All about that Bass-Baritone Brenden Friesen

Tonight is the night for Bach’s Magnificat! We have a busy day getting ready for the dress rehearsal and finishing final details for tonight’s concert. If you don’t have your tickets yet you should get them ASAP! We will also have tickets at the door and as with every SSO concert #TD25Below tickets are available!

Originally from Langham, Saskatchewan, Brenden Friesen is back home on the prairies to be a part of our concert and to work with our friends at the Saskatoon Opera!

Holding a MMus Opera degree from the University of Toronto, Saskatchewan born bass-baritone Brenden Friesen has captured audiences with his exceptional diction, enormous comedic presence, and incredible interpretation of text (Opera Canada). Brenden recently performed the roles of Leporello and Il Commendatore in UofT Opera’s production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni , directed by Marilyn Gronsdal, as well as Masetto in Don Giovanni (Saskatoon Opera), the title role in Händel’s Imeneo (UofT Opera), The Police Chief in the UofT Student Composer Project opera Vengeance, and Jupiter in Offenbach’s Orphée aux enfers (UofT Opera) under the baton of sensational baritone Russell Braun.

Brenden is very excited to be home on the prairies performing the role of Colline in Saskatoon Opera’s production of Puccini’s La bohème in June 2018. Following this performance, Brenden will be again performing the role of Colline with Highlands Opera in Haliburton Ontario in July 2018. In August 2018, Brenden is pleased to be continuing his operatic career as one of the young artists in the Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal and making his Montreal debut as Count Ceprano in Verdi’s Rigoletto.

Getting to Know Magnificat Soprano Casey Peden

Did you know that there are five soloists in Bach’s Magnificat? One of the very talented artists joining us Saturday (7:30 pm @ Knox United Church) is soprano Casey Peden! Two sopranos!! Now there won’t be any duelling divas on stage but there will be some incredible music making that we know you must see/hear. We love having  Saskatchewan connections on stage with us and Saturday’s concert is full of prairie artists!

SSO: Where is your hometown and where are you based from now?
CP: Stony Plain, Alberta and now based out of Glaslyn, SK.

SSO: What is your favourite music-based memory?
CP: Watching my dad make music at family gatherings at my grandparents.

SSO: How do you deal with nerve?
CP: I don’t have a concrete answer for that ~ it’s an ever-changing path I am navigating as I go.

SSO: If you could work with anyone living or dead who would it be?
CP:  I would love to have lessons with Barbara Bonny.

SSO: What is your favourite thing about the prairies?
CP: Northern Saskatchewan Lakes ~ I love being near the water.

SSO: What are some upcoming projects, or ones on the go, that you want to share with everyone?
CP: SSSV in North Battleford in July.  It’s a fantastic vocal summer school and its right here in Saskatchewan!

Getting to Know Soprano Allison Walmsley!

We are delighted to have soprano Allison Walmsley join us for Bach’s Magnificat! 

Currently living in Toronto, Allison is coming home to Saskatoon to have her SSO debut. We asked her some questions to get to know some things that are not usually in an artist’s bio.

SSO: What is your favourite music based memory?
AW: There are too many favourite music memories to choose from!!! But I’ll never forget singing Daniel Kantor’s Night of Silence every Christmas for 10 years with the Saskatoon Children’s Choir.

SSO: How do you deal with nerves?
AW: I try to embrace nerves as much as possible. Their existence, for me, is an indication that I really care about the work I do and the music I help create.

SSO: Why do you enjoy singing Bach?
AW: It’s genius. So simple and clean, but every time you come back to it you find something new!

SSO: We recently did 6 word autobiographies with the students of St Mary’s who were a part of Kitohcikewin/Listen up! What would your six words be?
AW: Enthusiastic, Positive, Passionate, Empathetic, Hardworking, Honest.

SSO: If you could perform any piece, regardless of voice type, what would you pick?
AW: Se vuol ballare from Marriage of Figaro, or maybe the Diva Plava Laguna’s song from the Fifth Element.

SSO: If you could work with anyone living or dead who would it be?
AW: Mozart!

SSO: What is your favourite thing about the prairies?
AW: I love the prairies, because having lived away from home for 3 years, prairies means family to me.

SSO: What are some upcoming projects, or ones on the go, that you want to share with everyone?
AW: I’ll be performing in Waterloo in Opera Vera Causa’s Canadian Opera Fest as Kate in The Covenant, and Luna in Padajuca Zvijezda. Both operas will be premiers of female Canadian composers! In July, I’m looking forward to singing Adina in Donizetti’s classic, The Elixir of Love, with Opera By Request in Toronto. I’m also very excited to be returning to Saskatoon in December to sing Messiah with the SSO!

Getting to know Magnificat soloist Spencer McKnight

Originally from LeRoy, Saskatchewan, tenor Spencer McKnight is well known to SSO audiences for his Messiah performances. His eloquent ornaments and crystal clear sound are loved by all! We asked him some questions recently to get to know him a bit better before his performance this weekend at Bach’s Magnificat.

SSO: You’re originally from LeRoy, but where are you based from these days?
SM: Outlook

SSO: What is your favourite music based memory?
SM: One of my favourite memories is getting to perform my first hour long concert at Third Ave United Church in Saskatoon. I learned a lot from that recital!

SSO: How do you deal with nerves?
SM: Being really well prepared tends to help get rid of nerves. Before a show I might get some nerves, but if you realize that it’s just adrenaline you can use for the performance it’s less scary.

SSO: Was there an aha moment that made you realize music was the path for you?
SM: Yes, I decided to drop out of political science and focus on music. Within 6 months of that decision I was representing Saskatchewan at nationals where I won an award – and I was happier than I’d ever been. So I knew I was on the right path.

SSO: Why do you enjoy singing Bach?
SM: Bach is great because his music is so well written that it still sounds fresh today, and figuring out where you fit in all the moving pieces is always a challenge and great fun!

SSO: We recently did 6 word autobiographies with the students of St Mary’s who were a part of Kitohcikewin/Listen up! What would your six words be?
SM: ”He was there, now he’s here” (We at the SSO office think this one is a winner!!)

SSO: What is the best piece of advice someone has given you?
SM: “If you can picture yourself doing anything other than music, do that. If not – it’s worth all the hard work and heartache.”

SSO: If you could work with anyone living or dead who would it be?
SM: Cecilia Bartoli… I would sing anything with her. She is just such a consummate artist. 
(For those of you who follow our Executive Director on social media you know that Mark Turner recently saw Bartoli in performance!!) 

SSO:What is your favourite thing about the prairies?
SM: This will be a very pedantic answer…but the skies. When I lived in Toronto I missed looking up and seeing the huge cloud banks we have here. When I moved back home I found myself staring at the horizon and taking pictures of every single cloud and sunset.

SSO: What are some upcoming projects, or ones on the go, that you want to share with everyone?
SM: Over the past two years I’ve been developing a concert of music from the Great War with Mark Turner. We toured it to a few communities last fall – and are planning on touring it to more communities this fall to commemorate the 100th anniversary of armistice. It has been such an amazing artistic experience crafting the show and sharing it with audiences.

Join Spencer and all our guests at Bach’s Magnificat – Saturday, May 26, 7:30 pm at Knox United Church. Tickets are available at the door or you can buy them here.

Getting to Know Contralto Lisa Hornung

We are quickly approaching our performance of Bach’s Magnificat and thought it would be fun for you to get to know our guest artists a bit better!

SSO audiences are well acquainted with the incredible voice of contralto Lisa Hornung. Originally from, and still based out of North Battleford, Lisa has continued to make the drive to Saskatoon for many years to be a part of our Messiah performances among others. She is known for her warm smooth sound and her beautiful smile.

We asked Lisa a few questions. See what she has to say below!

SSO: What is your favourite music based memory?
LH:Family sing-songs – around the campfire or in the basement around the piano.

SSO: How do you deal with nerves?
LH:Practice a lot. Delve into / discover / enjoy the text-music relationship.  Remind myself it is not about me.

SSO:Was there an aha moment that made you realize music was the path for you?
LH: Honestly, I don’t remember a time without music.  I have not always loved it (sometimes music is frustrating and unpredictable, especially as an asthmatic with severe allergies) but I have always needed it. Music makes me whole – not sure if there was ever a time I didn’t know that somewhere in my soul.

SSO: Why do you enjoy singing Bach?
LH: It’s beautiful, challenging, playful, whole.

SSO:We recently did 6 word autobiographies with the students of St Mary’s who were a part of Kitohcikewin/Listen up! What would your six words be?
LH: Hmmm, didn’t know how to answer this so I asked my husband.  His six words for me are:  passionate, fun-loving, optimistic, committed, thoughtful.  Yes, I am married to a saint 🙂

SSO: What is the best piece of advice someone has given you?
LH: Enjoy today.

SSO: If you could perform any piece, regardless of voice type, what would you pick?
LH: The Lakes of Cool Finn – really, all Irish folk music. Oh! Big Band anything too 🙂

SSO: If you could work with anyone living or dead who would it be?
LH: Janet Baker 

SSO: What is your favourite thing about the prairies?
LH: My Family is here.

SSO: What are some upcoming projects, or ones on the go, that you want to share with everyone?
LH: Summer School for the Solo (and choral) Voice July 7-14 .  Great time of learning, music making, collaborating, visiting….fun 🙂


You can get tickets to Bach’s Magnificat and read Lisa’s full bio here.

Bach’s Magnificent Magnificat

In May 1723 Bach was appointed Kantor of St Thomas, Leipzig – we would probably call him the Director of Music – where he remained until his death in 1750. It was a hugely demanding post, involving teaching at the church school, playing the organ, training the choir and composing the music for the city’s two principal Lutheran churches as well as supervising and training the musicians at three others. Despite this enormous workload and recurrent disputes with the city authorities, Bach composed some of his greatest music during this period. His choral compositions alone include such towering masterpieces as the St John and St Matthew Passions, the Magnificat and the Mass in B minor, as well as the Christmas Oratorio and some 250 church cantatas.

The Magnificat – the canticle of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Luke I: 46-55) – traditionally formed part of the ancient Roman Catholic service of Vespers. After the Reformation it was incorporated into the evening services of the Lutheran and Anglican churches, in which it was linked with the Nunc Dimittis. The Magnificat has been set to music more often than any liturgical text other than the Mass itself, in settings that vary enormously in style, from the purity of Palestrina’s exquisite four-part unaccompanied compositions to Monteverdi’s grand, dramatic settings written for St Mark’s, Venice, and later the almost symphonic conception of Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, of which the Magnificat forms the final movement, composed in 1780 for use in Salzburg Cathedral.

Bach’s Magnificat was written in Leipzig for the 1723 Christmas Vespers. This original version was in E-flat and included several additional Christmas texts inserted at various points in the piece. Some years later he revised it, removing the Christmas interpolations to make the piece suitable for use throughout the year and transposing it into D, a much brighter and more satisfactory key for the trumpets in particular.

The extraordinary impact of Bach’s great choral works derives essentially from his remarkable ability to balance, yet at the same time to exploit to the full, the spiritual and dramatic elements of each text, whether it be one as concise as the Magnificat or as monumental as the St Matthew Passion.

The Magnificat is conceived on a grand scale, requiring five soloists, a five-part choir and, for its time, an unusually large orchestra consisting of three trumpets, two flutes, two oboes, strings and continuo. In its splendour and jubilation the piece anticipates the great choruses of the later Mass in B minor. It begins with a brilliant orchestral introduction in which the trumpets feature prominently. This leads directly into an equally impressive chorus, ‘Magnificat anima mea Dominum’ (My soul doth magnify the Lord). The ten verses and Gloria that comprise the Magnificat canticle form a continuous and homogenous whole, in contrast with the libretto of an oratorio or Passion with its wide variety of extracts from many different Biblical and poetical sources. For this reason there are no recitatives in the Magnificat. Instead, each verse receives extended treatment, the chorus supplying appropriate emphasis to sections such as ‘Fecit potentiam in brachio suo’ (He hath showed strength with his arm), while the more reflective verses are assigned to the soloists. In the trio, ‘Suscepit Israel’ (He hath holpen his servant Israel), Bach gives the oboes a plainsong melody traditionally associated with the Magnificat. It appears as a cantus firmus, i.e. a melody in greatly extended notes, against which the three soloists weave decorative vocal lines. For the final verse, ‘Sicut erat in principio …. Amen’ (As it was in the beginning …. Amen), Bach appropriately mirrors the words by recalling the music that was heard ‘as it was in the beginning’, the Magnificat therefore ending as exuberantly and dramatically as it began.

Gryphon Trio – Artist Profile

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Gryphon Trio has impressed international audiences and the press with its highly refined, dynamic performances and has firmly established itself as one of the world’s preeminent piano trios. With a repertoire that ranges from the traditional to the contemporary and from European classicism to modern-day multimedia, the Gryphons are committed to redefining chamber music for the 21st century.

The Trio tours regularly throughout North America and Europe and their 20 recordings are an encyclopedia of works for the genre. They have commissioned over 75 new works, and regularly collaborate on projects that push the boundaries of chamber music. Honours include two Juno Awards for Classical Album of the Year, and the prestigious 2013 Walter Carsen Prize for Excellence in the Performing Arts from the Canada Council.

Deeply committed to the education of the next generation of audiences and performers alike, the Gryphons frequently conduct masterclasses and workshops at universities and conservatories, and are Artists-in-Residence at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music and Trinity College.

Gryphon cellist Roman Borys is Artistic Director of Ottawa’s Chamberfest. Annalee Patipatanakoon and Jamie Parker serve as the festival’s Artistic Advisors in addition to their responsibilities at the University of Toronto Faculty of Music, where Mr. Parker is the Rupert E. Edwards Chair in Piano Performance and Ms. Patipatanakoon is Associate Professor of Violin.

Beethoven’s Triple Threat

Beethoven composed his “Triple Concerto” op. 56, for his pupil and patron, the Archduke Rudolph of Austria, who was a pianist and amateur composer. Rudolph, who eventually became an archbishop, remained a life-long friend and patron of Beethoven, and was the only person to whom Beethoven ever gave regular instruction in composition. In addition to the “Triple Concerto”, the Archduke received the dedication of such important works as the Fourth and Fifth Piano Concertos, the “Lebewohl” and “Hammerklavier” Sonatas, the op. 96 Violin Sonata, the “Archduke” Trio, the Missa Solemnis and the Grosse Fuge.

Beethoven’s choice of piano, violin and cello appears to be unprecedented in the literature—”really something new,” he wrote to his publisher. There was a popular genre in the Classical era known as the sinfonia concertante for two or more soloists with orchestral accompaniment, a revamped model of the Baroque concerto grosso. Mozart and Haydn left lovely examples, but the particular combination of piano, violin, and cello seems never to have been tried before.

He sketched the first movement early in 1803 during his most prolific period. At the same time he was composing the “Eroica” Symphony, the “Waldstein” and the “Appassionata” piano sonatas, and the first of the “Razumovsky” quartets. The “Triple Concerto” presented formidable compositional problems for Beethoven: how to give each soloist sufficient exposure while keeping the work within manageable formal bounds. To solve the problem, he had to devise simple and compact themes comprising basic chord and scale patterns, so this concerto is not rich in the dramatic transformation of material he was to employ in other middle-period compositions. The interest is to be found elsewhere—in the work’s contrasting sonorities, its interplay between soloists and orchestra, and its formal cohesion. This format, in turn, means that the concerto as a whole tends more toward lyric elaboration than to dramatic transformation of the material. The “Triple Concerto”, therefore, combines the scale of Beethoven’s grand concerto style with instrumental dialogues among the soloists in a manner more typical of chamber music.

The first, expansive movement commences in the murmuring cellos and basses presenting the rhythmic motif that dominates the initial subject, and ensuing movement. The second movement, a sublime melody presented by the solo cello, is, in contrast to the lengthy first movement, surprisingly brief. The peaceful theme is not developed; rather Beethoven links it to the final movement using a set of short variations in dialogue between the soloists. The prancing polonaise, “Rondo alla Polacca”, dances headstrong before erupting in the duple meter “Allegro”. The swaggering polonaise returns, bringing the Concerto to a stirring conclusion.

Often overshadowed by the composer’s other concertos, the rarely heard and underrated “Triple Concerto” stands as a testament to the composer’s craft and as a window to Beethoven’s future lyricism of the Fourth Piano Concerto, op. 58 and the Violin Concerto, op. 61.

The SSO will perform Beethoven’s Triple Concerto on May 5th with the world renowned Gryphon Trio.

Shostakovich’s 9th

The ninth symphony was originally intended to be a celebration of the Russian victory over Nazi Germany in World War II (see Eastern Front). The composer declared in October 1943 that the symphony would be a large composition for orchestra, soloists and chorus “about the greatness of the Russian people, about our Red Army liberating our native land from the enemy”. On the occasion of the 27th anniversary of the Revolution held in 1944, Shostakovich affirmed, “Undoubtedly like every Soviet artist, I harbor the tremulous dream of a large-scale work in which the overpowering feelings ruling us today would find expression. I think the epigraph to all our work in the coming years will be the single word ‘Victory’.”

David Rabinovich recalled from a conversation he had with Shostakovich on the ninth symphony in 1944 that the composer “would like to write it for a chorus and solo singers as well as an orchestra”. In a meeting with his students on 16 January 1945, Shostakovich informed them that the day before he had begun work on a new symphony. A week later, he told them that he had reached the middle of the development section, and the work was going to open with a big tutti. Isaak Glikman heard around ten minutes of the music Shostakovich had written for the first movement in late April, which he described as “majestic in scale, in pathos, in its breathtaking motion”.

But then Shostakovich dropped the composition for three months. He resumed work on 26 July 1945 and finished on 30 August 1945. The symphony turned out to be a completely different work from the one he had originally planned, with neither soloists nor chorus and a much lighter mood. He forewarned listeners, “In character, the Ninth Symphony differs sharply from my preceding symphonies, the Seventh and the Eighth. If the Seventh and the Eighth symphonies bore a

The Origins of Felix the Cat

As part of our upcoming Silence Is Golden Charlie Chaplin Film Fest, we are thrilled to incorporate a classic Felix the Cat cartoon scored by the SSO.

On November 9, 1919, Master Tom, a prototype of Felix, debuted in a Paramount Pictures short entitled Feline Follies. Produced by the New York City-based animation studio owned by Pat Sullivan, the cartoon was directed by cartoonist and animator Otto Messmer. It was a success, and the Sullivan studio quickly set to work on producing another film featuring Master Tom, the Felix the Cat prototype in Musical Mews (released November 16, 1919). It too proved to be successful with audiences. Otto Messmer claimed that John King of Paramount Magazine suggested the name “Felix”, after the Latin words felis (cat) and felix (happy). The name was first used for the third film starring the character, The Adventures of Felix (released on December 14, 1919). Pat Sullivan claimed he named Felix after Australia Felix from Australian history and literature. In 1924, animator Bill Nolan redesigned the character, making him both rounder and cuter. Felix’s new looks, coupled with Messmer’s character animation, brought Felix to fame.

The question of who created Felix remains a matter of dispute. Sullivan stated in numerous newspaper interviews that he created Felix and did the key drawings for the character. On a visit to Australia in 1925, Sullivan told The Argus newspaper that “[t]he idea was given to me by the sight of a cat which my wife brought to the studio one day”. On other occasions, he claimed that Felix had been inspired by Rudyard Kipling‘s “The Cat that Walked by Himself” or by his wife’s love for strays.Members of the Australian Cartoonist Association have claimed that lettering used in Feline Follies matches Sullivan’s handwriting and that Sullivan lettered within his drawings. Sullivan’s supporters also say the case is supported by his March 18, 1917, release of a cartoon short entitled The Tail of Thomas Kat more than two years prior to Feline Follies. Both an Australian ABC-TV documentary screened in 2004 and the curators of an exhibition at the State Library of New South Wales in 2005 suggested that Thomas Kat was a prototype or precursor of Felix. However, few details of Thomas have survived. His fur color has not been definitively established, and the surviving copyright synopsis for the short suggests significant differences between Thomas and the later Felix. For example, whereas the later Felix magically transforms his tail into tools and other objects, Thomas is a non-anthropomorphized cat who loses his tail in a fight with a rooster, never to recover it.

Sullivan was the studio proprietor and—as is the case with almost all film entrepreneurs—he owned the copyright to any creative work by his employees. In common with many animators at the time, Messmer was not credited. After Sullivan’s death in 1933, his estate in Australia took ownership of the character.

It was not until after Sullivan’s death that Sullivan staffers such as Hal Walker, Al Eugster, Gerry Geronimi, Rudy Zamora, George Cannata, and Sullivan’s own lawyer, Harry Kopp, credited Messmer with Felix’s creation. They claimed that Felix was based on an animated Charlie Chaplin that Messmer had animated for Sullivan’s studio earlier on. The down-and-out personality and movements of the cat in Feline Follies reflect key attributes of Chaplin’s, and, although blockier than the later Felix, the familiar black body is already there (Messmer found solid shapes easier to animate). Messmer himself recalled his version of the cat’s creation in an interview with animation historian John Canemaker:

Sullivan’s studio was very busy, and Paramount, they were falling behind their schedule and they needed one extra to fill in. And Sullivan, being very busy, said, “If you want to do it on the side, you can do any little thing to satisfy them.” So I figured a cat would be about the simplest. Make him all black, you know—you wouldn’t need to worry about outlines. And one gag after the other, you know? Cute. And they all got laughs. So Paramount liked it so they ordered a series.

Animation historians back Messmer’s claims. Among them are Michael BarrierJerry Beck, Colin and Timothy Cowles, Donald Crafton, David Gerstein, Milt Gray, Mark Kausler, Leonard Maltin, and Charles Solomon. No animation historians outside of Australia have argued on behalf of Sullivan.

Sullivan marketed the cat relentlessly while Messmer continued to produce a prodigious volume of Felix cartoons. Messmer did the animation directly on white paper with inkers tracing the drawings directly. The animators drew backgrounds onto pieces of celluloid, which were then laid atop the drawings to be photographed. Any perspective work had to be animated by hand, as the studio cameras were unable to perform pans or trucks. Pat Sullivan began a comic strip in 1923 distributed by King Features Syndicate. Messmer took over drawing duties of the strip. The first The Felix Annual from 1924 issued in Great Britain shows the last two stories are not the usual Otto Messmer style, so a difference in Pat Sullivan drawn cartoons can be noted.