Pretzels for Oktoberfest!

Well it isn’t Oktoberfest without a Bavarian pretzel – the tasty golden brown salty treat is iconic. If you’re like us, you’re too intimidated to make them from scratch…but thanks to a friend of the SSO we found out it’s easier than we thought.

Educator, author, and illustrator Peter Cowan helped us build our kids show Little Ludwig (released in just a few weeks!), and now he’s helping us learn how to make delicious Bavarian pretzels. We’re grateful that he let us invade his home to learn how to make amazing pretzels!

 

FOR THE PRETZELS:

  • 3/4 cup milk, lukewarm
  • 1/2 cup water, lukewarm
  • 1 1/2 tsp brown sugar or malt extract
  • 2 1/2 tsp instant or active dry yeast
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp table salt

FOR THE BATH:

  • 4 cups water
  • 3 Tbsp baking soda

TOPPING:

  • 2 Tbsp coarse salt (we used Maldon salt as we find it works the best)

 

INSTRUCTIONS:
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment combine lukewarm milk, water, and brown sugar. Stir together with a fork then sprinkle instant (or active dry) yeast on top. Give it a swirl with the fork and let sit for about 5 minutes until foamy.

2. In the meantime melt the butter over low heat, then let cool for a few minutes.

3. Add flour, melted butter, and salt to the bowl with the yeast and knead for 5 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover bowl with plastic wrap put it in a warm place and let the dough rise until doubled (about 1 hour).

4. Punch down the dough and divide it into 8 equally sized pieces. Roll each piece into a 16-inch (40cm) long rope, the middle part (about 2 inches or 5 cm) should be bulged to a diameter of about 1.2 inches and the ends should be thinned out to about 0.3 inches (0.75 cm).

5. Bring the ends together so the dough forms a circle. Twist the ends together twice then fold them down onto the bottom curve. Press ends into the dough and shape into a perfect pretzel shape.

6. Let the pretzels rise uncovered for 30 minutes in a warm place.

7. In the meantime preheat the oven to 390°F (200°C) with a baking sheet inside in the lower third.

8. Once the pretzels have risen, put them next to an opened window so the surface dries out and the pretzels develop a skin. This step is important for the texture.

9. Bring 4 cups water in a medium pot to a boil then add the baking soda. With a slotted spoon dip the pretzels one at a time carefully into the simmering water.

10. Take them out after about 5 seconds and place on a sheet of parchment paper.

11. Sprinkle with a little bit of salt and cut the dough with a sharp knife about 0.2 inches deep in the thick middle part at the top-back.

12. Transfer the parchment paper with the pretzels onto the hot baking sheet in the oven and bake for 18-20 minutes until nicely browned. You want them to be really brown and not golden.

13. Remove pretzels from the oven and let cool on a wire rack. If you want them to be shiny brush them with a little bit of melted butter.

 

Make sure you plan for some mustard or cheese dip to go with them – click for dip ideas

Give it a try – its not too hard!
Making these soft pretzels and enjoying a beer is the ultimate way to enjoy the SSO’s Night at Oktoberfest

 

 

What’s with all the clapping for Radetzky

The year was 1848. Revolution shook Europe with wave after wave of civil unrest. Territories then occupied by the Austrian Empire (and today a part of Italy) decided to make a push for independence. The Imperial-Royal Army (led by Field Marshal Joseph Radetzky von Radetz) was having none of that guff and was dispatched to quell the uprising.

Gathering near Verona on the 24th of July, Field Marshal Radetzky’s troops defeated the army of the Kingdom of Sardinia in the Battle of Custoza. The Italians, fearing more bloodshed, had no choice but to agree to a truce with the Austrian Empire. It is against this imperialistic backdrop that Johann Strauss Sr. drummed up his Opus 228: a march commissioned to honor the 81-year-old Radetzky and the Imperial-Royal Army while benefiting wounded war veterans at their victory celebration in Vienna.

The city hosted this bombastic gathering on the 31st of August, 1848, and Field Marhsal Radetsky arrived in full military dress to greet the throngs of people who had come to celebrate his decisive victory. His personal courage on the field of battle, especially at such an advanced age, had cemented his reputation among the men he commanded. When someone in their 80’s risks being stuck on the end of a bayonet after refusing to succumb to Mediterranean heatstroke, you throw them a party just because.

Johann Strauss Sr

A massive success, the gathering was highlighted by the premier and command repeat performance of Strauss’ Radetzky March. The soldiers present loved Strauss’ composition so much that they began wildly clapping during its first performance to show their approval.

This is a tradition that has been passed down to every audience since then, particularly when the piece is played at the Neujahrskonzert held in Vienna every New Years Day. During performances of the Radetzky March, it is traditional for the audience to clap along with the beat of the second (louder) repetitions of the chorus.

The popularity of the March’s musical structure is owed to two important decisions made by its composer. First, Strauss recycled the theme of his Jubel-Quadrille (Op. 130) for the March. It was a risky move, but ultimately one that paid off. The rousing theme simply functions better in the context of a march, in addition to the fact that most people nowadays forget what a “Jubel-Quadrille” is (or how to spell it).

The second decision Strauss made to guarantee the widespread appeal of his Radetzky March was to copy aspects of the music of Franz Joseph Haydn. The rhythmic upbeat of the Radetzky March is eerily similar to the second theme from the “Allegro” in Haydn’s Symphony No. 100, a piece of music composed nearly 100 years earlier. It goes without saying that if you can copy Haydn and get away with it, you are probably doing something right as a composer (they don’t call him “Papa” Haydn for nothing!).

A memorable passage of Strauss’Radetzky March is its Trio, the inspiration for which the composer derived from an old folk melody with two known titles: “Alter Tanz aus Wien” (Old Dance of Vienna) and “Tinerl-Lied” (Tinerl-Song). In the time of Richard Strauss Sr., a “tinerl” was the name given to any contemporary Viennese song originally composed in 3/4 time. It is said that the soldiers of Field Marshal Radetzky were singing this popular tune as they marched back to Vienna after winning the battle of Custoza, making its partial recapitulation during their victory celebration even more personalized.

How the elder Strauss was able to observe them singing this melody while miles away in Vienna is unknown, but he somehow cottoned on to its importance to the soldiers in Radetzky’s regiment and converted their song into 2/4 time for inclusion in his March. The piece is still lauded today as being one of the finest pieces of music ever penned by Strauss Sr., and it continues to get the hands clapping and the feet stomping to this very day. After all, who doesn’t like to feel like they’re part of a winning team?

You can hear the Radetzky March as part of our Night at Oktoberfest!

Watch Party Ideas for Oktoberfest!

It’s one of the biggest parties in the world…and its a whole lot of fun!  Oktoberfest is a celebration that happens every fall in Munich.

Oktoberfest is the world’s largest Volksfest (beer festival and travelling funfair). Held annually in Munich, Bavaria, Germany, it is a 16- to 18-day folk festival with more than six million people from around the world attending the event every year. Locally, it is called d’Wiesn, after the colloquial name for the fairgrounds, Theresienwiese. The Oktoberfest is an important part of Bavarian culture, having been held since the year 1810. Other cities across the world also hold Oktoberfest celebrations that are modeled after the original Munich event.

With our musical adventure programming this year, we’re encouraging everyone who’s watching from home to make a night of it – with each concert featuring a different travel destination, each watch party is a completely new experience to make your night with the SSO something really special.

For Oktoberfest…well its all about beer!

Find out more about our Oktoberfest concert

Drinks

So the real Oktoberfest, the beer has to be from one of Munich 6 breweries – Paulaner, Spaten, Hacker-Pschorr, Augustiner, Hofbräu, and Löwenbräu. Each serving tent has beer from the main brewery that sponsors that tent. Your ordering options are limited mainly to:

  • Helles (Light Beer)
  • Dunkel (Dark Beer)
  • Radler (Shandy) (which is 50% Helles mixed with 50% Lemon Soda (Sprite)

A few tents also carry the following beer options:

  • Hefeweizen (Wheat Beer)
  • Russ (just like Radler but with Wheat Beer instead of Light)

For the SSO’s Oktoberfest – we’re asking you to go local with your beer. Saskatoon has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to craft beer. You name it, the Saskatoon breweries have it for you. Why not plan ahead and get some beer from a number of local brewers – then as you enjoy the concert you can “move on to the next tent” in your very own home!

Thankfully Tourism Saskatoon has a list of the breweries you’ve got to try!

Oktoberfest also presents a chance to try the wealth of other Bavarian treats, like Schnapps!

A great little sweeter alcohol to sip on, German schnapps is a syrup-like texture and a taste sensation. Common flavors include Kirsch (cherry), Apfel (apple),  and of course Pfefferminz (peppermint). If you’re looking for something non-alcoholic, you can’t go wrong with Apfelschorle – a delicious apple juice, perfect for the season!

Food

So. Much. Food.
If you’ve ever been to Munich for Oktoberfest, you’ll know that its truly a feast. No wonder they dance so much, they have to work off all that food…and beer!

While you can’t have the full Oktoberfest experience, you can eat like you’re there. Here, 11 traditional Oktoberfest foods.

Roast Chicken
During Oktoberfest, chickens are spit-roasted until the skin is golden brown and crispy. Most people don’t have a rotisserie set up at home, so instead make this classic lemon-thyme roast chicken in the oven. Rubbing a lemon-and-thyme butter over the chicken before roasting ensures superbly crispy skin.

Schweinebraten (roast pork)
A classic Bavarian dish, schweinebraten can be made with a variety of pork cuts, like shoulder or even loin. It’s traditionally roasted with dark beer and onions. For a quick and easy take on the dish, try this pounded pork tenderloin smothered in onion and mustard.

Schweinshaxe (roasted ham hock)
A beloved beer hall classic, roasted ham hock or shank (pig knuckles) are crispy on the outside with tender meat. They’re surprisingly easy to make at home. Try it with Andrew Zimmern’s delicious recipe.

Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick)
Simple and fairly self-explanatory, steckerlfisch is marinated, skewered and grilled fish typically made with local Bavarian fish, like bream, though it can also be made with trout or mackerel. At home, try quick-grilling sardines.

Würstl (sausages)
Würstl refers to a variety of classic Bavarian sausages. Try them at home sautéed in a skillet with bacon and apple sauerkraut. Serve with plenty of mustard.

Brezen (pretzels)
You can’t have Oktoberfest without pretzels. Large and soft, they’re the perfect accompaniment to beer. Try making your own with this über-authentic recipe for German-style pretzels.

Knödel (potato or flour dumplings)
These are large, dense, ultra-comforting dumplings, common in Central Europe. While these potato dumplings are technically Hungarian, the idea is the same. They are like rustic gnocchi.

Käsespätzle (cheese noodles)
This is a savory, cheesy version of spätzle, a traditional egg noodle. This recipe, made with small-curd cottage cheese, is topped with tangy quark, for a doubly cheesy dish.

Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes)
These potato pancakes are served both savory with a salad or sweet with apple sauce. Reiberdatschi are a lot like latkes, so follow Andrew Zimmern’s killer latke recipe for hot and crisp results.

Sauerkraut
If you’re attending Oktoberfest, you’re eating this pickled cabbage with almost anything. This homemade version mixes cabbage with sweet apples and aromatic caraway.

Obatzda (spiced cheese-butter spread)
This might be your new favorite spread. It’s aged soft cheese, like Camembert, mixed with butter, a small amount of beer, and spices including paprika, salt, pepper and garlic. Try this upscale version, made with crème fraîche and Dijon mustard along with farmer’s cheese and, of course, butter.

If you’re looking to order in for your watch party at home, the Granary has you covered. They have a phenomenal Oktoberfest menu for this whole month – give them a call at 306-373-6655

Find out more about our Oktoberfest concert

Roll out the Barrell – the Beer Barrel Polka

Of the sixty compositions the Czech composer Jaromir Vejvoda left us, none have garnered a more enduring international popularity than his “Beer Barrel Polka”. Known the world over as one of the most popular drinking songs of all time, the “Modřanská Polka” (written in 1927 and titled after the Prague suburb of Modřany where it was debuted) began its life without lyrics. Vejvoda composed the piece after seven years bartending in a pub owned by his uncle, and its immediate success allowed the composer to focus on his music-making full-time. Its first arranger was Eduard Ingriš, whose assistance to Vejvoda was instrumental in refining the polka’s melody.

Jaromir Vejvoda

The Modřanská Polka was an unstoppable hit, with bandleaders across Czechoslovakia enthusiastically encouraging Vejvoda to publish it. After years of playing the song with his own band, Vejvoda published his Modřanská Polka in 1934 under a different title. The polka had been set to lyrics that same year by Polish lyricist Václav Zeman, and a title change was needed to reflect the new version’s pervading theme of unrequited affections: “Škoda lásky”, or “Wasted Love”. When the rights to Vejvoida’s composition were acquired by publishing house Shapiro Bernstein a few years before the Second World War broke out, it was listed under this title.

During the early days of World War II, the melody of Škoda lásky was favored by soldiers on both fronts, regardless of their respective allegiances. In the German language, the polka was retitled yet again (this time as “Rosamunde”) and was recorded by accordionist Will Glahé to great acclaim. It was this version, also distributed by Shapiro Bernstein, which reached the ears of American lyricists Lew Brown and Wladimir Timm. The two were inspired to appropriate Rosamunde into an English drinking song for rousing the Allied troops, even though no incarnation of Vejvoda’s polka makes any reference to drinking beer. While the polka’s opening had originally pined “Škoda lásky, kterou jsem tobě dala” (“A waste of love, the love I’ve given you”), the appropriated American version now trumpeted the now-infamous lyric “Roll out the barrel…”. Why focus on unrequited love when there is beer to drink? It is with this revelation in mind that Brown and Timm set to shaping the version of Vejvoda’s classic that is most widely recognized in pubs and bars today: “The Beer Barrel Polka”.

This version was recorded by some of the biggest names in American music at the time: The Andrews Sisters, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Benny Goodman, Bobby Vinton, Billie Holiday, and Joe Patek. As the war raged on, Allied Troops would take the opportunity between combat to listen to these versions over the Armed Forces Radio broadcasts. The English-speaking soldiers rejoiced at finally having a “complete” version of the polka that they could sing and drink to. Even the stoic General Dwight D. Eisenhower could not help confessing his love for the polka’s newest form. So iconic was this piece of music that each country in which it became a hit argued that one of their citizens had composed it. Only after the war did Vejvoda receive international recognition for his musical work, one that had brought cheer (and beer) to young men fighting on both sides of a global conflict.

The majority of Vejvoda’s compositions are still regularly celebrated and performed in Czechoslovakia, but he never wrote another piece of music that captured the world’s heart quite like the Beer Barrel Polka. A true phenomenon, the song became an anthem of celebration the world over. From a decadent version by caped entertainer Liberace, to the entrance music of pro wrestler Crusher Lisowski, the Beer Barrel Polka has received treatments in twenty languages and is the unofficial theme song for Germany’s annual Oktoberfest celebration. Not unlike that infamous barrel of beer that keeps getting rolled out, Jaromir Vejvoda’s beloved polka rolled away only to roll back again…aged to perfection. 

We play the Beer Barrel Polka as part of our Night at Oktoberfest concert.

The Clarinet Polka has a wild history!

Some fans of folk music may tell you that the Beer Barrel polka is the most famous polka in the world. To that, we say…there is another! The Clarinet Polka (often catalogued as “Klarinett-Polka” or “Klarinettpolka”) is known the world over for possessing one of the most infectious folk melodies ever created. Its upbeat, twirling nature is synonymous with the polka genre, and its simple brilliance has inspired numerous modern renditions. Every clarinetist worth their chops has been inspired to play this at some point in their career. It is odd, then, that (after more than 100 years in existence) the compositional authorship of this beloved tune should still be so hotly contested. The Clarinet Polka is believed to have been written by Polish composer Karol Namysłowski, originally titled “Dziadunio Polka” (after the Polish word for “grandfather”). However, many folk music historians (along with hosts of the popular Polish radio show “Lato z Radiem”, who use the song as an intro to their broadcasts) claim the song was not penned by Namysłowski at all! They insist that the polka in question was composed years earlier in Austria (not Poland) by a composer named A. Humpfat.

Karol Namysłowski

Similar accounts trace this version of the Clarinet Polka (titled “A Hupfata”) to the late 1890s. A vinyl recording of “A Hupfata” was released in 1907 that featured the musical stylings of the Band of the 14th Bavarian Infantry Regiment. This recording preceded Namysłowski’s 1913 copyright of “Dziadunio Polka” (as well as its subsequent 1915 recording in Chicago) by several years. Surely the existence of these records was proof positive that Karol was a folk music thief who somehow pulled off the greatest polka heist of all time…or was he? It turns out that neither the pro-Namysłowski nor the pro-Humpfat camps are exactly spot on in their respective beliefs surrounding the Clarinet Polka’s “true composer”. There was indeed a piece of folk music that resembles the Clarinet Polka as we know and love it today, and its origins can be traced to the end of the 19th century. Composed in today’s Austria (then Bavaria), it was originally titled “Klarinetten Muckl” and appeared printed for the first time in 1906 (in a collection of “Known Songs and Dances” arranged for accordion by Otto Thirsfeld and published by J. Weinberger). A copy of this collection’s first edition can still be viewed at the Austrian National Library in Vienna.

Otto Thirsfeld listed the composer of “Klarinetten Muckl” as “Anonymous”, suggesting that the tune had never belonged to anyone, per se. The missing link to this whole musical mystery can be seen clear as day when translating “Klarinetten Muckl” from standard German into the traditional Bavarian dialect: The song’s title becomes “Ein Gehüpfter” or “Jumping”. Through a linguistic game of Telephone, “Ein Gehüpfter” was morphed into “A Hupfata” by the many labels who recorded the song in its original printed form. Without a definite composer to credit this outrageously popular tune to, certain labels resorted to warping the polka’s altered title even further to make up a name! And so, “A. Humpfat” was born, never having quite existed in the first place. Since no one came forward to copyright what could only be referred to as a “traditional melody” by today’s standards, Namysłowski decided to re-orchestrate the anonymous Bavarian hit for Polish traditional instruments and copyright that piece of music. He had every legal right to do this and drew on his own brilliance as a composer of folk music to introduce the definitive version of the Clarinet Polka to its most enduring fanbase: his native Poland.

The timing and cultural significance of Namysłowski’s rise to fame as a composer cannot be overstated enough. Having attended grade school in Lublin while Poland was still partitioned and under Russian control, he was forbidden to speak his own language or engage in any display of cultural pride. In retaliation for this suppression, and after years of sneaking out of his parents’ home to listen to folk bands at local inns and taverns, Karol graduated from the Warsaw Institute of Music to form the Namysłowski Peasant Orchestra. Based in Zamość, Poland, the band was composed of talented farmers who had learned to play their respective instruments from Karol. Everyone in the group wore traditional Polish cultural dress, as did Karol who served as the group’s bandleader. Karol’s decision to totally embody Polish pride within his group was praised by polka historian Joe Oberaitis, who fondly remarked that “he wrote polkas as nobody else could do it… even supplying [bandmates] with instruments at his own expense! [Karol Namysłowski] literally wore his Polishness – much to the dismay of the authorities – and the countryside

Namysłowski Peasant Orchestra

was filled with the beautiful strains of mazurs, krakowiaks, obereks and of course, a wealth of rousing polka compositions.” After lighting a flame of national pride for the people of Poland, Namysłowski traveled to the United States to establish himself as a composer of international renown. Copyrighting his re-orchestrated “polka chart topper” in 1913, Namysłowski used the Clarinet Polka and its first recording in 1915 to singlehandedly secure the reputation of his band throughout the continental United States.

So it was that, nearly ten years later, the players of the Namysłowski Peasant Orchestra traveled to the United States for one of the biggest international tours in Polish folk music history: 3 months, 80 concerts, spread out over 14 states. Holding their first concert of the tour at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City, they were invited to perform at the White House for President Calvin Coolidge. Victor Records jumped at the opportunity to sign the group to its label, and at the conclusion of their tour invited Karol and the musicians of the NPO to make 10 back-to-back records in Camden, New Jersey. Namysłowski didn’t just find a diamond in the rough with the Clarinet Polka. He saw in its simple and repetitive refrain an endless array of opportunities for musical expression, especially for his homeland’s improvisatory folk music traditions. The Namysłowski Peasant Orchestra is still in existence today as the Polish Symphony Orchestra, and although their founder penned hundreds of folk compositions during his long and successful career, none is remembered with more pride by the people of Poland than the (literal) grandfather of all polkas: the Clarinet Polka.

You can hear this played by the SSO on our Night at Oktoberfest concert.

Learning and making music with Cris Derksen

by SSO Principal Oboe Erin Brophey

“When you meet Cris Derksen for the first time, you are so aware of her infectious energy. She is a force.” Erin Brophey Principal Oboe- SSO 

Through a Canada Council Grant, our woodwind quintet Mistral 5 commissioned a ten-minute work from composer, Cris Derksen. I was a fan of her hip-hop cello music and I felt a little bit like a fan-girl the first time I met her.

She came to this project with a huge international reputation.

In the fall of 2018, we received a piece from Cris that was called Ideal Winds. We read through it in a rehearsal and sent her some musical feedback via email. Our comments included things that are specific to our particular combination of instruments. (Things like the flute down low paired with the oboe down low can’t be heard…….the oboe is rather impolite in that range.)

A couple months later, Cris came to Saskatoon to workshop the piece. When you meet Cris Derksen for the first time, you are so aware of her infectious energy. She is a force. 

The piece that we played in the fall was just a bare outline of what was to come. ‘Ideal Winds” had changed a great deal. It had more detail and was twice as long. While in Saskatoon, she worked feverishly and to watch her create and refine her work was fascinating.

During the workshop, we had three sessions with Cris over two days, every time we rehearsed, Cris came with different parts for us to play.

Some of the changes included changing the name to from ‘Ideal Winds’ to ‘Five Bucks a Head’. She decided to change the Clarinet part to a Bass Clarinet part. As well, she created an electronic track as our partner in the piece. For the electronic part, she spliced together archival recordings from the CBC and CFB of white settlers journalists talking about Treaties.

Towards the end of the last session, when we finally played the piece with the electronic track, I found the work very moving and powerful. I think that the cornerstone of the composition is the electronic track and we (the Woodwind quintet) provide the emotion and pathos of what Cris feels about the archival recording.

 It was a joy to watch Cris and her process.

Hear her Five Bucks a Head at our Paris of the Prairies concert

Watch Party Ideas for the Prairies

We loved seeing all of the folks watching Postcards from Paris at home, with family, even from their campsite!

We wanted to help with ideas for how you can turn your live streaming experience into more than just watching the stream. So for each concert this year we’ll be curating a few suggestions on things that the SSO would pair together to make your concert night at home pretty magical.

For Paris of the Prairies…well this one is easy. Support LOCAL!

We are so lucky here in Saskatoon to have such incredible businesses and products that celebrate what it means to from Saskatoon. When you think Saskatoon/prairies what do think of? Go on, get creative!

Beverages:

Being in Saskatoon, its impossible to ignore our amazing craft beer landscape….BUT in just two weeks we have our Oktoberfest concert which is all about beer….so let’s give something else a try.

For this concert we highly recommend the Haskap Gin from Black Fox Distillery – its delicious, complex, smooth, and prairie forward!

There’s also a ton of great drink ideas connected to wine and more!

 

FOOD!

So the question is…order in or start from scratch? Well, we’ll give you a great suggestion for both.

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If you’re ordering in for this concert, everyone at the SSO recommends Hearth Restaurant. Local. Amazing. Can’t go wrong.

If you’re looking to get creative in the kitchen…here’s a few things you need to try your hand at:

Bannock – if you haven’t had this prairie delight, you’re missing out. And its something you can make if you just follow the recipe. This First Nations dish is a must try and as Saskatchewan as the skies.

Then why not explore Bison Meatballs with Saskatoon berry BBQ sauce for dipping – click here for the meatballs and here for the Saskatoon Berry BBQ Sauce.

And what about some ultimate prairie homecooked magic – Cabbage Rolls. Ok, not the easiest thing in the world to whip up just for a Saturday night, but it will totally be worth it – and if you’ve never tried them before, its a great step towards your goal of mastering prairie cuisine. Click for more

 

Now…for dessert….there’s soooo many amazing options (including just having more bannock honestly!). And you can decide for yourself about the age old argument about what is the ultimate prairie dessert….Butter Tarts or Saskatoon Berry Pie.

 And why not give Berry Bannock Pudding a try….(can you tell we like our bannock??)

No matter how you enjoy Paris of the Prairies make sure you take time to reflect on how awesome it is to be prairie people!

Meeting Murray Adaskin

Growing up in a Jewish and Latvian household, Murray Adaskin was taught from a very early age to strive for excellence and persevere towards his passions. As a young man, Adaskin showed promise on the violin, and studied with Alexander Chuhaldin at the Toronto Conservatory of Music.

Using his talents to provide music for silent film presentations in Toronto, Adaskin dedicated himself to his work with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra from 1923 to 1936.

Two years after leaving the TSO, Adaskin played with the Royal York Hotel trio and continued to serve as a member of the group until 1952. Six years into playing with the Royal York Hotel Trio, Adaskin pushed himself to pursue education as a composer. He studied for seven years with John Weinzweig, Charles Jones, and Darius Milhaud of the influential French composer group known as “Les Six”. Particularly in Adaskin’s early compositional works, Igor Stravinsky was a major inspiration.

Attending the Music Academy of the West in 1950, Adaskin began his tenure as head of the Department of Music at the University of Saskatchewan in 1952 and remained in that position until 1966. He played an instrumental role in bringing the Amati Instruments to the University.

He then became the Composer-in-Residence until 1972. This was the first position of its type ever created at a Canadian university. His training as a violinist imbued his sense of melody with an abstract feel, and through his music one can feel the presence of landscapes, birdsongs and different local surrounding sounds.

During his time in Saskatoon, Adaskin served as the Music Director of the SSO from 1957 to 1961. His time with the SSO further cemented the orchestra during its artistic growth, and continued the organization’s passion for new music.

It was only after his decorated career as a musician and educator came to close that Adaskin fully committed himself to composing music. More than half of his output of 130 compositions were penned after his retirement to Victoria in 1972. In December of 1980, Adaskin was awarded the Order of Canada, and he was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada the following year.

Despite losing his wife (the soprano Frances James) in 1988, Adaskin found love again with Dorothea Larsen, who was instrumental in helping him to record his final compositions: “Divertimento No.9” for string trio (1998), “Finki, Where Are You?” for 2 violas (2000) and “Musica Victoria” (2000).

Having lived a life rich in musical pursuits and achievements, one that spanned most of the 20th century, the renowned composer passed away surrounded by family at 96.

As he moved westward across the Prairies to his final resting place in British Columbia, Murray Adaskin left a legacy of musical passion whose vibrancy continues to burn bright at our University and in the hearts of all he taught.

We’re thrilled to feature Murray Adaskin’s Rondino for Nine Instruments as part of our concert Paris of the Prairies.

The Music of Jocelyn Morlock

Over the last few years, Jocelyn Morlock’s music has become an audience favourite at the SSO. We’ve been so fortunate to play a number of her works, most recently the March 7th performance of Oisieux Bleu et Sauvages. 

A couple of years ago, we performed her work Solace for string orchestra – it was an instant favourite. So we have been looking for the right time to bring it back. The work centres around the comfort need to regenerate after loss – its beautiful and sweet, warm and inviting.

Born in Saint Boniface, Manitoba, Jocelyn Morlock began her musical training under the piano tutelage of Robert Richardson, Sr. After completing her Bachelor of Music in piano performance at Brandon University in 1994, she pursued a master’s degree and a subsequent Doctorate of Musical Arts from the University of British Columbia. Studying with the likes of Stephen Chatman, Keith Hamel, and Nikolai Korndorf, she received international acclaim for her 1997 composition “Bird in the Tangled Sky” at the 1999 International Society for Contemporary Music’s World Music Days. 

Her composition “Amore” was written as an imposed work for the 2005 Montreal International Music Competition, and her “Involuntary Love Songs” was composed for the 2008 Eckhardt-Gramatté National Music Competition. After serving as inaugural Composer-in-Residence for Vancouver’s Music on Main, she became the first female Composer-in-Residence for the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra (2014-2019). Her tenure as the co-host of the ISCM World New Music Days 2017 was punctuated by her victory at the SOCAN Jan V. Matejcek New Classical Music Award one year later. 

In 2018, Morlock received a JUNO for Classical Composition of the Year for her powerful orchestral composition entitled “My Name Is Amanda Todd”.

Morlock’s music has been defined as “airy but rhythmic, tuneful but complex“ , and takes an eccentric approach to post-modernism. Her compositions are quirky, but always derived from a musical language that is deeply rooted in emotional experience. 

She describes her music as being inspired by “birds, insomnia, nature, fear, other people’s music and art, nocturnal wandering thoughts, lucid dreaming, death, and the liminal times and experiences before and after death.” In each of her compositions, her use of colouristic effects and extended techniques bring her incredibly specific musical vision to life. Her composition for cellist Rachel Mercer and violinist Akemi Mercer-Niewohner can be found on their 2019 album “Our Strength, Our Song”. 

Other recent premieres include “Stone’s Throw” for internationally renowned new music sextet Standing Wave, “Io, Io!” written in celebration of the Vancouver Cantata Singers’ 60th anniversary, and “Serpentine Paths” which celebrates sisterhood and music by Canadian women. 

You can hear Morlock’s Solace as part of our Paris of the Prairies.

A Picasso Suite for the SSO

Harry Somers’ “Picasso Suite” was commissioned by the SSO in 1964 and received its premiere performance in Saskatoon. Since that first performance, it has gone on to be one of Canada’s most loved orchestral suites, and an audience favourite across the country!

Harry Somers was one of the most influential and innovative contemporary Canadian composers of the past century. Possessing a charismatic attitude and rather dashing good-looks, as well as a genuine talent for his art, Somers earned the unofficial title of “Darling of Canadian Composition.”  A truly patriotic artist, Somers was engaged in many national projects over the course his lifetime.

Each of the movements in this suite provide musical interpretations of the many artistic phases which defined the life and art of Pablo Picasso. An invigorating blast of musical color begins the suite, recalling all the sights and fragrances of Paris at the turn of the 20th century.

Picasso has struck the Parisian art scene, a meteor of brilliance brimming with raw potential, and the world of classical art will never be the same. Just as suddenly as he arrives, the Spanish-born artist’s captivating colors are musically withdrawn into themselves.

What emerges from the silence are Somers’ sonic representations of the paintings which represent Picasso’s Blue Period. Somers utilizes the oboe’s potential for melancholy to full effect in this second movement. This is a movement that plays with the listener’s other senses, and which invites them to delve into the textures belonging to these paintings: the smooth pallid skin of his “Old Guitarist”, the warmth of the steam that is central to “La Soupe”, and the stale taste of dust that lingers in the air of his “La Vie”.

Transfixed by this rich introspection, we are caught off guard as the rolling thunder of percussion ushers in a new artistic phase: The Rose Period. Titled “Circus” by Somers, this movement conjures all the delight experienced by a child under the Big Top. This musical calliope spins us through the cheerful orange and pink hues of Picasso’s Rose Period, while broad-nosed figures from his African-Influenced Period dance vibrantly into focus. Somers uses this playful romp to tremendous effect, recalling the youthful vitality of Picasso’s painted women in “Les Demoiselles D’Avignon”.

One by one they strike a pose and skip away, as the musical calliope grinds slowly to a halt and a dissonant chord contorts the face of one lingering woman. Somers then begins to interpret the most iconic phase of Picasso’s life as an artist, one which owes a considerable debt to the stylized features of traditional African masks: his Cubist Periods. As we soar through the decade spanning 1909 to 1919, clusters of bent notes rain from the sky. Out of the mist, there seeps a sense of dread which culminates in a symphonic homage to one of the most prolific depictions of atrocity ever put to canvas: the infamous black and white mural “Guernica”.  

Left in silence once more, the fifth movement’s plaintiff melody explores Picasso in the years immediately following World War One. Picasso’s muse returns in a new form, voiced by a soothing oboe melody, and spurs his artistic mind onward to bathe in the clean bright light of the Neoclassical style. Excitement bubbles forth as Somers falls into a fascination with lyrical spins and flourishes, illustrating the more bizarre offerings of Picasso’s Surreal Period.

Riding on the crest of this wave, we feel Picasso grow introspective once more. Stirring in the listener a longing for the innocence of the third movement, the brass call out to echo the valor of those who lost their lives on the field of battle. A delicate voice from a music box lulls Picasso into a deep slumber, and he dreams of a project that will consume most of his waking moments for the next four years: The Vollard Suite.

Art historians believe that many of the figures depicted in the Vollard Suite’s 100 etchings were inspired by Honore de Balzac’s 1831 short story “The Unknown Masterpiece”. The story revolves around a painter who attempts to capture life itself on canvas through depictions of feminine beauty, and Somers tasks the erotic lilt of the flute alone with capturing the sensual and manic devotion of the artist rendering his muse.

As did the style of the etchings themselves, Picasso’s temperament shifted wildly over the period spanning 1933 to 1937, with the spread of fascism through Europe darkening those clouds that had been cast over the artist’s mind. The virtuosity of the sixth movement trickles away to reveal one of the final images in the series: the once virile minotaur, now blind and impotent, being led to safety by a young girl.

The seventh movement, oddly titled “Temple of Peace” may be musically comforting in its initial majesty, but a glance outside of its pristine chamber betrays the arching shapes of strange architecture peeking from an even stranger garden. Picasso is still troubled, still searching to reclaim his youthful innocence. Punctuated by an unsettling violin motif, Somers creates in this movement a sense of motion towards something important while utilizing precious little melody.

The return of the music box signals the arrival of the eighth movement, as well as an epiphany crystalizing in the mind of the aging Picasso. He abandons the cold safety of the temple for the warm rain of the lush garden. Pushing his way through ever-thickening foliage, the garden eventually gives way to jungle. Emerging into a clearing at last, Picasso meets his alter-ego: the faun. Playing his double-flute with unbridled ease, the faun guides Picasso deeper into the wild and teaches him how to find peace within himself. The melody of his Rose Period “Circus” days come back in flashes, and Picasso is finally at home with himself again after so many years.

In the final movement, Codetta, Pablo Picasso can finally revisit his first few bombastic years in Paris unencumbered. As Picasso once remarked, “It takes a long time to become young.” Unconventional and riveting to its core, Harry Somers’ “Picasso Suite” is among the finest of artistic tributes to a man whose life’s work birthed whole new possibilities of creation for artists worldwide.