Celebrating Margaret Wilson

StarPhoenix article with Margaret Wilson (Née Bluhm)

Our beloved principal clarinet Margaret Wilson is retiring after 47 seasons with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra.

We are fairly certain that Margaret is the longest-serving principal clarinet of any organization in Canada. She’s also close to having been the longest-serving principal clarinet in North America beaten out only by Stanley Drucker of the New York Philharmonic whose 49 years made the Guinness Book of World Records. Needless to say, Margaret has given an incredible amount of her time and talents to the SSO and her retirement is well-earned.

In September 1977, Margaret Bluhm arrived from British Columbia and began her career as an artist in residence and the principal clarinet of the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. Lucky for us, Margaret met her husband within the first month of moving to Saskatoon and her prairie roots only continued to grow.

She began playing the clarinet in grade 7 as a part of her school’s band program. (We love our band teachers!) In a 2020 chat with Music Director Emeritus Eric Paetkau Margaret mentioned that she didn’t know anything about the instrument when she picked it out but “it wasn’t too big” and that she “loved it from the very beginning”.

It’s incredibly special to have talent like Margaret be a part of an organization for so long. She has played well over a thousand concerts with the SSO, in Saskatoon and the surrounding area, including shows at TCU place, chamber shows at venues like the Bessborough and now Grosvenor Park United, elementary schools around the city, assisted living facilities, toddler shows, tours, and so much more.

We aren’t the only ones that have benefited from Margaret’s talents. She has collaborated with musicians and groups around the city as a performer, and she has taught many young clarinettists over the years. Between her private studio and her work at the University of Saskatchewan, Margaret has an incredible legacy of students who have benefited from her wisdom.

Margaret is always a joy to play with. Not only is she talented and incredibly well-prepared, but she has a calm and joyful presence. This presence seems to radiate out and elevate every ensemble she performs with. Ask any of our musicians and they can tell you how Margaret has influenced them over the years both as artists and in their everyday lives.

At our concert on May 4, 2024, CEO Mark Turner will gift Margaret with the title Clarinet Emeritus. While she will no longer be our principal clarinet as of next fall, she will always have a place with the SSO. We hope you join us in giving Margaret a very well-deserved standing ovation. We owe her that, and so much more.

While we are very selfishly sad to see her go, we look forward to seeing photos of Margaret’s incredible garden (with 18+ varieties of tomato plants) and hope that she has a well-earned rest before she tackles her next adventure. (Perhaps she’s learning other new instruments? At one time she was learning the bassoon!)

In 2020 we did a series of “Meet the Musician” interviews hosted by Eric Paetkau while everyone was isolating at home. So you can hear Margaret chat a little bit about herself, and answer questions that came up in the chat from friends, fans, and colleagues.

 

(We’ve learned a lot about live streams since the spring of 2020!)

We have so many fond memories of working and making music with Margaret, and we’re grateful to have captured the last few years of our time together on video. You can revisit many wonderful Margaret moments over on ConcertStream.tv

As a special treat, we will finish with some lovely photos and a link to Margaret’s holiday treat Pfeffernüsse!

Judith Yan, conductor

Equally adept at conducting symphony, opera, and ballet, Judith Yan’s career has taken her internationally, conducting for major companies in Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America. She has held Staff Conductor positions at San Francisco OperaCanadian Opera Company, and National Ballet of Canada.

Her recent debuts were celebrated with critical acclaim: “In her Vancouver Opera debut, Canadian Conductor Judith Yan really shone in the pit, bringing extraordinarily lyrical and expressive playing from the Vancouver Opera Orchestra.” (Vancouver Opera, La Boheme, Opera Canada 2018). “Under the direction of Canadian conductor Judith Yan, the West Australian Symphony Orchestra is simply wonderful.” (West Australian Ballet, Don Quixote, Greg Ross, 2018). “Judith Yan, her Seattle Opera debut, conducted the orchestra with vigour and deep sympathy for the score.” (Seattle Opera, An American Dream, Classical Voice America, 2017). “Under the baton of Judith Yan, the music just came to life.” (Kentucky OperaOrfeo​, Arts-Louisville Reviews). “The Edmonton Symphony played splendidly under Judith Yan…coaxed many vivid, dramatically transparent moments from the players.” (Edmonton OperaLa Traviata, Opera Canada 2019).

While with the San Francisco Opera, she served as Staff Conductor, assistant to Maestro Sir Donald Runnicles, where her performances of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress for San Francisco Opera was included in the San Francisco Chronicle’s Top Ten Classical Performances of the Year. Prior to San Francisco Opera, she served as the first Conductor-in-Residence of the Canadian Opera Company, where she made her debut with Britten’s Rape of Lucretia. As the Principal Conductor of Opera on the Avalon since 2010, she has lead numerous productions including Ours, Shawnadithit, Tosca, La Boheme, Tosca, Suor Angelica, Gianni Schicchi, La Traviata, Albert Herring, and Dead Man Walking.

As a conductor of symphony, she served as the Artistic Director of Guelph Symphony Orchestra for 8 seasons, where she expanded the orchestra’s symphonic and operatic repertoire with works by composers Richard Strauss, Igor Stravinsky, Philip Glass, Francis Poulenc, Leonard Bernstein. Along with new works and premieres, she added operatic repertoire by Puccini, Verdi, Strauss, Humperdinck, and created the unique Triple-Feature “Symphony, Opera, and Ballet” Gala. As a guest conductor, she has collaborated with orchestras such as Auckland Philharmonia in New Zealand, Hong Kong PhilharmonicManitoba Chamber Orchestra and Saskatoon Symphony.

As a conductor of ballet, she has conducted over 90 performances at the Four Season’s Centre for the National Ballet of Canada, working with the world’s foremost choreographers including John Neumeier, Ronald Hynd, and James Kuldelka. With National Ballet of Canada and as a guest internationally, she has conducted the ballets of Balanchine, Cranko, Aldous, Bart, Harvey, Kiliàn, Lander, Stowell, Wright, and Grigorovich. Since 2010, she has had a close association with several ballet companies, including Hong Kong Ballet, conducting the company’s production of Swan Lake as well as premiering four of the company’s productions: Cynthia Harvey’s Sleeping Beauty, Terence Kohler’s The Nutcracker, Nina Ananiashvili’s Don Quixote, and the Asian world-premiere of Anna-Marie Holme’s Le Corsaire. She conducted the Polish premiere of Cranko’s ​The Taming of the Shrew in 2015 for Polish National Ballet, at Teatr Wielki in Warsaw.

In 2014, she made her Seoul conducting debut with Korean National Ballet, conducting the Korean Symphony in Yury Grigorovich’s La Bayadère, returning in 2015, 2016, 2018, and 2019 to conduct Patrice Bart’s Giselle, Grigorovich’s Swan Lake, and a revival of La Bayadère. She made her Australian conducting debut in 2017 with West Australian Ballet, conducting the West Australian Symphony Orchestra in Lucette Aldous’s Don Quixote, returning in 2018 for the world-premiere of Krzysztof Pastor’s Dracula and 2019 for Greg Horsman’s La Bayadère.

Recent performances include 3 critically acclaimed world-premieres: Jack Perla’s An American Dream for Seattle Opera and John Estacio’s Ours for Opera on the Avalon, Krzysztof Pastor’s Dracula for West Australian Ballet, company debuts with National Arts Centre Orchestra for Cynthia Harvey’s Sleeping BeautyTeatr Wielki in Warsaw for the Polish premiere of Cranko’s The Taming of the ShrewWest Australian Ballet and West Australian Symphony for Lucette Aldous’s Don Quixote, and Yury Grigorovich’s La Bayadère for Korean National Ballet and Korean Symphony.

2018/19 season included Vancouver Opera for La Boheme and Edmonton Opera for La Traviata, the season-opening gala concert for the Elora Festival, a revival of the opera Ours at Opera on the AvalonDvorak’s Symphony No. 8 and Beethoven’s Mass in C with Guelph Symphony Orchestra, productions of Greg Horsman’s La Bayadère and the world-première of Krzysztof Pastor’s Dracula for West Australian Ballet.

​For 2019/20, she opened both Korean National Ballet’s season with Yury Grigorovich’s Swan Lake, and Edmonton Opera’s with Verdi’s Rigoletto, ​Sleeping Beauty ​with West Australian Ballet, and concerts with Guelph Symphony Orchestra.

During the pandemic seasons of 2020/21 and 2021/22, she travelled to Hong Kong Ballet for a production of Don Quixote, made her debut with Saskatoon Symphony in programme of Sibelius, Copland, and Bernstein, and conducted a concert with Opera on the Avalon and Newfoundland Symphony. In 2021/22, she made her debut with Kentucky Opera with Orfeo, and returned to Saskatoon Symphony with a programme of Franklin and Tchaikovsky.

This 2022/23 season includes productions with Opera Omaha for Suor AngelicaNew Orleans Opera for a new production of Madama ButterflyOpera on the Avalon for Jake Heggie’s Three DecembersSan Francisco Opera (Merola) for The Rape of Lucretia, continues her collaboration with Saskatoon Symphony, opening its 92nd season with a Canadian premiere of Gipps’s Symphony No. 2, Forsyth’s Viola Concerto, and a world-premiere SSO commission of Canadian composer, Christos Hatzis. She returns to Saskatoon in November for a programme of De Falla and Ravel, and again in 2023 for a concert of Copland and Wagner.

Also in the 22/23 season is the much anticipated world-premiere of Laura Kaminsky and Lisa Moore’s February for Opera on the Avalon.

Judith is fluent in English and Cantonese. She is a Canadian citizen and American Resident, eligible to work in USA, Canada, and Hong Kong.

https://judithyan.com/

Avery Lafrentz, soprano

Hailing from the sunshine capital of Canada, Estevan, Saskatchewan, soprano Avery Lafrentz is currently working to make her mark in the bustling opera scene of London, England. 

A globetrotter in pursuit of her passion, Avery’s voice has graced stages in Italy, Austria, England & the United States in both opera and concert engagements. Whether embodying the fiery spirit of Vitellia ‘Clemenza di Tito’ or tugging at heartstrings as Anna Maurrant ‘Street Scene’ and Suor Angelica in ‘Suor Angelica’, Avery’s performances exude boundless potential. 

Not content with just scaling operatic mountains, she maintains a close relationship with song repertoire – especially by Berg, Strauss, Wagner and contemporary song – earning the support of the Art Song Foundation of Canada to participate as a professional fellow at SongFest in Los Angeles.  

A true scholar of her craft, Avery holds a Master of Music in Voice and Opera Performance from McGill University as a Wirth Family Fellow, where she sang multiple lead roles with Opera McGill. McGill University also employed her as a Research Assistant in the Schulich School of Music. She holds two Bachelor degrees in Arts & Science, and Music from the University of Toronto where she earned the Douglas Bodle – St. Andrew’s Graduating Award.

Currently honing her craft at the esteemed Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the UK, with the support of the Guildhall School Trust, Avery is a force to be reckoned with, earning a coveted spot in their prestigious Opera Studio. This past year she has performed multiple recitals and events including a concert version of ‘Les Misérables’ with Cameron Mackintosh Productions, contemporary music with the UBU ensemble, and an upcoming Shakespeare recital with Nicky Spence OBE and Dylan Perez. 

Under the tutelage of the distinguished pedagogue, researcher, and author Janice Chapman, Avery continues to refine her artistry, blending tradition with innovation in her quest for vocal freedom. 

This spring she will return to Saskatchewan to perform Paul Carr’s ‘Requiem for an Angel’ with the Regina Philharmonic Chorus and Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. 

She would like to thank her teachers, coaches, and mentors for their generous support along the way including:

 Janice Chapman, Michael Pugh, Dominique Labelle, Elizabeth Koch, Patrick Hansen, John Mac Master, Michael McMahon, Steven Hargreaves, Elizabeth MacDonald, Jo Greenaway, Darryl Edwards, Stephanie Weiss, Robert Loewen, Evanne Wilhelm, 

& the one who started it all … her mom, Arlene. 
It takes a village! 

Avery is a dedicated and hardworking individual, always looking for new opportunities to improve and showcase her talent.  In her spare time, she indulges in her love for art by drawing and painting.

With her strong sense of discipline, passion for music and love of opera, song, and visual art, Avery is poised to leave an indelible mark on the world of opera and beyond!

https://averylafrentz.com/

Julie Nesrallah, mezzo-soprano

Mezzo-soprano Julie Nesrallah is a singer, actress and broadcaster who dazzles audiences with her engaging personality and her rich, expressive voice. Miss Nesrallah has sung for leading opera companies, symphonies, festivals and chamber music ensembles across Canada and the U.S. and around the world. Julie débuted as Isabella in Rossini’s L’italiana in Algeri at Pacific Opera Victoria and went on to perform major roles including The Composer in Strauss’s Ariadne auf Naxos, Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly, Cenerentola in Rossini’s La Cenerentola, Carmen in Bizet’s Carmen and Maddalena in Verdi’s Rigoletto, among others.

Concerts and festivals include engagements in Paris, Vienna, Hong Kong, Jordan, Macau, Brazil. In 2015, Miss Nesrallah sang at Carnegie Hall in New York City in a concert for harp and voice.  She sang God Save the Queen for “Will and Kate” the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their first visit to Canada on Parliament Hill in a performance that was viewed around the world. She was the sole vocalist in “An Evening for Peace” for Her Majesty Queen Noor of Jordan in Montreal.

Currently, Miss Nesrallah is the host of Tempo on CBC Music, Canada’s national classical music program; and is also the executive producer and star of Carmen on Tap, a company she created that performs Bizet’s opera Carmen as dinner theatre. Julie has been the recipient of several distinguished awards including the Canada Council for the Arts Emerging Artist Award, and most recently the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for her cultural contribution to Canada’s performing arts.

Miss Nesrallah graduated with honours from Carleton University in Ottawa where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts Degree with a major in music and continued her studies at McGill University in Montreal graduating with a Performance Diploma.

www.julienesrallah.com

Ian Cleary, tenor

Canadian tenor Ian Cleary began his musical studies while growing up in Chatham, Ontario, and is a Graduate of Wilfrid Laurier University where he studied with Kimberly Barber. Ian received an Opera Diploma from the University of British Columbia under the vocal instruction of J. Patrick Raftery and sang principal roles in several UBC Opera productions, including Kevin Puts’ Silent Night, Mieczysław Weinberg’s The Passenger, and Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. Ian sang the role of Hoffmann in their production of Offenbach’s Les contes d’Hoffmann.

While a member of Vancouver Opera’s Yulanda M. Faris Young Artist Program, in 2021/22, Ian sang the role of Ivan in The Music Shop (Wargo) and Walther in Blond Eckbert, (Weir) digital productions created during the pandemic. Ian understudied Turiddu in Vancouver Opera’s concert performance of Cavalleria Rusticana and covered the role of Ralph Rackstraw in HMS Pinafore. He debuted with Vancouver Bach Choir as tenor soloist in Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle; Leslie Dala, conductor.

As Don Jose in Vancouver Opera’s digital production Carmen: Up Close and Personal, John Jane of ReviewVancouver.org wrote, “Tenor Ian Cleary is superb in the multi­dimensional role of the accursed Don José. As he is drawn under Carmen’s spell, he becomes consumed with jealousy; he is smitten, subjugated, humiliated, ultimately rejected, and yet he returns to her begging for more.”

In his recent debut with Saskatooon Opera, Matt Olson of PodSask said “Magnificent and gut­wrenching performances…Ian Cleary’s turn as spurned lover Don José was chillingly intense.”

Ian looks forward to returning to Vancouver Opera as Snout in their 2023 mainstage production of Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Jacques Lacombe, conductor.

Adam Lau, bass

American bass Adam Lau, praised as “a bass whose singing resonates in every sense of the word”, continues a busy and varied career in opera and concert with a wide range of engagements in the 2023-24 season.

He began the summer of 2023 in concerts with the Metropolitan Opera, both at Carnegie Hall and on the company’s European tour, conducted by the Met’s Music Director, Yannick Nezet-Seguin. He next appeared as Sarastro in The Magic Flute at The Ravinia Festival, led by Marin Alsop.

In Autumn 2023, Mr. Lau rejoined San Francisco Opera, where he covered the role of Kobun in The (R)evolution of Steve Jobs and sang a Noble in Lohengrin. Early 2024 finds him making his debut with The Atlanta Symphony, singing Bruckner’s Te Deum. Next, he returns to Utah Opera to sing a favorite part, the title role in The Marriage of Figaro. More Mozart follows as he joins Arizona Opera as The Commendatore in Don Giovanni. 

Returning to the concert stage, he sings Verdi Requiem at Artosphere Festival, Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with Saskatoon Symphony and returns to Seattle Opera to sing in their 60th Anniversary Concert and Gala. In summer 2024, he will record the role of Oroveso in Norma with Pentatone in Cluj, Romania.

The 2022-23 season was also a busy one for Adam Lau. He made his debut with four opera companies- San Francisco Opera, New Orleans Opera, Opera Company of Philadelphia and Florentine Opera, and he returned to the Metropolitan Opera.

Some of his most-performed roles are Leporello in Don Giovanni, Colline in La Boheme, Don Basilio in The Barber of Seville and Timur in Turandot, with such companies as Seattle Opera, Atlanta Opera, Dallas Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Portland Opera, North Carolina Opera and Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, as well as with some of the nation’s leading summer programs, including Merola Opera Center ,Aspen Opera Theater and Santa Fe Opera.

Adam Lau has won First Prize in The George London Competition, The Jensen Vocal Competition, Palm Springs Opera Guild Competition and The Young Patronesses of Opera Competition.

 

https://www.adampaullau.com/

Eekwol

Eekwol (Lindsay Knight) is an award-winning hip hop performing artist living in Saskatoon, Treaty Six Territory, originally from Muskoday First Nation. Eekwol has been making music for many years.  Her 5th full-length album titled, Good Kill was released in 2017 and the single,”Pitiful feat. 2oolman” made it to the #1 spot on the National Aboriginal Music Countdown and charted in Sirius Radio and numerous college and community stations and streaming site playlists. For 2019, she successfully received a Canada Council grant and completed a concept project with fellow lyricist, T-Rhyme titled, For Women By Women. She is currently working on a new album funded by the Canada Council for the Arts to be released in the Spring of 2024.

Eekwol uses her music and words to spread messages of resistance, revolution and keeping the language, land and culture alive for the next generations. Through her original sound she displays her activist roots by living and creating as a supporter of both Hip Hop and Indigenous culture and rights.

Along with motherhood, music and academic work, Eekwol frequently works with young people across the country as a mentor and helper. She achieves this through performances, workshops, speaking events, conferences and programs.

 

You can find Eekwol on:

Instagram

Facebook

Youtube

Apple Music

Spotify

Falynn Baptiste

About Falynn Baptiste

My mother says I came into the world a songbird, humming and singing to myself when I was a little girl. My late nôkum (grandmother) and nôhtawiy (father) were gifted with song, thus music has always been a part of my life. I was blessed to have been raised on Red Pheasant First Nation among a very large family, rooted in my nêhiyaw culture, traditions and language. I am also proud to be Mêtis and come from an equally large family with strong roots from Cumberland House, SK. My late mosom’s (grandfathers), nokum’s (grandmothers), my parents and their siblings were first language Cree speakers.  Along with language, prayer and spirituality were instilled in us.  My late grandparents made connections between their Cree spiritual teachings and the teachings of the Catholic church. One teaching did not replace the other, instead the two ways of praying walked side by side in harmony and respect.  As such, we regularly went to church.  At an early age, I began singing church songs that had been translated to the the Cree language.  One of my first large audience performances was of “Amazing Grace” in Cree at the age of 14.  I went on to do many performances over the years where people have requested songs sung in Cree, often hymns such as Amazing Grace and How Great Thou Art.

As an educator I have witnessed the growing absence of Cree language speakers among the younger generations and wondered if the the loss of language has contributed to the loss of identity among our Indigenous youth. Motivated by the importance of preserving the language, I recorded a two song Christmas demo of “O Holy Night” and “What Child is This” translated into Cree in 2012.  In 2014, I released an additional two songs, “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful”, also translated into Cree. I am both humbled and grateful for the overwhelming positive response from listeners across Canada and the United States. It is the voices of support and encouragement that has inspired me to continue recording contemporary music in the Cree language.

As Indigenous people, we believe our languages are powerful. Language was a gift given to us from the Creator and it carries our teachings, songs and ceremonies.  Language is the spirit of what it means to be Indigenous.  Hearing contemporary song translated into Indigenous languages stirs emotion and creates a strong connection to the spirit.  It also serves as a bridge, connecting the voices of the past to those of the present.  It is in preserving and revitalizing our Indigenous languages that we will find healing and strength. There is great beauty among the Indigenous languages of Turtle Island.

https://falynnbaptiste.com/