Trans and Non-binary Composer and Artist Panel Discussion

Over the last year, Kendra Harder (she/hers) and the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra have been offering free online courses for the public about female composers, focusing on their experiences, the reasons for their erasure from textbooks, and, naturally, the wonderful music they have created. As an extension of this class, we are hosting a panel discussion dedicated to Trans and Non-Binary composers and artists.

This discussion will explore various aspects of navigating the performing arts and composition worlds from a trans or non-binary perspective while celebrating the constellation of genders that exist in the world.

Being on YouTube Live, there will be an opportunity for a question and answer period to create an interactive international experience!

When: Wednesday, June 16th at 11:00am-12:00pm CST

Our five panelists:

respectfulchild (they/them)

respectfulchild is an interdisciplinary artist born, raised, and living as an uninvited guest on Treaty 6 Territory. Their work explores the quiet tensions and chaotic beauty of being a queer Chinese settler on the prairies, ranging from spontaneous improvisation to meticulous composition. Their debut album 在找::searching:: was released in the summer of 2017 on Coax Records and they have toured across Canada and Europe with artists such as Rae Spoon, A Tribe Called Red, and Jeremy Dutcher.

The name respectfulchild is the literal translation of their Mandarin name 敬兒[jìng er]. This name was given to them by their grandmother when they were born, a name and a culture they’ve become estranged from having lived their whole life in the predominantly white world of the Canadian Prairies. The music of respectfulchild is their quiet way of seeking meaning in 敬兒 again.

Theo Baer (he/his)

Theo Baer is a Brooklyn-based composer and performer. His work is the result of a diverse musical upbringing and journey towards emotional healing as a black and trans artist. His individual approach to melodic sound is influenced heavily by an eagerness to adapt and experiment with a variety of genres. These compositions illustrate an intimate and vulnerable narrative channeled through the manipulation of tape loops, synthesizers, keyboards, and other electronic voices.The resulting pieces reflect an eclectic upbringing in musical performance. iT Boy is Baer’s solo electronic project.

ig: @itboytpb

Dr. CN Lester (they/them)

CN Lester is a writer, musician, academic, and leading LGBTI activist. Co-founder of the UK’s first national queer youth organisation, they curate the trans art event Transpose for Barbican, and work internationally as a trans and feminist educator and speaker. Their work has featured on BBC Radio 3, BBC Radio 4, SBS, The Guardian, ABC, The Independent, Newsnight, and at Sydney Opera House.

A singer-songwriter and a classical performer, composer and researcher, CN specialises in early and modern music, particularly by women composers. Gigs/engagements include work at The Barbican, Southbank Centre, Snape Maltings, The Royal Exchange, Fluid Festival, Queer Prides throughout Europe, and art galleries/bars/recital halls/book and coffee shops/universities throughout the UK. They have released three independent, crowd-funded albums: “Ashes” (2012), “Aether” (2014) and “Come Home” (2017) – all available via iTunes, Amazon and Spotify.

“Trans Like Me” (Virago/Seal) is their first book, named as one of the three essential works on trans issues by The New York Times. With glowing reviews from The Times Literary Supplement and Publishers Weekly, “Trans Like Me” is a collection of essays on gender, society, history, and building better futures.

They live in London and drink too much coffee.

inti figgis-vizueta (she/her)

Originally from Washington D.C. and now residing in New York City, inti figgis-vizueta (b. 1993) focuses on close collaborative relationships with a wide range of ensembles and soloists. Her musical practice is physical and visceral, attempting to reconcile historical aesthetics and experimental practices with trans & indigenous futures. The New York Times speaks of her music as “alternatively smooth & serrated”, The Washington Post as “raw, scraping yet soaring”, and the National Sawdust Log as “all turbulence” and “quietly focused”. inti is the 2020 recipient of the ASCAP Foundation Fred Ho Award for “work that defies boundary and genre”.

Recent commissions include works for the Kronos Quartet, Attacca Quartet, JACK Quartet, Crash Ensemble, & Music from Copland House Ensemble, as well as Jennifer Koh, Matt Haimovitz, & Andrew Yee. Her music has been presented in spaces such as Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Chicago Symphony Center, Kennedy Center, Walt Disney Concert Hall, Louise M. Davis Symphony Hall, and the Dublin National Concert Hall. She is currently in residency at So Percussion’s Brooklyn studio for the ‘21-22 season.

inti is a mentor for the ‘21-22 Luna Composition Lab & the Boulanger Initiative Mentorship Program and returning ‘21 faculty member for the Young Women Composers Camp. inti maintains a busy presentation schedule, with recent talks at McGill University, Manhattan School of Music, the LA Phil Composer Fellowship Program, UC San Diego, and UC Santa Barbara. inti also regularly appears on artist panels including engagements with National Sawdust/Center for Ballet & the Arts @ NYU, University of Kansas, American Composers Forum, and the New Latin Wave Festival.

inti studied privately with Marcos Balter, George Lewis, Donnacha Dennehy, and Felipe Lara. inti received mentorship from Gavilán Rayna Russom, Du Yun, Angélica Negrón, Tania León, and Amy Beth Kirsten.

inti loves reading poetry, particularly Danez Smith and Joy Harjo. inti honors her Quechua bisabuela, who was the only woman butcher on the whole plaza centraland used to fight men with a machete.​

Camille Rogers (they/them)

As a performer, Camille Rogers (they/them) has been praised for their “tremendous stage presence” and “real flair for comedy” (Operaramblings).  Camille’s “gossamer mezzo-soprano” (Mooney on Theatre) has been described as “even-keeled and grounded even in times of intense physicality” (Schmopera).  Camille has also been recognized for their work as Co-Artistic Director of Toronto’s queer opera collective OperaQ, and has been invited to speak at related events hosted by Amplified Opera, the University of Toronto, and VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto.

Camille currently studies at the University of Toronto, pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts with a Collaborative Specialization in Sexual Diversity Studies. Their research, supported by the prestigious Joseph-Armand Bombardier Canada Graduate Scholarship, investigates how problematic historical works of music theatre can be transformed and made relevant to today’s audiences through the bodies of modern queer performers.  As part of their studies, Camille is currently developing a narrative recital portraying the extraordinary life story of gender-non-conforming opera singer and duellist Julie d’Aubigny (1670-1707).  With OperaQ, Camille is in the process of producing a queer chamber opera with a libretto by award-winning Canadian poet Charlie Petch.

An active performer in many styles of opera, Camille most recently appeared as Suli/Suzie in Buddies in Bad Times’s world premiere of Pomegranate, and as Aeneas in Dido and Aeneas with OperaQ.  Other past engagements include the role of Lake in FAWN’s collectively improvised techno opera Belladonna, Young Girl in The Marriage of Figaro with Opera Atelier, and the title role of L’Italiana in Algeri with MYOpera.  Camille has also been featured as a soloist with the Toronto Bach Festival and Cor Unum Ensemble, and has presented solo recitals with Centric MusicFest and Lethbridge Pride Fest.

Watch Party Idea – Time for a Picnic!


If you’re like us, you’re looking for little ways to get an escape! With our Trip to the Country live stream our goal is take you on a musical journey away from busyness and stress and into nature…and if you’ve got a tablet or computer you can quite literally take us outdoors!

With that in mind, here are some fun ideas that can give you a chance to take a picnic right in your backyard, on the deck, or inside if its raining!

First up is the Food!

It’s all about being refreshed – and while a picnic takes a little bit of preparation, the pay off is totally worth it. Let’s start with the mix of sweet and savory to give your taste buds their own little adventure. The best part? Each recipe is incredibly easy to make!

How about a simple yet absolutely delicious Thai Watermelon Salad paired with Prawn & Avocado Vietnamese Summer Rolls. You can have a lot of fun preparing Picnic Dip Jars and you get a little fancy with some Mini Pork and Chorizo Picnic Pies.

If you’re wanting to support some amazing local eateries, our picks for this concert include ordering take out from Botte Chai Bar, Bagel Shop, and Filosophi!

Dessert is essential for any good picnic…its a bit early for berry season, but there’s all sorts of amazing Saskatoon Berry treats available at the Berry Barn, you have to grab some chocolates from our friends at Harden and Huyse, or order desserts from Calories!

But if you have the itch to make it yourself, our pick are these incredibly delicious and refreshing Lemon and Blueberry Bars…trust us, you’re going to love them!

What to Drink?!

It wouldn’t be a proper picnic without refreshments! And picnics are a family affair, so try some thirst-quenching creations like a Berry Smoothie or Apple Mint Iced Tea.

As we asked around the SSO, one drink suggestion kept coming up over and over again…if its a picnic for family or for romance, in Saskatoon it has to include Black Fox.

Black Fox Distillery has garnered international attention for their world class gin, and on first taste you’ll quickly see why…or taste why!

They offer an array of amazing gins – their Oaked Gin and Haskap Gin are absolute MUST haves. And their website helps you create a custom cocktail for a picnic like their Cucumber Lemonade, Mike’s Sour Cherry Lime Spritz, or a Cran G&T.

Their gin is so delightful that simply mixing with lemonade or limeade will make for the perfect drink for our escape with a Trip to the Country!

Whether a picnic in the backyard, drinks on the deck, or chic indoor glamping, make sure you do something special for this last stream of the season!

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

Watch Party Ideas for Dublin!

Our musical adventures take us to Ireland – one of the warmest, most welcoming places in the world…as they say everyone wants to be Irish!

As people have been enjoying the SSO from home, we’ve been thrilled to see all of the watch parties you’re creating to enjoy the experience…and we’re sure that A Night in Dublin gives you all sorts of ideas from stew to green beer to Baileys!

So here’s our ideas for making the best of your night in for the SSO!

The Food!

There’s nothing quite so delicious as a home-cooked Irish country-style meal. Be sure to bring plenty of appetite for these staples of old-fashioned Irish cuisine. 

We’re thrilled that O’Shea’s is helping us bring an authentic Irish meal to you, but if you want to give a go at making it yourself there is a lot of options for great Irish dishes.

You could try your hand at Champ, or a Shepherd’s Pie, or how about Gammon with Parsley Sauce, maybe even Colcannon!

But you can also dig into the quintessential Irish meal – a stew.

Nothing speaks comfort like a good beef stew. Variations of beef stew are found around the world and a few famous examples include France’s Boeuf Bourgignon, Hungary’s Goulash, and Belgium’s Carbonnade à la Flamande.  For the Irish Stew let’s look at making a Guinness Beef Stew.

Nothing speaks comfort like a good beef stew. Variations of beef stew are found around the world and a few famous examples include F
As its name suggests, what sets Ireland’s beef stew apart from others is its inclusion of Guinness stout. The alcohol is evaporated as the simmers low and slow and you’re left with a deep and robust flavor with fork-tender beef, waxy potatoes and the sweetness of parsnips and carrots.

Beef & Guinness Stew is easy but there are a couple of steps that are absolutely imperative for the flavor. First and foremost: Brown the beef! Don’t be impatient and skip this step. It’s crucial. So take the time to brown the beef in batches, every last piece. Once you’ve done the browning followed by briefly sauteing the vegetables, you can transfer everything to a slow cooker if you prefer.

The other thing is this: Don’t throw out the browned beef bits in the bottom of the pan! That’s where a ton of the flavor is, caked onto the bottom of the pan. Leave it and deglaze (scrap off the browned bits) when you add the Guinness. If you follow those two steps and the rest of the recipe as follows, you’re going to have one amazing Irish Beef and Guinness Stew!


There’s no need to buy an expensive cut of beef for a beef stew that’s going to simmer for a long time. Get an inexpensive, well-marbled cut. You can ever go wrong with a chuck roast (what I’m using here).

Cut the beef across the grain into into 1-inch pieces. Sprinkle with some salt, pepper and the flour and toss to coat the pieces. Set aside.

NEXT: Fry the bacon in a Dutch oven or heavy pot until done then remove it with a slotted spoon, leaving the bacon drippings in the pan. (I’m using this Le Creuset Dutch oven but nearly as often use my Lodge Dutch oven which is a fraction of the cost.)

Working in batches and being careful not to overcrowd the pieces, generously brown the beef on all sides.

NEXT: Transfer the beef to a plate and repeat until all the beef is browned.  Don’t wash out the pot when you’re done, leave the blackened bits on the bottom of the pot (that’s where a ton of flavor be!).

And then: Add the onions and fry them, adding more oil if necessary, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes.  Add the garlic and cook for another minute.  Add the vegetables and cook for another 5 minutes.

**At this point you can transfer everything to a slow cooker if you prefer.  Follow the remaining steps and then cook on LOW for 6-8 hours or on HIGH for 3-4 hours**

  • Add the Guinness and bring it to a rapid boil, deglazing the bottom of the pot (scraping up the browned bits on the bottom).  Boil for 2 minutes.
  • Return the beef and bacon to the pot along with the remaining ingredients. Stir to combine and bring to a boil.
  • Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer for 2 hours. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Dish up the stew and enjoy it hot with some crusty country bread or Irish soda bread!

Take a picture of your stew and tag us on social media!

You could also try your hand at Cockles and Mussels! (we’re playing Molly Malone as part of the concert, so it does seem like a good choice!)


What to Drink!

Now. This is a loaded discussion topic.
Guinness is the drink that reigns supreme in Ireland. The dark dry stout dates back to 1759 where its brewing started in Dublin at St James’ Gate with its founder Arthur Guinness. If you ever get to Dublin, you have to take the tour of the brewery – it is a must see on your trip there!

We know that while Guinness is the ultimate Dublin thirst quencher, not everyone can hold their Guinness!

Thankfully Ireland has a wealth of beers that are available here at pretty much any liquor store, and there are a number of local stouts as well!

You should also pick out an Irish Whiskey or two!
Many have fought over which is the best Irish Whiskey…and we wonder why bother picking when you can enjoy them all in time.

End you evening with some Bailey’s on ice. There are all sorts of ways to enjoy an Irish Creme, but nothing beats enjoying it uninterrupted, silky and smooth like the SSO’s strings!

We hope you have a great night with the SSO in Dublin!

La Cucina x SSO Encore

You loved our partnership with La Cucina so much that we decided to do it again! They’ve come up with another special menu just for our patrons that pairs with The Carnival of Venice . Take a look and then give La Cucina a call (306-952-0552) to arrange your order for pickup on Saturday.   … Read more

Marcello’s Oboe Concerto

Friendly competition, especially amongst siblings, can produce interesting results. Such a pressure can make rubble just as easily as it can produce diamonds. In the case of the Marcello Brothers (Alessandro and Benedetto), such tension produced one of the most captivatingly beautiful oboe concertos ever composed.

Both brothers were born in Venice, Italy, as members of a noble family. Alessandro Marcello was determined to prove himself a composer, and while his father encouraged his younger brother to give up music in order to pursue a career in law the older Marcello busied himself with the composition of a grand oboe concerto in D minor. 

Frustrated that his elder brother got to have all the fun of being a full-time composer, Benedetto worked hard at pursuing the path given to him by their father. Upon completion of his oboe concerto in D minor, Alessandro made the mistake of providing a copy to Bendetto. Working tirelessly in every spare moment, Benedetto reworked his brother’s concerto in a lowered key (that of C minor). The oboe of the Baroque period was tuned differently than the oboes of today, and as such it naturally produced a more evocative sound in the lowered key Benedetto had assigned it in the reworked version of his brother’s concerto. 

Alessandro Marcello

But luck was not on Benedetto’s side, at least not for the moment. The legendary composer Johann Sebastian Bach took an interest in Alessandro’s original version first, and consequently transcribed its 2nd movement for the organ. To this day, many of the embellishments utilized by oboists playing the Marcello Concerto are inspired by Bach’s transcription for the organ. Professional editions include such transcriptions because they offer a strong basis upon which to further improvise musically.

Long after the passing of the Marcello Brothers, music historians put both versions of the concerto to the tes. What they found intrigued them: most professional oboists preferred playing Benedetto’s rendition of his brother’s concerto. The reason for this lay in the fact that the key of C minor was simply easier to finger for the players than the D minor original! 

As many budding oboists of professional calibre look forward to performing this piece as a staple of their repertoire, there are few who wish to go through the frustrations of learning the concerto in a key that presents more difficult fingerings to achieve nearly the same result. And so it was that Benedetto got the last laugh, his version of Alessandro’s concerto rising in popularity into more modern times as his brother’s music (referenced as the “last outpost of the classic Venetian Baroque concerto”) faded into obscurity. 

The first movement of the concerto is regal, but without the gravity required to firmly establish it as majestic. It is a stately neutral, consisting of a series of calls and responses between strings and the oboe soloist. Movement two provides a treasure trove of potential for embellishments, and this can be owed to Bach’s organ transcriptions just as much as it can be attributed to Benedetto’s re-orchestration. This is the movement which really characterizes and colors the concerto as a whole. Revered by oboists the world over, this movement provides countless opportunities to showcase improvised virtuosity. The strings and continuo pulsate throughout, providing a stable framework of support for this improvisation. Overall, this movement highlights the oboe at its most yearning and introspective, accentuating its brilliant qualities in a wide array of deep musical colors. Entirely in contrast to the 2nd movement, the final movement is all about speed and dexterity: a true test of the raw technical abilities possessed by its soloist. Comprising almost entirely of sixteenth notes, difficult running passages are peppered throughout this movement, leaving no room for even a single musical stumble. With a bright and dance-like impulsivity, this final movement shines with musical laughter even to the last note. 

Overall, the Marcello Concerto is one which does a tremendous job of showcasing the versatility of its oboe soloist, offering moments of musical anticipation and emotional payoff which clearly illustrate the oboe’s gift for moving us to our core. Resplendent with dynamic contrasts between its three movements, there are so many reasons to love the oboe when one listens to this piece.

Finding Isabella Leonarda

One of the most gifted and under-appreciated composers of the Baroque period, Isabella Leonarda spent the majority of her life in an Ursuline convent and dedicated nearly all of her compositions (nearly 200 in total) to the Virgin Mary in addition to a living person of great status (such as Austrian Emperor Leopold I). Leonarda was emphatic that she composed “…not to gain credit in the world, but so that all would know that [she was] devoted to the Virgin Mary.” 

In 1636, at only sixteen years of age, Isabella entered the Collegio di Sant’Orsola in Novara, Italy. Her wealthy family’s political ties and status as benefactors of the convent allowed her to rise in prominence as a figure of authority who commanded a great deal of respect. She worked diligently for many years, acquiring many titles including that of mother superior. 

Isabella’s musical education prior to entering the Collegio di Sant’Orsola is shrouded in mystery. Music historians suggest that Isabella, once she had been accepted into the convent, honed much of her skill as a musician and composer under the tutelage of Gasparo Casati (who had begun serving as the maestro di cappella at the Novara cathedral only one year previous to her arrival at the convent). Other scholars dispute that such a mentoring ever occurred, citing insufficient evidence. In fact, the only record that seems to support Casati’s mentorship of Isabella lies in the former having compiled two of Isabella’s earliest known compositions for his Third Book of Sacred Songs.

Serving as a music teacher in the convent, Isabella continued to hone her abilities as a composer. Her works delved into nearly every genre of sacred music (including sacred concertos, Latin dialogues, litanies, and masses), and she also found time to compose for strings, chorus, and solo/continuo. Her Sonate da chiesa (Opus 16) is regarded as the first instrumental sonata written and published by a female composer.

Isabella specialized in the solo motet, but is remembered for her sonatas (in particular her only solo sonata, Sonata 12). Unlike many women of her time, Isabella had been educated in formal counterpoint and other advanced techniques at a young age. Her complex usage of harmonies was ahead of its time by nearly half a century, and she pushed the genre of polyphonic music as a whole forward with her intricate compositional insight. 

Leonarda is best remembered for her sonatas, in part, because of their unusually varied formal structure. In contrast to Archangelo Corelli’s standard form (four movements of alternating fast and slow tempi), some of Isabella’s sonatas feature as many as thirteen movements (as in her Sonata 4). Additionally, those sonatas she composed in four sections do not often align with Corelli’s slow-fast-slow-fast model. Her usage of the refrain in Sonata 10 characterizes just how complex her understanding of music was: instead of a single refrain unfolding in an ABAB pattern, she chooses to double the refrain in the zig-zagging pattern of ABCDEBDFBG.

She was quite fond of using canzona-style imitation and duple meter in the faster sections of her sonatas, emulating both toccata and recitative in the homophonic sections of contrasting tempi. Her dance-like sections in triple time showcase the spirited brilliance of her compositional genius. Though history has attempted to reframe her as a nun who held special privileges within the convent (privileges which would have allowed her to bypass her daily duties in favor of finding time to compose) we now know that is not the case. In the dedication to her 10th Opus, Leonarda writes that she “wrote music only during time allotted for rest so as not to neglect [her] administrative duties within the convent.”

Although Isabella Leonarda was well-known in her native Novara, other parts of Italy did not experience the joy of hearing her work performed very often. It would take several hundred years for a handful of her sonatas to reach the ears of the wider world. Her compositional career spanned six decades, and the bulk of her sonatas were completed after she turned fifty years of age. Yet the only works of hers to appear in broad circulation before 1670 were the two pieces her alleged mentor Gasparo Casati had borrowed for his Third Book of Sacred Songs.

Blessed with compositional gifts and insight ahead of her time, Isabella Leonarda lived a quiet but busy life of spiritual devotion and musical excellence.

The Carnival of Venice

The history and characters of Venice’s spectacular Carnivale are just as varied as the masks and colorful garments which have traditionally populated it. Legend has it that the bombastic celebration of all things artistic started following the military victory of the Venetian Republic over the Patriarch of Aquileia, Ulrico di Treven in the year 1162. Rejoicing at the victory, the people started to dance and gather in San Marco Square. 

Becoming an official event during the Renaissance, it was not until the seventeenth century that the Baroque Carnival was used as a way of preserving the image of Venice as a city of prestige to the rest of the world. Its popularity increased to greater heights in the eighteenth century as a means of reducing civil unrest. Unfortunately, the festival was outlawed entirely in 1797 under the rule of the Holy Roman Emperor and later Emperor of Austria, Francis II. The use of Carnivale masks became strictly forbidden. 

The festival made a comeback over the nineteenth century, but the focus shifted towards prioritizing private feasts and opening up the event to a wide variety of artisans. The Carnival returned in 1979, when the Italian government decided to bring back the history and culture of Venice. Mask-making skyrocketed after some Venetian college students pursued this centuries-old hobby for the satisfaction of tourist trade. It is said that approximately 3 million visitors come to Venice every year just to celebrate the Carnival. 

Those who enjoy the artistic beauty of masks will always find plenty to be impressed by at the festival, in particular the contest for la maschera più bella (“the most beautiful mask”), judged by a panel of international fashion and costume designers. The masks themselves have always been an important part of Venice’s Carnival. In its early days, people were allowed to wear them between the festival of Santo Stefano (St. Stephen’s Day, December 26) and the end of the carnival season at midnight of Shrove Tuesday (usually held during February or early March). As masks were also allowed on Ascension and from October 5 to Christmas, people could spend a large portion of the year in disguise.

As a result of this booming mask industry, Venetian mask makers (known as mascherari) enjoyed something of a privileged social position in the Carnival’s early years. They had their own guild, and honed their craft by importing leather, porcelain and certain types of glass. In modern times, the majority of genuine Italian masks are made with the application of gesso and gold leaf and are hand-painted using natural feathers and gems to decorate. It is likely that each mask, while unique in certain elements of form and decoration, will belong to one of several distinct styles. Let’s peruse some of the most popular options!

The bauta is a mask which features an odd, but incredibly practical design element. Originally a simple white, it was fashioned to comfortably cover the entire face, and bauta today are heavily gilded in something of a gaudy fashion. Characterized by an over-prominent nose, and a face shape which looks something like an upside-down pentagon. The beak-like chin bears no opening for the mouth, but projects outwards to enable the wearer to talk, eat, and drink without having to remove it. 

Traditionally, the bauta is accompanied by a red or black cape and a tricorn hat. This mask was endorsed for use by the Venetian government during the 18th century. In addition to a black circular or semicircular clasped cape called a tabarro, it was a required piece of uniform at certain political decision-making events (especially when the involved citizens were required to act anonymously as peers). The bauta is a stately authoritative mask, and makes one look quite the dashing commodore when paired with a tricorn.

Legend has it that female mask-wearers were disappointed at the ancient decree that only men should wear the bauta, so female mask-makers made them a subsequent design of their own.The Colombina is a half-mask, covering the wearer’s eyes, nose, and upper cheeks. Often highly decorated with gold, silver, crystals, and feathers, it can be held up to the face by a baton or tied with a ribbon at the back for dancing. Named after a stock character in the Commedia dell’arte, Colombina was a maidservant who was an adored part of Italian theatrical productions for generations. Some claim that it was first created for an actress who did not wish to have her beautiful face covered completely. However, there are no historic paintings depicting its use on the stage, and it seems to have been a modern invention primarily intended for use at masked balls.

The Larva (meaning ghost in Latin) is another iconic modern Venetian mask, one which is often made of white porcelain or plastic. It is frequently decorated, and like the bauta can be commonly observed on Carnival attendees worn with a tricorn and cloak. Heavier than a typical mask and with a much tighter fit, it is secured in the back with a ribbon. The Larva covers the entire face of the wearer and extends farther back to just before the ears. Depicting the nose and lips in simple facial expressions, this mask is nearly impossible to wear while eating and drinking. As the Larva was never a stock character in Commedia Dell’arte, the design of this mask has not been reworked to feature a hinged jaw. 

The Zanni are masked characters who often play supporting roles in commedia performances, often fulfilling societal roles such as a local policeman or shopkeeper. Zanni masks take several different shapes, but they all share several features in common: their half mask is made of leather, featuring a low forehead, bulging eyebrows and a long nose with a reverse curve towards the end. In Commedia Dell’arte, a long nose denotes a character’s stupidity (as does a low forehead). One of the most recognized of the Zanni is Arlecchino, meaning harlequin, who is meant to be a servant devoid of reason and full of emotion. His originally wooden and later leather half-mask depicts him as having a short nose, a set of wide, round, arching eyebrows, a rounded beard, and always a “bump” upon his forehead. 

The most well-known mask at Carnival is easily Pantalone, the lecherous old man whose name stems from the Italian “pianta il leone”. This bawdy reference to the character’s many lovers in Venice is only a veneer… for Pantalone is usually represented as a sad old man with an oversized nose like the beak of a bird, with high eyebrows. A half-mask worn almost exclusively by men, its popularity has begun to wane in recent years. With so many different interpretations on these classic characters, its no wonder that Carnival continues to be a Mecca of sorts for mask-enthusiasts everywhere, year after year. We hope you enjoy the dazzling sounds of the Venetian Carnival in our concert, featuring your Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra.

Tartini the Virtuoso

If you’ve ever been to a dog park, you’ve likely come across the great pyrenees: a massive canine with the look of a dandelion puffball and the courage of an elephant. But have you ever met the Greatest Piranese? That honor is reserved for Giuseppe Tartini, a composer born in the small town of Piran (which was situated on the peninsula of Istria, and which is now a part of Slovenia).

In Tartini’s childhood, his native Piran was a part of the Republic of Venice, the local governor being an appointed man from Florence (Gianantonio Zangrando) and his wife Caterina (who was a descendant of one of the oldest aristocratic families in Piran). Tartini’s parents were set on him becoming a Fransiscan friar, and so they took the appropriate measures to ensure he was musically trained. But it soon became clear that Tartini was not destined for monastic greatness, as he had his eye set on law. Leaving Piran, he journeyed to the University of Padua, where he began to study law and hone his fencing skills. 

The death of his father in 1710 prompted him to settle down, but he defied his parents’ expectations of him once more: he married Elisabetta Premazore, a woman his father would never have given him blessing to wed. Elizabetta’s lower social class and age difference to Tartini didn’t bother the latter one bit, and it seemed as though a happy ending were in store for the two newly-weds. That is, until the intervention of the powerful Cardinal Giorgio Cornaro!

Elizabetta was the apple of Cardinal Cornaro’s eye, and he promptly charged Tartini with abduction. Fleeing Padua and a distraught Elizabetta, Tartini took refuge in the monastery of St. Francis in Assisi in order to escape prosecution. It was almost as if his parents had been trying to help him avoid this traumatic turn of events all along. During his stay with the Fransiscan friars, Tartini began practicing the violin as a hobby. 

But Tartini was competitive by nature, and when he heard Francesco Maria Veracini’s playing in 1716 (and realized he had a long way to go before reaching violin mastery), he fled the friars to find lodgings in Ancona. According to music historian Charles Burney, Tartini would lock himself inside his chambers for hours every day with his violin “in order to study the use of the bow in more tranquility, and with more convenience than at Venice.”

Tartini’s violin playing improved greatly over the next five years, so much so that he was appointed Maestro di Cappella at the Basilica di Sant’Antonio in Padua, the very same Padua he had fled at the “encouragement” of Cardinal Cornaro. His contract there allowed him to play for other institutions if he wished, and while in Padua he befriended fellow composer and theorist Francesco Antonio Vallotti. By now the Cardinal had all but forgotten about Tartini, and he was able to reinvent his life in Padua with a new friend by his side.

Tartini was the first known owner of a violin made by the famed instrument builder Antonio Stradivari. The violin itself was his pride and joy, fashioned in 1715 and passed down to Tartini’s student Salvini, who in turn gave it to Polish composer and virtuoso violinist Karol Lipiński upon hearing him perform. One of the most famous violins in the world, the instrument is known today as the Lipinski Stradivarius. Tartini was also fortunate enough to own and play another Stradivarius violin (the ex-Vogelweith) which had been fashioned in 1711.

Five years into his position in Padua, Tartini started a violin school which attracted students from across Europe. As he grew more proficient on the violin he became more fascinated in the theory of harmony and acoustics, and published treatises on this subject from 1750 to the end of his life. Giuseppe Tartini laid down his bow for the last time surrounded by friends and students in Padua. A statue of Tartini was erected in the square of the composer’s home town of Piran to commemorate him and all he contributed to the world of music during his lifetime. Not only that, they named the entire square and even a hotel after him! His birthday is celebrated by a concert in the main town cathedral to this very day.

While the vast majority of Tartini’s compositional output are violin concerti and sonatas, he did pen a few sacred works (such as Miserere, composed between 1739 and 1741 at the request of Pope Clement XII). Tartini’s music poses increasing problems for scholars and editors interested in sharing his music with the world, because the composer never dated his manuscripts. He also had the infuriating habit of revising his finished works, meaning that placing his compositions on a timeline is nearly impossible to do. The greatest effort made towards solving this problem was undertaken by scholars Minos Dounias and Paul Brainard (who have attempted to divide Tartini’s works into stylistic periods based on the musical characteristics of each individual piece.

Tartini and the Devil

Today, musical scholars can all agree that Tartini’s most enduring work is the “Devil’s Trill Sonata”. This solo violin sonata requires a number of demanding double stop trills, difficult even by modern standards. An urban legend spread by the Russian Philosopher Madame Blavatsky claimed that Tartini was “inspired to write the sonata by a dream in which the Devil appeared at the foot of his bed playing the violin”. This hectic piece is daunting even to the most experienced violinists, and only played in public by those who are willing to risk carpal tunnel syndrome!

But Tartini’s genius was not merely reserved to his compositions for the violin. Tartini was also a music theorist, and is credited with the discovery of sum and difference tones. His treatise on ornamentation was eventually translated into French in 1771, and is still useful as the first published text devoted entirely to ornament. In modern times, this text has provided first-hand information on violin technique for historically informed performances. A later edition of this text includes a facsimile of the original Italian, copied in the hand of Giovanni Nicolai (one of Tartini’s best known students) and which features an opening section on bowing and a closing section on how to compose cadenzas not previously known.

A remarkable composer and violinist, Giuseppe Tartini will forever be remembered for his seemingly “supernatural” abilities on the violin, earned through a great deal of practice and dedication to his craft! 

The Virtuoso Vivaldi

While some fans of rock music are more partial to an electric guitar solo, others prefer the passionate folk strummings of a well-loved acoustic. But all fans of virtuosic string playing owe a debt of gratitude to one rock star in particular: Antonio Vivaldi. 

The year was 1700. Violin virtuosity had been steadily building for nearly a hundred years, with instrument builders like Antonio Stradivari, and Giuseppe Guarneri creating violins whose sound quality was unrivalled throughout all of Europe. With the music publishing industry taking off, composers from around the world saw an opportunity to create truly unique musical works. If you wanted to be known as a composer of merit during this period of music history, you needed to know how to write increasingly complex works for the orchestra. Enter the Venetian Virtuoso, Antonio Vivaldi…

Born in 1678, Vivaldi quickly established himself as a master of writing for the violin. A superbly innovative player himself, Vivaldi had an intimate understanding of those conventions of traditional violin playing which might be bent (or in some cases completely broken) in order to create the daring music people wanted to hear. His playing was lightning across a darkened sky, one contemporary of his going so far as to exclaim that the sounds he made on the violin were “terrifying”. 

During his early years as a composer, Italian instrumental music was still held firm under the conventions of Arcangelo Corelli’s concerto form. Developing from the trio sonata (which featured two violins and one cello supported by strings and continuo), this form was regarded as highly-respected and tasteful for its time. It was daring… but not so much as to abandon the traditional aspects of string music. Vivaldi’s response to Corelli’s established form of concerto occurred in the former’s publication of Léstro armonico , something of a musical manifesto which changed violin-playing for all time. 

L’estro armonico didn’t pull any punches, it set straight away at establishing new standards in violin playing for Vivaldi’s contemporaries. Some of the more revolutionary shifts Vivaldi incorporated into his compositional style included increasing the depth and singing quality of the violin’s voice in slower movements, and imitating the brassy qualities associated with a trumpet by way of arpeggios and quick repeated notes. This latter innovation encouraged violin players to insert bits of virtuosic passagework into their playing at a much more prolific rate than ever before.

As a whole, L’estro armonico served to establish Vivaldi’s preference for three contrasting movements (fast-slow-fast) while utilizing the ritornello form in new and exciting ways. Ritornello (which translates to “return”) constituted a sort of musical interlude which functioned as a refrain, and Vivaldi was brilliant enough to see how it might be used as the standard form for all concerto movements. Ensemble ritornello sections in Vivaldi’s music begin in a tonally stable fashion, establishing the home key at the start and end of each movement. The solo sections which are scattered among these movements, however, are tonally unstable: they leap, dive, and soar through key modulations to increase tension and build the 

In Vivaldi’s music for concerto, ensemble ritornello sections are tonally stable to establish the home key at the start and end of the movement and reinforce each change of key during the movement. The solo sections, in turn, are tonally unstable, modulating between keys, which amps up the tension during the daring solo passages. Just as we can’t look away from a tight-rope walker as they perform their daring act under a circus big-top, so too were Vivaldi’s audiences mesmerized by the sheer musical bravery and bravado these solo sections demonstrated. 

They were lucky instrumentalists indeed, those who were the first to play Vivaldi’s glorious new music… customized as it was for a bold new breed of concerto. Those who criticized his musical vision early on would come to adopt the spirit of his instrumental virtuosity later in their careers as composers and music-makers. Antonio Vivaldi died penniless in Vienna, having invested all his wealth of musical experience in bringing a clear structure and dynamic power to the Baroque concerto. His work for the violin made him a household name, a true Baroque star. So we say long live the King of the Strings, Viva Vivaldi!