Lyrique.
As a pianist, Gordon is a respected recital partner. After completing his studies at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, Gordon presented recitals throughout New York City. He was invited to participate in the Wigmore Hall International Song Competition in London, and was engaged to present a recital with soprano Jane Eaglen for the Edmonton Recital Society.
Godwin Friesen began piano at age seven and quickly realized his love for performance and composing. He placed first in piano at the 2015 National Music Festival, received the national Senior Mary Gardiner Award the same year, and has been named top pianist in Saskatchewan’s provincial finals for the past two seasons. In 2016, Godwin presented a Bach concerto with the Amati Quartet, a solo recital in the Lyell Gustin House, and Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals with pianist Thomas Yu and the SSO in their Firebird concert. He has performed regularly in the Caspian Trio and the Friesen Family Band. Godwin is currently in his first year at the Glenn Gould School of Music, studying on full scholarship with John O’Conor.
La Creation Du Monde
On a trip to the United States in 1922, Darius Milhaud heard “authentic” jazz on the streets of Harlem, which left a great impact on his musical outlook. Using jazz elements, the following year he finished composing La Création du monde, which was cast as a ballet in six continuous parts. The work was commissioned by the Ballets suédois, a ballet company which was contemporary to Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. The company was very influential in the early 1920s, staging five seasons in Paris and touring continually.
The ballet reflects both the ideal of the aesthetic of Les six to combine popular forms of art and a centuries-old French penchant for exotica. Milhaud was very susceptible to all kinds of influences, but it was a different type of exotica that drew him. He was in the Paris of Le jazz hot, singer Josephine Baker, Pablo Picasso’s paintings, and the sculptures inspired by African masks. During the early 20s, African (and Afro-American) fashion was sweeping Paris, and this ballet may have been Ballets suédois’ attempt to follow the trend.
When Milhaud first heard an American jazz band in London (1920), he was reportedly so captivated that he took off to New York City to spend time in clubs and bars, visit Harlem and mingle with jazz musicians. After returning to France, Milhaud began to write in what he called a jazz idiom. He chose to color his music with bluesy turns of harmony and melody, swinging climaxes, and stomping rhythms. Jazz influences appear in many of his compositions, but this ballet was the first opportunity to express his new passion; even the instrumental grouping draws on his memories of New York City. “In some of the shows,” Milhaud noted, “the singers were accompanied by flute, clarinet, trumpets, trombone, a complicated percussion section played by just one man, piano and string quartet.
Piano Concerto – Ravel
The first movement opens with a single whip-crack, and what follows can be described as a blend of the Basque and Spanish sounds of Ravel’s youth and the newer jazz styles he had become so fond of. Like many other concerti, the opening movement is written in the standard sonata-allegro form, but with considerably more emphasis placed on the exposition.
At 106 bars in length, the large exposition section contains most of the musical ideas presented in the first movement. After the opening whip-crack and snare drum roll, the piano is introduced, providing a methodical accompanying figure as the winds present the first subject. Soon, the piano stops and the orchestra roars to life with each section adding to the theme, eventually drifting into an eerie, dream-like statement from the piano. This soliloquy is short-lived as the orchestra reenters with a blues-influenced figure, shifting between major and minor modes. The second subject begins with an awkward dissonance (A♯ and B), but quickly establishes itself as a richly melodic section, reminiscent of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue.
Following a quick chordal passage from the piano, the development begins, utilizing much of the material from the first subject. After progressing through a variety of modes, the music comes to a mystic section played by the harps and strings. Following a short rest, the section continues, but is quickly interrupted by a restatement of the “blues section” from the first subject.
An abridged version of the first subject begins the recapitulation, after which a piano cadenza restates the second theme. Through this elaborate restatement, the movement progresses to an energetic coda and ends with a bawdy scale from the brass.
II. Adagio assai
In stark contrast to the preceding movement, the second movement is a tranquil subject of Mozartian serenity written in ternary form. When Long praised the natural flow of the lengthy, seemingly effortless opening melody, Ravel responded: “That flowing phrase! How I worked over it bar by bar! It nearly killed me!”
The first theme is presented solely by the piano, the right hand playing the melody in triple meter (3/4) while the left hand gives a waltz accompaniment (this left-hand waltz accompaniment continues throughout the second movement). After nearly three minutes, a C♯ by solo flute breaks the spell, whereupon oboe, clarinet and flute carry the melody into the second theme.
This second theme is tenser than the first, utilizing dissonant harmonies and figures from the piano. Almost as easily as the theme appears, it fades away into a restatement of the first theme, this time played by the cor anglais while accompanied by rustling ornamentations of the piano. A brief coda brings the movement to a gentle close on a pianissimo trill between B and C♯.
The third movement recalls the intensity of the first with its quick melodies and difficult passage-work.
The piano introduces the first subject, a rapid chordal figure, with dissonant interjections from the winds and brass. The subject continues with such interjections from all, and progresses through a multitude of modes before finally coming to its conclusion. Here, the movement ends with the same four chords with which it began.
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