Remembering Randi Nelson

Randi Nelson was a member of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra and our principal flute for 47 years. More than just a member of the orchestra, she was a pillar of the music community in Saskatoon and across the country. When she retired we had hoped to see her smiling face in our audience for years to come. Unfortunately, life had other plans and we lost Randi to cancer in 2020.

When Randi retired in 2016 CEO Mark Turner wrote:

“If we had to pick one word to describe Randi Nelson it would be “classy”. She is kind, supportive, meticulous and extremely hard-working. Her lifelong dedication to this orchestra is an inspiration. She will always strive for the best in any situation. With a gift for organization, Randi is always taking the initiative to help coordinate her fellow musicians.”

Randi joined the SSO in the fall of 1969 and in the later part of her career she was a fountain of knowledge about the SSO. Her many memories and stories were great reminders of how far the SSO has come. She also shared her wisdom and was considered a great mentor in the SSO and the greater musical community.

Being a part of the orchestra wasn’t the only connection Randi had to the SSO. Her father, Dwayne Nelson, was the Music Director from 1971–1976. It’s safe to say her passion for music began at home. In an interview when asked about the role of music in her early life she said

“It was a major part of my family’s life. I remember all of my parents’ students sitting around in our living room listening to recordings late into the night. I would lay awake and listen.”

In the same interview, Randi lists her biggest influences in classical music as her parents and noted she was still working on a solution for nerves before a performance.

In her role as a principal, she was part of the SSO’s core. This group of musicians performs in all of the main series concerts and all the smaller gigs including school shows, touring shows, Time for Toddlers, and visits to assisted living facilities.

We love the story principal violist James Legge shares about Randi’s school show introduction about Beethoven’s 5th and those “first 5 notes”.

“Randi has taught me that it’s not all about the final concert. Rehearsals can be just as inspiring and fun. Since the beginning of my time here, she has set the example of what it means to be a good colleague, dedicated teacher, wonderful performer and caring friend.”

– Stephanie Unverricht, principal bassoon (Taken from the program notes at Randi’s retirement)

Her dedication, work ethic, and joy in making music were infectious. As noted by Margaret Wilson, principal clarinet in this lovely snippet.

“Always meticulously prepared, Randi has been such a good leader in our orchestra. Known for her ‘smoke and whisky” sound, her precise musical leadership will be sorely missed.”

– Mark Turner (Taken from the program notes at Randi’s retirement)

Erin Brophey, principal oboe, speaks of how Randi was really the core’s mom. Randi’s leadership and mentorship showed themselves in countless ways –  most of all in her actions as remembered by so many.

Due to Covid-19, there was no opportunity to have a celebration of Randi’s life. Randi’s husband Terry (cellist & longtime SSO collaborator), and her children, opened up her beloved garden for friends and family to give people a chance to grieve together safely. In that garden, SSO CEO Mark Turner announced that the SSO was going to commission a piece in honour of Randi’s memory. Terry shared a beautiful memory of seeing his wife “up to her waist in lupins” which was passed on to composer Christos Hatzis and led to the creation of the work we premiere on September 24th during our season opening concert Orchestration.

Terry graciously spoke with CBC’s Shauna Powers about Randi and the new piece. You can listen to the chat here.

When we premiere “Up to her Waist in Lupins” our current principal flute, Allison Miller, is the featured soloist. We had a chance to ask her about how she felt giving the world premiere of this work by Christos Hatzis in honour of Randi.

Before her retirement, we asked Randi what her hope was for the future of classical music in Saskatoon. She answered by saying she hoped

“that it continues to be relevant and understood as an important measure of a societal worth.”

We can’t think of a more worthy cause than a new piece of music commemorating the incredible Randi Nelson.

As Erin Brophey said in a recent CBC interview,

” it is absolutely fitting that there’s a new, incredibly gorgeous, piece that is going to be added to the flute canon. That there will be people that will continue to perform this piece and have to research who Randi was. It keeps her legacy going.”

You can be a part of continuing Randi’s legacy by donating towards the cost of the commission.

Join us at the Hub

The concert ends, you exit TCU Place, and you’re still brimming with excitement after such a fabulous evening. Where to next?

Cross the street and join us over at the Hub at Holiday Inn!

It’s the perfect place to grab a post-concert drink, and snack, alongside fellow SSO patrons, musicians, and the feature guest artists.

We have complimentary appetizers on a first come first-serve basis!

 

What’s happening at the Bassment

The Bassment is one of Canada’s premier jazz clubs and provides musicians of all skill levels a venue to showcase their talents in front of a live audience while accessing a variety of professional, concert-grade instruments. The club offers an intimate, personal concert space with a world-class stage for local, national, and international artists.

Here’s a sample of what’s happening next at The Bassment

Creedence Clearwater Revival Revisited featuring Ross Neilsen
Friday, February 2

ROCKIN’ ROOTS SERIES • DOORS @ 7:30PM • SHOW@ 8:30PM

www.rossneilsen.com

With over two decades of experience in the music business, Ross Neilsen has played on stages from Montreal to Mexico, all the while acquiring a handsome list of industry accolades. Most comfortable settled in behind a mic performing his own compositions, as well as tunes by some of his favourite songwriters, Ross’ million miles of travel and thousands of performances give him the confidence to feel right at home whenever and wherever he plugs in.

Ross revisits the music of Creedence Clearwater Revival during a night that celebrates the music of one of the greatest bands of the late ’60s and early ’70s. With 14 consecutive Top 10 ten singles, five Top 10 albums, and a performance at the original Woodstock, CCR’s music has stood the test of time and remains as relevant as ever. Ross is joined by Fabian Minnema (guitar), Chris Mason (bass), and Lucas Goetz (drums).

Sponsored by Wright Construction

Buy Tickets

The B .C. Read Big Band
Friday, February 9

 

BLUES SERIES • DOORS @7:30 • SHOW@8:30PM

www.bcread.com

Possessing a soulful blues rasp and a bag full of great blues tunes, home-town legend B.C. Read has been preaching the gospel of Howlin’ Wolf, B.B King, and Muddy Waters to audiences all over Western Canada for 40 years. Returning to play his annual mid-winter gig at The Bassment, B.C. has lined up his favourite musicians to perform a night of blues classics and originals.

Sponsored by David’s Distinctive Men’s Apparel

Buy Tickets

The Slocan Ramblers
Sunday, February 11

 

BLUEGRASS SERIES • DOORS @ 6:30PM • RUSH SEATING

www.slocanramblers.com

The reigning champions of Canadian bluegrass, the Slocan Ramblers are back showcasing their unique blend of bluegrass, old-time, and folk. The band’s set list is marked by thoughtful songwriting, lightning fast-instrumentals, and sawdust-thick vocals.

This show will feature the Ramblers at the top of their game playing selections from their three previous releases and their latest album, Up the Hill and Through the Fog. Say hello to your new favourite band!

Sponsored by Northern Lights Bluegrass & Old Tyme Music Society

Buy Tickets

Oral Fuentes Reggae Band
Friday, February 16

 

WORLD MUSIC SERIES • DOORS @ 7:30PM • SHOW@ 8:30PM

Oral Fuentes’ musical journey began in his home country of Belize, where he played for many local and national events in the popular Belizean group, Caribbean Jam. Oral and his 9-piece Saskatoon band play an infectious set list of original tunes fusing Reggae and Afro/Latin. Joining Oral are Lucianus Best (keyboards), Dave Nelson (trumpet), Mike Kereiff (trumpet), Claire Anderson (trumpet), Joseph Ashong (percussion), Zender Millar (bass), and Rocky Delis (drums).

Sponsored by David’s Distinctive Men’s Apparel

Buy Tickets

60 Years of Summer Players: A Musical Theatre Showcase
Saturday, February 17

 

JAZZ SINGER SERIES • DOORS @6:300 • SHOW@ 7:300

www.saskatoonsummerplayers.ca

Embark on a musical journey that looks back on the past 60 years of Saskatoon Summer Players, as well as into where we hope to go next. This extraordinary event promises a show filled with nostalgia, talent, and the magic of musical theatre. Directed by Matt Olson, our cast features a stellar lineup of performers, both seasoned veterans and rising stars, who bring along their talents and passion for performance as we relive iconic moments, beloved characters, and show-stopping numbers that have left an indelible mark on Saskatoon Summer Players’ illustrious history. Get ready to laugh, cry, and cheer for 60 years of spectacular performances!

Presented by Saskatoon Summer Players and The Saskatoon Jazz Society

Sponsored by David’s Distinctive Men’s Apparel

Buy Tickets

Super Chikan and Steve Marriner
Friday, February 23

 

James “Super Chikan” Johnson is the real deal! Based in Clarksdale Mississippi, he builds many of his own guitars. Backed by The Mojo Stars,  Super Chikan brings us an evening of high-energy blues.

Steve needs no introduction. He’s been knocking out audiences for years, on his own and with Monkeyjunk. We are lucky to be featuring Steve for the first time with his own band “Local Electric”.

Presented by the Saskatoon Blues Society

Buy Tickets

Forsyth’s Viola Concerto

When Forsyth’s Viola Concerto in G minor was first performed at the Queen’s Hall Promenade Concerts on 12 September 1903 it represented a significant development – possibly the first full-blown concerto for viola by a British composer. It is interesting that when it was published in 1904, by Schott of Mainz, the title was given in French and the piano reduction was by the composer John Ireland – this was presumably Forsyth offering a paid job to supplement Ireland’s meagre income as a church organist. The first performance was played by the violist Émile Férir, to whom the published score is dedicated (‘à son ami Férir’). It was repeated by Dan Godfrey at Bournemouth on 28 March 1907, when the soloist was the Dutchman Siegfried Wertheim, Tertis’s successor as the first viola of the Queen’s Hall Orchestra. Yet Tertis ignored it.

It is interesting to see the status of solo viola players before Tertis came on the scene. At the first performance Tertis would have been the first viola in the Queen’s Hall Orchestra, yet he does not mention the work. This reinforces the impression that Tertis appears not to have related to this concerto: he does not include it in his list of British viola concertos in his autobiography. Soon afterwards Férir went to the Boston Symphony Orchestra, with whom he appeared as a soloist on twenty-four occasions between 1903 and 1918, and in 1912 he appeared with the Boston Symphony as soloist in Forsyth’s Chanson Celtique. When Sir Henry Wood conducted at the Hollywood Bowl in 1926, he tells us, he again encountered Férir.

Forsyth is certainly a master of the singing line, and was clearly writing for a player whose instrumental timbre was known to him. The concerto’s unusual introduction is notable for the solo viola’s questionings and contrasting assertive double-stoppings (appassionato), followed by wistful musings (lento dolce), all of which is eventually elaborated into a long statement. An orchestral tutti announces another idea without the soloist, but there is a pause before we reach the movement proper with the soloist’s ever-extended lyrical line, propelled forward by oft-repeated triplets, and soon repeated by the orchestra.

The slow movement is very simple. It opens portentously with a trumpet call, soon repeated by horns, before the soloist sings its elegiac tune elaborated over forty-six bars, this mood being underlined by the ensuing cor anglais. The viola returns more passionately with new material and over a broad span builds to a climax when the orchestra sings out the opening theme. The long closing viola cantilena returns us to the elegiac mood and the vision fades as if in a dream.

The finale opens with much orchestral huffing and puffing, in no way typical of the lyrical movement that follows which is constructed from a jerky dotted idea and a lovely tune that might have been written by Dvorák. The soloist is sometimes emphatic with much double-stopping, especially towards the end, but the overall impression of good humour remains.

from notes by Lewis Foreman © 2005

Ruth Gipps

Composer Ruth Gipps was born in Bexhill-on-Sea, England in 1921. Gipps’ family was very musical and her mother was the principal of the Bexhill School of Music.

Gipps was considered a child prodigy. She won competitions where she was the youngest participant by far, and had her first composition bought by a publishing house when she was 8 years old. She entered the Royal College of Music at the age of 16 and studied oboe, piano, and composition. At age 26 she became the youngest British woman to receive a doctorate in music.

At age 33 a shoulder injury ended her performance career and Gipps decided to focus on composition and conducting. These days, there is a small but growing number of women on the podium, when Gipps began conducting she was one of very few and faced harsh criticism from her peers. Gipps used this as a driving force to prove herself through her work, and it was probably the reason she founded so many groups that created performing opportunities for living composers and young professional musicians. She founded the London Repertoire Orchestra in 1955 as an opportunity for young professional musicians to become exposed to a wide range of music. She founded the Chanticleer Orchestra in 1961, a professional ensemble that included a work by a living composer in each of its programs, often a premiere performance. Later in her life, she served as chairwoman of the Composers’ Guild of Great Britain.

Gipps composed music in a wide range of genres, including five symphonies, seven concertos, and numerous chamber and choral works.

Ruth Gipps Symphony No. 2

Ruth Gipps Symphony No. 2
Not heard of Ruth Gipps? No. Not surprised. Gipps was a phenomenal composer who lived between 1921 and 1999 who also happened to be a pianist, conductor, and oboist. She studied at the Royal College of Music in 1937, played with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, had a short-lived performance career before a shoulder injury stopped things, and penned the second of her five symphonies in 1945.

The second symphony feels like a continuous sequence of contrasting short movements that the series of four movements you might expect from a more orthodox symphony of the time. But what makes it a Thoroughly Good Symphony is that there’s something, even if you can’t put your finger on what it is exactly, that holds the whole thing together – the story of a film without the film getting in the way, if you like.

Gipps writes brilliantly for the brass section – listen out close after the start for some blistering brass ensemble writing which should make you go weak at the knees. Listen out for The March too – highly descriptive, with an irrepressibly rousing English folk music influence to it that is reminiscent of Vaughan Williams’ Folk Song Suites (assuming you’re familiar with them). The slow movement around which the entire 20-minute work pivots is utterly ravishing, with a horn solo that seems to hang in mid-air. The ‘tranquil’ moment which follows has at its heart a playful pastoral melody that still manages a modern and original feel to it. Glorious stuff. It seems incredible to me this was written and premiered in the same year as Benjamin Britten’s opera Peter Grimes.

Be sure to listen out for Ramon Gamba and the BBC National Orchestra of Wales’ recording of Ruth Gipps’ second symphony on Chandos, including the work she wrote in 1942 which was premiered at the Last Night of the Proms that year, ‘A Knight in Armour’.

Jon Jacob – Thoroughly Good

Music Talk – Orchestration

Conductor Judith Yan and CEO Mark Turner chat all about our season 92 opener Orchestration.

It’s our first hybrid Music Talk from the travel section of McNally Robinson Booksellers!

Cecil Forsyth

Cecil Forsyth was an English composer who studied at the University of Edinburgh and the Royal College of Music in London, England. He also played the viola in various London orchestras.

He had a bit of success with his compositions including the Viola Concerto in G minor (which was premiered at the Proms in 1903 with Émile Férir as soloist and recorded in 2004 by Lawrence Power on the Hyperion label), the operas Westward Ho! and Cinderella, the “choral ballad” Tinker, Tailor, and a piece for viola and piano called Chanson celtique.

While he and his compositions are well known amongst viola players for giving their instrument the opportunity to shine, he is best known as an author. In 1914 he published a book titled Orchestration.

Forsyth described the history and inner workings of orchestral instruments as well as techniques and what is considered “playable” by musicians. The book is described as “an unparalleled insight into the inner working of an orchestra–a vivid impression of what it is like to be a violinist, clarinetist, trombonist, or other orchestral player.”

 

Up to Her Waist in Lupins

Up to her Waist in Lupins was commissioned by the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra in memory of Randi Nelson, their departed former principal flutist who served in that position for over forty years. I did not know Randi personally but she knew my music from performances by the SSO including “Departures”, my second flute concerto. Her reaction after that concert prompted Mark Turner, the CEO of the orchestra, to propose to me a ten-minute-long concerto-like composition dedicated to her. Mark’s request came with the title, which in turn came with a story. Terry Sturge, Randi’s husband, was a cellist with the orchestra. Terry’s first encounter of Randi was in 1986 in her garden. She was “up to her waist in lupins”. As it often happens with soulmates, he knew from the first moment that they were meant to be together.

Their story touched me deeply. Even though I had not met them before, I felt inexplicably connected to their story and, through it, to them. I entered their story as if they were both dear friends and I began to musically explore my own feelings feverishly and with frantic speed. The composition was completed in less than ten days. Like their story, the music has come from a place of aching familiarity and longing, a psychic state that connects people across time and space; like a quantum entanglement, uninhibited by the causal linearities of our everyday reality. I am grateful to Mark and Terry for their support and for the stories and photographs that they shared to help me enter the psychic space of this remarkable woman and the legacy she has left behind in her community. I emerged from the experience as if I had known Randi all my life and needed to send to her a musical farewell for her endless continuing journey across an endless universe.

—Christos Hatzis

Christos Hatzis

Christos Hatzis was the easy choice when it came to picking someone to write a piece in honour of flute emeritus Randi Nelson. His composition Departures breathes life into the instrument that Randi loved so much and she was thrilled when the SSO performed the work in 2019. The SSO is delighted to work with Hatzis and to give the world premiere of his new work Up to Her Waist in Lupins.

“I feel strongly that with my music, I am trying to force a tiny opening in the clouds that will allow His Light to shine through. At best, I am a follower, not a master, and my MASTER holds the patterns and patents of my being and work. So, in the best of circumstances, I can only think of myself as an imitator.”

CHRISTOS HATZIS

With two earlier Juno awards, two 2017 Juno nominations and a 2017 Juno award for his double CD Going Home Star: Truth and Reconciliation, several national and international awards and a slew of recent commissions by internationally recognized touring artists and orchestras, University of Toronto professor Christos Hatzis is constantly active on the international music scene. Hatzis’s music is continuously presented in performance and broadcast (approx. 100 performances worldwide each of the past three pre-Covid years,) an online audio playlist with over 1,700,000 hits, and a stream of CD recordings on Naxos, Deutsche Grammophon, Centrediscs, EMI, Analekta, Sony, CBC and other major and independent labels, several of them all-Hatzis albums. The Hilary Hahn’s Deutsche Grammophon recording In 27 Pieces, which includes Hatzis’s Coming To won a Grammy Award in 2015 and topped many international top 10 lists that year. Christos Hatzis is widely recognized as “one of the most important composers writing today” (CBC) and “a contemporary Canadian master” (New Yorker). He is pioneering a distinct breed of 21st Century music which combines intellectual complexity and clarity, emotional/psychological directness and technical mastery of various media and musical idioms. His recent work focuses on climate change, geopolitical diversity, indigenous issues, migration, environmental consciousness and human rights. Recent premieres include Vernal Equinox, a marimba concerto commissioned by marimbist Theodor Milkov on the theme of the of the Greek independence war and its recent Bicentennial. Hatzis often writes about contemporary music and its relationship to today’s society and has recently completed the writing of a book on Pythagorean harmonic and metaphysical philosophy titled Resonance: A Journey of Connections Made by Intuition and an esoteric memoir titled Searching for the Right Key: The First Forty Years.