Poulenc Sextet

André George, a French reviewer for the periodical Les Nouvelles littéraires, once wrote that “with Poulenc, all of France comes out of the windows he opens.” One could extend such a compliment to include the whole world, for his contemporary musical stylings gave compositions like his Sextet an air of well-traveled sophistication and compelling emotional range.

An influential member of the composer group Les Six, Francis Poulenc composed his Sextet somewhere between 1931 and 1932. Originally composed as a piece of chamber music for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, piano and French horn, the Sextet came to Poulenc during a period of great musical productivity. The composer had just finished their Concerto for Two Pianos in addition to a cantata, Le Bal Masqué. Poulenc’s popularity as a member of Les Six was reaching its zenith, and he wanted to ensure his next musical gift to the world wouldn’t disappoint.

Poulenc struggled throughout his life with a musical form of writer’s block, something which inexplicably came and went depending on the nature of the musical work he was composing at the time. With the Sextet, Poulenc laboured for months to pull the music together in a way that best fitted his vision for the piece as a whole. The composer would return to his manuscripts for the piece in 1939, seven years after his Sextet’s premiere, in order to revise what he felt was a work of great potential that failed to execute properly the first time around.

After extensive revisions, Poulenc wrote a letter to his friend and confidante, the conductor and composer Nadia Boulanger. In this letter, Poulenc shared the experience of rewriting the Sextet to better fit his original vision for the piece. “There were some good ideas in [the original]” he wrote, “but the whole thing was badly put together. With the proportions altered, better balanced, it comes over very clearly.” Poulenc’s decision to rewrite his Sextet was ultimately a positive one, as critics cite the evocative capacity of each instrument within the quintet increased substantially following Poulenc’s return to the musical drawing-board.

The sextet is separated into three sections and is approximately eighteen minutes in duration. The first movement, “Allegro vivace”, features a rhythmic piano line upon which the quintet can layer rapid-fire melodies which draw inspiration from elements of jazz. The movement creates the sensation of movement by utilizing abrupt rhythmic changes in all instrumental voices, and it flurries away just as quickly as it arrived to reveal a beautiful bassoon solo.

Movement two, the Divertissement: Andantino, exhibits a fast section framed by two slower and majestic passages. The bassoon solo which opens the movement is repeated by other instrumental voices in turn before the oboe and clarinet drive the pace forward through the faster section. Recapitulating the themes explored in the movement’s beginning, the sumptuous strains of this second movement recall Classical influences while also parodying elements of Mozart.

The Finale: Prestissimo represents the emotional highpoint of the entire work, and the accelerated tempo reflects this. The movement is in rondo form, and begins with “an Offenbachian gallop”. The jazz influences from the first and second movements are more pronounced here, and the spirit of ragtime is explored to delightful effect. Critics have interpreted this element of the Finale as being a “satirical depiction of neoclassicism in music”. After revisiting themes from the first and second movements at greater speeds, the Finale takes inspiration from Ravel in the execution of a coda brimming with lyricism and beauty.

Premiered in 1933, the Sextet’s original lineup featured Poulenc himself on the piano alongside Marcel Moyse, Roland Lamorlette, Louis Cahuzac, Gustave Dhérin, and R. Blot on flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn, respectively. Although the piece itself was not lauded by some of the more traditional critics in the musical community of France, (with critic Florent Schmitt of Le Temps criticizing it as wandering and vulgar), others found it to be a musical breath of fresh air.

Pulling from a multitude of musical styles, Poulenc’s Sextet is a triumphant example of what can be produced if one persists in the depths of a frustrating case of brain fog. You can hear your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra perform Poulenc’s Sextet at our upcoming Mother’s Day concert!


Musical Herstory 2.0

For centuries, the writers of musical textbooks (and the programmers of musical institutions) excluded women who composed.

Francesca Caccini (1587-1645)

Motherhood. Quarantine. Saving one’s self from the guillotine with their piano skills. Composers of today have a surprising amount in common with composers of yesteryear!
In this second instalment of Musical Herstory, we will continue looking at the amazing lives and music of female composers from the past and the present. We’ll look at works created across the years in those typically “male dominated” genres, the dual roles of mother and composer, and music from composers whom we know very little about.

The SSO is again proud to present Saskatoon composer Kendra Harder in this six week course exploring the herstory of music that you need to know!

Classes take place Thursdays at 7:00pm (Saskatchewan time) – each class is 60 minutes.

The first class takes place on May 13th, and will be available on video to those who aren’t able to attend the class live on Zoom.

Click here to Watch!

How does it work?

Before the first class, you’ll receive an email that gives you access to the 6 weeks of scheduled Zoom classes.

If you can’t participate in the live Zoom class, you’ll have access to the video of the class on our YouTube channel.

Week One – Composer & Mother

Our society often expects that women become mothers, but not composers. What is it like for those who are both? 
What are the challenges faced by women in professional spheres attempting to balance raising children and creating 
a career?

Composers in focus: 
 - Allison Loggins-Hull – this week is inspired by her project “Diametrically Composed.”
 - Elizabeth Maconchy (1907 – 1994)

Week Two – Symphony Week

We enter the "male domain" of the symphony and look at what women have done in this sphere.

Composers in focus:
 - Amy Beach (1867 - 1944)
 - Alice Ping Yee Ho

Week Three – Almost Footnotes

There are so many composers (both male and female) where there is little biographical information about them, 
and in some cases absolutely none is to be found. As a result, these composers and their music are overlooked 
putting them at risk of simply being a footnote in textbooks. This week we'll spend time listening to music by
 composers whom we know little about.

Composers in focus: 
 - Cesarina Ricci (c. 1573 - ?)
 - Hélène de Montgeroult (1764 – 1836)
 - Eva Dell’Acqua (1856 – 1930)
 - Cecilia Arizti (1856 – 1930)
 - Lyse Gingras (b. 1949)

Week Four – Guitar Week

Solo repertoire for the guitar is a very heavy male-dominated field; but men are not the only ones to have picked up 
that beautiful six-stringed instrument to create music. This week will look at two fantastic guitar virtuosi whose 
music is finally coming back into the public consciousness.

Composers in focus: 
 - Ida Presti (1924-1967)
 - Catharina Pratten (1824-1895)

Week Five – Beautiful Blends

These two composers make amazing blends of music with their traditional music and the Western classical music. 

Composers in focus: 
 - Tanya Tagaq
 - Reena Esmail

Week Six – Opera Week

This genre of large-scale works has been hailed as the grand rite of passage for any serious composer, and therefore, 
was denied to women. This week will look at one woman who wrote some of the first operas, and is considered the
first woman to have composed an opera. Plus, we will look at what women are writing today!

Composers in focus: 
 - Francesca Caccini (1587 – 1645)
 - Nkeiru Okoye

Playing It By Ear – Season 91

What are we doing next year?

Intriguingly I ask myself this question more than people ask it of me. Usually spring is filled with announcements of plans for the upcoming year but this year Eric and I made the decision that, instead of releasing the plans we had in place for the SSO’s 91st season, we’re going to play it by ear.

From the start of the pandemic we’ve been securely focused on two things: keeping everyone at the SSO safe and making sure we kept our musicians playing. I’m extremely proud that we’ve done both very successfully. It’s been an incredible amount of work and full of daily unpredictable stressors, but its also been a time of great growth and we’ve learned that when faced with the need to break the mold, we can!

Our industry got into the rhythm of long term planning decades ago. Orchestras typically plan a few years ahead in order to make sure they have a road map for programming, connect with guest artists, and keep the machine of production moving ahead.
But every time Eric and I have sat down to think about “next season”, we find ourselves faced with the reality that planning a season seems counter-intuitive right now.

We programmed our anniversary 90th season on the fly, sometimes having to adjust programming just days before a performance to ensure that the music allowed us to properly distance or meet protocols. What’s come from that is a very cool artistic energy. Rather than knowing months or years in advance of what’s to come next, we learned to create as we go.

The reality for our 91st season is that we don’t quite know what the pandemic will bring in the weeks and months ahead.

Last year in April, we still had a glimmer of hope that the fall would proceed…so if we’ve learned anything from this challenging year its that we have to remain on our feet, ready to adapt, and play it by ear.

We are looking forward to how exciting it will be to have a full orchestra on stage again, and even more thrilling to have it play to a packed house – but we are ready to wait until its safe to do so.

So, this spring there won’t be a launch of a season. No subscriber forms to fill out.

Don’t worry though – we’re keeping your seats for you. When the time comes, we’ll be ready for it – but for now we’ll wait until its safe to get the band back together. We’re already mapping out plans for fall that includes all sorts of variables – we’re attempting to address every scenario from a full stage and hall, to continuing to safely live stream. We know for sure that streaming is here to stay, and we’re busy at work right now to make our Digital Concert Stream more user friendly and more accessible for patrons old and new.

Improvised, adaptive, and nimble programming helped get us through this first year of the pandemic, and just like playing it by ear it’s made us a whole lot more creative!

Stay well and listen to good music,

Mark Turner
Executive Director

Bach in Books!

This spring we’re doing lots of great Bach related activities including Bach in Brandenburg and the online class On Bach’s Time – so we thought we’d give you some recommendations for books to fill your spring with even more Bach.

There’s lots of great books about JS, but these are ones folks at the SSO have read and recommended!


Music in the Castle of Heaven

by John Eliot Gardiner

Lifelong fans of Bach’s music will be thrilled to add this academic and richly illustrated volume to their shelves. Peppered with musical analyses and covering a wide spectrum of Bach’s life as a composer, this text is a deep dive into all things Bach. At times scholarly and at others subtle, this book provides the reader with the opportunity to familiarize themselves more fully with the period in which Bach created. Clocking in at almost seven hundred pages in length, this book is an ideal read for those seeking total immersion in the life and music of this legendary composer.



Harmony & Discord: 

by Julian Shuckburgh

Have you ever wondered what sort of mischief Bach got up to as a youngster? If so, then this book (which was carefully researched over a period of ten years) is definitely for you! One of the more impressive features of this text is its chronology of Bach’s compositions, the first definitive version to see publication. The biography itself has been described as “an impassioned, controversial, and personal portrait of the man who composed some of the most sublime music ever written, in spite of—or perhaps because of—a life blighted by tragedy.”




The Cello Suites: J. S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece

by Eric Siblin

Easily the most unique book on the list, The Cello Suites was written after the author finished a ten-year career as a music journalist for the Montreal Gazette. Eric Siblin creates a narrative described as “part biography, part music history, and part literary mystery.” Chronicling Bach’s cello suites from the disappearance of their manuscript in the 1700s to their eventual reappearance in Barcelona, Spain, The Cello Suites will captivate classical music devotees and historical fiction lovers alike. The author’s passion for Bach’s suites for cello shine through the text’s insightful prose, establishing The Cello Suites as a must-read for anyone who delights in orchestral music and history. 

Where is Brandenburg exactly…

You might have heard about Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, but how much do we know about the city that inspired their namesake? What happened before Bach presented the concerti to the city’s Margrave? What is a “Margrave”, anyway? Let’s delve into the historic past of this great city, from its founding to the 20th century…

In the beginning, Brandenburg was part of a region traditionally inhabited by an ancient people known as the Semnones. They lived there peacefully before being ousted in the 7th century by Slavic peoples who had settled to the East (themselves fleeing the influence of invading Huns and Avars who were in the midst of ransacking their country). These Slavic colonizers (known as Wends) had three hundred years of relative prosperity before a German king (referred to as Henry the Fowler) captured the capitol of Branibor during the 10th century.

In the years following occupation by German forces, the name of the capitol morphed from Branibor into Brennabor, finally becoming Brennaburg. An uprising allowed the Wends to drive the Germans out of Brennaburg, but soon after a new player joined the fight for conquest of the area: Lothar, duke of Saxony. He regained during a fierce thirty year campaign those areas lost by the troops of Henry the Fowler during the uprising. Lothar was eventually named German Emperor, and put a man named Albert the Bear in charge of Brennaburg and the surrounding area (the entirety of which was now referred to as the Northern March).

The descendants of Albert the Bear (known as the Ascanians) assisted in the founding of Berlin (then just a small township) and divided the Northern March into three sections: Old March (Altmark), Middle March (Mittelmark), and New March (Neumark). Each section of the Northern March was ruled by a specific dignitary, known as a margrave. These margraves steadily grew in power until 1356, when their titles received major a boost in influence: they were established as prince-electors, and were allowed to vote in the election of the Holy Roman Emperor. So Brennaburg became the Electorate of Brandenburg, and would hold that title for years afterward.   

The death of the last descendant of Albert the Bear brought about a period of chaos in the 1360s, and King Wenceslas of Luxembourg (yes, the same good king referenced in the winter carol) tried to keep the Northern March together. But the local nobility were growing in power, and the poorer were growing poorer by the day. Perhaps this is why King Wenceslas journeys out on a winter’s evening to bring alms to the poor in the holiday carol which bears his name.   

The year was 1415, and the Hohenzollern clan arrived to join the fray! Frederick of Hohenzollern was appointed elector by Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund to the Electorate of Brandenburg. Frederick’s son, known by his troops as Iron Tooth, got the nobles sorted out and kept peace in the towns while fighting off warring Pomeranians (the people, not the dogs).

Things really started developing in the Electorate of Brandenburg after Iron Tooth’s brother (Albert III Achilles) got the Pomeranians to settle down a bit. Roman law was introduced by Elector Joachim I, and hi son Joachim II made a daring deal with the Duke of Prussia which promised half of Prussia’s resources to Brandenburg if the Duke’s family tree should topple over. The Duke’s daughter Anna married Elector John Sigismund of Brandenburg, and the streets of the Electorate ran with Prussian gold upon Sigismund’s receipt of inheritance in 1618.   

And then it was the Thirty Years War, here to shake things up once again. Elector George William tried for neutrality, but failed. Invading Swedes held Brandenburg for several years before Williams’ son Frederick (who was known as the “Great Elector”) took back control. He then decided to try his hand at gathering as many local territories as possible. Minden, Kammin, Halberstadt, east Pomerania, and Magdeburg all joined the state of Brandenburg in quick succession.

As the leader of one of the most powerful states in Germany (rivalled only by Prussia and Austria), passed quite the legacy on to his son (also named Frederick). A military man from head to toe, young Freddy made quite a career for himself on the field of battle. He allied himself with other German princes to battle Louis XIV of France, and helped William of Orange out in his march on England in 1688.

As the year 1700 loomed, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I had a major problem on his hands: there was far too much competition for the throne of Spain, competition which was growing nastier by the day. Leopold I couldn’t intervene without more soldiers, so he decided to name Frederick III King of Prussia in exchange for the aid of 8,000 soldiers. Prussia couldn’t refuse this deal, as their dominion wasn’t technically a part of the Empire like Brandenburg was. So 1701 saw Frederick III crowned King in Prussia, and after this event Brandenburg added few territories and turned its attention towards supporting education and developing infrastructure.

Two centuries passed, and Brandenburg continued to flourish as a powerful independent state until being absorbed as a province of German Prussia after World War I. Prussia dissolved after World War II, which meant that every part of Brandenburg to the west of the mighty Oder River became a different part of Germany. When Germany became partitioned into East and West, Brandenburg was fractured into districts (similar to the days of the Northern March). Brandenburg was ultimately able to make a comeback in 1990 just before the toppling of the Berlin Wall. The reunification of East and West signaled a new era of prosperity for the city, which has continued right up to the present day.

The Nearly Lost Brandenburg Concertos

The Brandenburg Concerti by Johann Sebastian Bach were originally titled “Six Concerts à plusieurs instruments” and composed as a set of six works for concerto grosso. Presented by the composer to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg-Schwedt in 1721, they are lauded as some of the finest examples of Baroque music, and have a fascinating history.

Margrave Christian Ludwig

Wanting to make a good impression on the Margrave Ludwig, and foregoing the use of a copyist, Bach hand-wrote the music himself. Speculations abound whether or not Bach actually composed the concerti prior to 1721, and its certainly possible that the great composer had bits and pieces worked out before he set his mind to the task of creating these colossal works. Direct comparison between the Brandenburg concerti and works composed while Bach served as the Kapellmeister at Köthen reveal an eerie similarity.

Bach wrote a French dedication for the concerti to Margrave Ludwig, dated the 24th of March, 1721, and which read as follows:  

“As I had the good fortune a few years ago to be heard by Your Royal Highness, at Your Highness’s commands, and as I noticed then that Your Highness took some pleasure in the little talents which Heaven has given me for Music, and as in taking Leave of Your Royal Highness, Your Highness deigned to honour me with the command to send Your Highness some pieces of my Composition: I have in accordance with Your Highness’s most gracious orders taken the liberty of rendering my most humble duty to Your Royal Highness with the present Concertos, which I have adapted to several instruments; begging Your Highness most humbly not to judge their imperfection with the rigor of that discriminating and sensitive taste, which everyone knows Him to have for musical works, but rather to take into benign Consideration the profound respect and the most humble obedience which I thus attempt to show Him.”

It would seem that Bach had a way with words as well as with music. For the time in which they were composed, the Brandenburg Concerti presented avant-garde combinations of instruments, a decision on Bach’s part which created new harmonic textures and ensured that this set of compositions would remain relevant long after the Baroque period waned. As your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra will be rendering the 2nd, 3rd, and 5th concerti, respectively, let’s take a look at what makes each so special…   

Concerto No. 2 in F major, although written without a firm indication of tempo, is usually performed at Allegro. Beginning with the spirited Andante in D minor, the orchestra builds to dive into the Allegro assai. The energy of this second movement is sustained into the Concertino, the jewel of the entire concerto, in which a natural trumpet in F is supported by oboe and violin. The Ripieno (a fancy name for the instruments accompanying the body of a Baroque Concertino) within the final movement of the 2nd Brandenburg Concerto are two violins, viola, cello, bass and harpsichord.

There are no two ways to slice it, the trumpet part in this third movement continues to be regarded as unparalleled in its difficulty. During Bach’s time, the trumpet was still evolving into the instrument we recognize today and possessed no valves. This primitive trumpet was referred to as a “clarino”, and music historians maintain that there was only one clarino specialist Bach felt could do justice to the solo of his third movement: Johann Ludwig Schreiber.

Having met Schreiber when the former served as court trumpeter in Köthen, Bach may well have written the part as a sort of challenge to Schreiber’s embouchure. Unfortunately, the clarino was not destined for the sort of popularity Bach had hoped for. With its instrumental technique falling into obscurity during the 18th century, it was not uncommon moving forward for the solo of movement three to be played by the valved trumpet, French Horn, and piccolo trumpet.

Bach would have included more opportunities for a musician like Schreiber to demonstrate their proficiency on the clarino in the second movement, but this instrument only had the capability to play in major keys. As a master of the concerto grosso form, Bach was not willing to sacrifice the transition from the first movement’s major key to the contrasting minor of the second for the benefit of a single instrument. Musicologists recently confirmed that the melodies found in Concerto No. 2 were inspired by a previous composition of Bach’s now lost to time. The piece, originally composed for chamber music quintet, was called “Concerto da camera in Fa Maggiore” (Chamber Concerto in F major).

The next concerto in the set of six, Concerto No. 3 in G major, is usually performed at Allegro moderato during the first movement, contrasted by the slow majesty into the second movement (Adagio in E minor). The rich harmonic textures of this second movement gives way to a stunning and vivacious Allegro to round out the concerto. Both Allegro movements utilize the ritornello form, a type of musical architecture which retained significant popularity throughout the Baroque period. Concerto No. 3 is string-dominant, featuring three violins, three violas, and three cellos. A harpsichord is present is also featured to provide a supportive bassline. A special feature of this concerto, the Phrygian half cadence in the second movement provides the orchestra with an opportunity to insert movements from other Bach works or simply improvised cadenzas by the violinists or cellists. The shortest of the six concerti, No.3 is the perfect musical appetizer before the main course is served: Concerto No. 5.

Concerto No.5 in D major features an Affetuoso in B minor framed by two enervating Allegro movements (the first of which contains an opportunity for a dazzling harpsichord cadenza). As the largest and most complex of the concerti, this is truly the piece de resistance of the entire set. Bach outdoes himself with a delightful Concertino in which violin and flute create brilliant dynamic contrasts supported by the harpsichord. The ripieno of violin, viola, cello, and bass paint a captivating portrait of passion and joy throughout.

Manuscript of Brandenburg Concerto 5

Rumors have swirled through the centuries since Bach’s passing that the great composer wrote the beginnings of this concerto in 1719 to demonstrate his latest purchase from Berlin: a brand new harpsichord designed by Michael Mietke for use at the Köthen court. Some music historians insist that Concerto No. 5 was originally developed for a Dresden music competition, for which the French composer and organist Louis Marchand had entered. Upon hearing Concerto No. 5, Marchand recognized that Bach borrowed one of his themes in the central movement and rendered it far more effectively than he did originally. This was enough to intimidate Marchand, who reportedly fled before the competition even began. Concerto No. 5 is the first example of a concerto composed for solo keyboard, and indeed the harpsichord shines throughout its solo in the first Allegro movement.

Unfortunately, King Frederick William I of Prussia did not invest a great deal in the arts, and this impacted the number of musicians Margrave Ludwig could afford to populate his Berlin ensemble. The full score for the Brandenburg Concerti would have required musical resources that the Margrave simply did not have access to at the time. And so, the manuscripts lay forgotten in the Margrave’s library until after his death in 1734. The Brandenburg Concerti were sold for something equivalent to thirty Canadian dollars, and were only rediscovered deep in the archives of Brandenburg in 1849 by one Siegfried Wilhelm Dehn. The following year marked the first official publication for this genre-defining set of concerti. Perhaps fate deemed the Brandenburg Concerti too beautiful for the world to appreciate, as the original manuscripts were almost lost once again during World War II. Safe in the compartment of a traveling librarian who had sworn to protect the manuscript with his life, the train carrying the Brandenburg Concerti was subject to an aerial attack as it rocketed towards Prussia. The librarian managed to leap from the still-moving train and took refuge in a nearby forest, cradling Bach’s concerti under his winter cloak.   

So the Brandenburg Concerti beat all the odds, and survived to emerge into the 20th century as a shining example of the best that Bach had to offer the Baroque era. The Brandenburg Concerti were even deemed worthy of inclusion on the Voyager Golden Record, part of the two Voyager space probes and containing some of the most iconic pieces of music from human history. The Voyager Golden Record was sent into outer space in 1977, and somehow we’d like to think that Bach would appreciate his music being catapulted into the heavens in a blaze of light. You can hear your Sasaktoon Symphony Orchestra deliver numbers 2, 3, and 5 of the Brandenburg Concerti at our Bach in Brandenburg concert! 

Create a Custom SSO Phone App

With the launch of our Digital Concert Stream, we’ve been hearing from you about how excited you are to enjoy the SSO whenever you want!

We have a ton of great opportunities to learn and interact on our website, and now with the Stream you may be thinking that you want have a quick way to access our website. We wanted to put together the instructions for you to take a look at to get it set up on your device (it works for tablets too).


If you’re an iPhone user there’s three easy steps:

  1. Go to saskatoonsymphony.org in your browser and tap the share icon


2. Click on Add to Home Screen

3. Label it SSO, click Add, and now you’ve got us as an app!


If you’re an Android user:

  1. Go to the page you want to add to your Home screen.
  2. Tap the menu button at the top right corner.
    focus menu android
  3. Tap Add to Home screen.
  4. In the prompt that pops up, give your shortcut a name, then tap Add.
  5. On your Home screen, drag the shortcut to your preferred spot.

Seeing the Light with Reena Esmail

It’s not everyday that a wind quintet has the chance to learn music featuring Hindustani ragas – its part of what makes The Light Stays the Same a high light of our La Chambre performance.

Reena Esmail is a Chicago-born pianist, vocalist, and composer whose works have been commissioned by ensembles including the Los Angeles Master Chorale,  Kronos Quartet, Imani Winds, Richmond Symphony, Town Music Seattle,  Albany Symphony, Chicago Sinfonietta,  River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, San Francisco Girls Chorus, The Elora Festival, Juilliard415, and Yale Institute of Sacred Music.

Having studied with the likes of Susan Botti, Samuel Adler, and Aaron Jay Kernis, Esmail holds degrees in composition from The Juilliard School (BM’05) and the Yale School of Music (MM’11, MMA’14, DMA’18). She studied Hindustani music in India under Srimati Lakshmi Shankar and Gaurav Mazundar after receiving a grant from Fulbright-Nehru. Her doctoral thesis (“Finding Common Ground: Uniting Practices in Hindustani and Western Art Musicians”) explores the methods and challenges of the collaborative process between Hindustani musicians and Western composers.

A 2019 United States Artist Fellow in Music, she was also a 2017-18 Kennedy Center Citizen Artist Fellow and a recipient of the S & R Foundation’s Washington Award. Esmail is currently serving as the Los Angeles Master Chorale’s 2020-2023 Swan Family Artist in Residence, and the Seattle Symphony’s 2020-21 Composer-in-Residence. Esmail is the current Artistic Director of Shastra, a non-profit organization devoted to promoting cross-cultural music connection between music traditions of India and Western countries.

Esmail describes her journey to create this musical work of art as having been inspired by an ancient verse of poetry. “In my search for texts for my oratorio, “This Love Between Us”, which I was writing concurrently, I came across these wise words from the 13th century Sufi mystic poet, Rumi. He states so beautifully that…

Religions are many

But God is one

The lamps may be different,

But the Light is the same

…[so] even if our methods for searching for meaning and happiness look very different, the things we seek are so similar.”

In developing “The Light is the Same” for orchestra, Esmail integrated two Hindustani raags into the melodic core of the piece. In Hindustani classical music, a “raag” (also referred to as a “raga”) is a framework for musical improvisation, similar to the melodic modes of Western classical music. Endless in their variation and each with their own name, a raag (literally translated to mean “coloring”) is specifically rendered to invoke certain feelings or moods in the mind and heart of the listener.

Esmail drew on the tones of Raag Vachaspati and Raag Yaman, respectively, because “the bhav, the aesthetic of these raags are so different: Vachaspati is dark, brooding, complex and dense. Yaman is light and innocent. And yet, practically speaking, only one note is different between them. The melodies they generate and the way they move makes them feel worlds apart, and yet their notes are almost [identical]. The piece begins in Vachaspati, in desolate, spare melodic lines. Slowly, as Yaman peeks through the dense harmonies, the two raags begin to weave together into a seamless composite.”

               Uniting Eastern and Western harmonies in a scintillating piece of evocative musical expression, Reena Esmail’s “The Light is the Same” represents an important shift in the evolution of music you cannot afford to miss.  Find it as part of our La Chambre concert.

Aftab Darvishi and the Daughters of Sol

The music of Aftab Darvishi is something you have to hear. Mystical and engaging, her music transports the listener – and the players – and is one of the nightlights of our season.

Born in Tehran, Iran in 1987, Aftab Darvishi grew up playing piano, violin, and Kamancheh. Her father (the composer Mohammad-Reza Darvishi) encouraged her musical aspirations, and she graduated with a degree in Music Performance/Composition from the University of Tehran with honors.

In 2010 Aftab moved to the Netherlands, studying Carnatic Music at the Conservatorium van Amsterdam and achieving a master’s degree in Composing for Film in 2012. Following additional composition studies at the Royal Conservatory of The Hague (while simultaneously studying Carnatic Music at the Conservatory of Amsterdam with Rafael Reina), she was awarded the Tenso Young Composers Award in 2016 for her piece for acapella choir entitled “And the world stopped Lacking you…”

Aftab has created over 40 musical works for various mediums and contexts (opera, chamber music, choir, dance, film/animation scores and art installations just to name a few), and has worked with orchestral groups in demand all over the world. In addition to collaborations with the HERMESensemble, Orkest De Ereprijs, Oerknal ensemble, Riccioti ensemble, and Royal Ensemble, Aftab has also had the privilege of being commissioned by Kronos Quartet.

In 2017, the Grammy Award-winning string ensemble of international renown commissioned Darvishi’s stunning “Daughters of Sol” for inclusion in their “Fifty for the Future” project. This ambitious musical initiative seeks to amalgamate repertoire that exemplifies “the most contemporary approaches to the string quartet, designed expressly for the training of students and emerging professionals.”

Aftab Darvishi’s work has been described as possessing a keen awareness of breath. David Harrington, artistic director of Kronos Quartet, has remarked that “her music is very alive in the most natural way.” The unusual combinations of melodic voicing in her work draw from the rich variety of musical traditions and cultural heritage she has encountered along her compositional path. In this way, it can be said that her music is always evolving.

Aftab has composed for choirs such as Latvian Radio Choir, BBC singers, Chamber Choir Ireland and Helsingin Kamarikuoro. Her music has been presented in festivals including Holland Festival, Lunalia festival, Operadagen Rotterdam, New music Dublin Festival, Tehran Contemporary Music Festival and Kronos Festival.

Of her award-winning work “Daughters of Sol”, Darvishi shares that she found its core inspiration in a poem by contemporary Iranian poet Ahmad Shamloo. Created through a deep connection to the Iranian folk music of her childhood, she explains that “…this piece contains gentle transitions and detailed changes, which leads to dissolving of different shades and colors. It is a constant evolution between shadows and lights. It is a journey about conveying gentle circular movements, which I think…resembles cycles of life. We evolve and dissolve in gentle and harsh conversions. We change colors, yet we tend to go back to our roots [in spite] of our differences.”

Regularly invited as a guest lecturer at the University of Tehran, Aftab’s opera “Turan Dokht” premiered last year at the Holland Festival to great acclaim. Like so many of her works for orchestra, “Daughters of Sol” is sure to leave you spellbound.

You can hear the SSO String Wuartet perform Daughters of Sol as part of the SSO’s La Chambre.



Rediscovering Louise Farrenc

Born in the early years of the 19th Century, French composer Louise Farrenc (nee Dumont) began her musical career as a piano student of Cecile Soria (a former student of Muzio Clementi). Louise devoured the musical repertoire given to her by Ms. Soria, mastering the subtleties of pianistic expression in record time. It soon became obvious that Louise was a prodigy at the piano and needed more specific guidance if her talents were to be refined any further.

To become a professional pianist, Louise studied under Ignaz Moscheles and Johann Nepomuk Hummel. So specific was her understanding of music and its composition that, in 1819 and only fifteen years of age, she was encouraged by her parents to study composition with Anton Reicha (who taught composition at the Conservatoire). At the time, Anton’s class was only open to men.

Louise’s life changed forever when she met Aristide Farrenc (a flautist ten years her senior) at a concert given at the artists’ colony of the Sorbonne, where Louise’s family lived. The pair were happily married in 1821, and Louise put her studies on hold to perform at concerts throughout France alongside her new husband. Fortunately, the traveling life of a performer did not suit Aristide, and with the help of Louise he opened Éditions Farrenc: a publishing house in Paris which became France’s leading music publisher for almost 40 years.

Having settled their life together at last, Louise resumed her composition studies with Reicha. But she longed to perform again and soon after began an illustrious concert career that ran wholly uninterrupted until 1826, when she gave birth to her daughter Victorine. Four years later, the prospects of her musical career climbed even higher and, after more than a decade of pushing herself (and the piano) to its limit, she was appointed to the permanent position of Professor of Piano at the Paris Conservatory in 1842. She would hold that position for thirty years, becoming a fantastic musical educator with many of her students graduating with Premier Prix and becoming professional musicians.

Chamber music represents the majority of Farrenc’s compositional output, as she greatly enjoyed writing works for various combinations of string and wind instruments alongside the piano (the instrument she composed exclusively for during the 1820’s and 1830’s). It was during the 1840s that the bulk of her chamber music (regarded by music historians as her finest work) was written. She was also documented as having written three complete symphonies and two overtures.

As per the times in which she lived, Farrenc was paid less for commissioned works than her male counterparts. It took decades of trying to change a broken system before Louise finally came out on top at the premiere of her nonet (at which the then-famous violinist Joseph Joachim performed). Farrenc demanded and received equal pay for her outstanding musical contributions from then onward but continued to meet with resistance from patriarchal forces within the musical “elite” of Paris.

To weather the challenges posed to the advancement of her career as a composer, Louise took up her quill to produce and edit an influential book, Le Trésor des Pianistes, about early music performance style. She was awarded the Prix Chartier of the Académie des Beaux-Arts on two separate occasions, first in 1861 and then in 1869. But even the popularity of her dazzling nonet was not enough to suppress the erasure that rivals heaped upon her legacy after she passed away in 1875. Though her music was recognized by devoted fans of classical music as simply superb, Louise Farrenc’s work fell into obscurity.

Still, Farrenc was to have the last laugh (albeit posthumously). During the late 20th century, a surge of interest in women composers led to the “rediscovery”, performance, and subsequent recording of her most enduring works. Farrenc was the subject of the long-running BBC Radio Three programme “Composer of the Week” in 2013. Musicologists have since discovered a gap in her compositional output: several contemporaries of Farrenc, serving as secondary sources, maintain that Louise was a brilliant composer of opera despite never being given a libretto. A conspiracy involving an unfair blacklisting by France’s Théâtre de l’Opéra and Théâtre de l’Opéra-Comique? Perhaps… but in the end, art that is given life by genius eventually resurfaces to take its rightful place in the sun.

The SSO Chamber Ensemble perform a selection from Farrenc’s Nonet as part of our La Chambre concert.