Core Series at PAVED Arts – feature on Lia Pas

This Friday and Saturday the SSO’s Core Musicians will be heard at PAVED Arts in one of the most unique and original music programming series in Canada.

For more information and tickets please CLICK HERE


In this feature we learn about the ideas and process behind the world premier performance of Book, Chair, Table by Lia Pas:

I’ve been working on a collaborative piece with new media artist Ellen Moffat for the past number of months and am very excited to announce the premiere this November 7 & 8.

Book. Chair. Table. is a three-movement work based on three poems from Gertrude Stein‘s Tender Buttons. I’ve been calling it a new media chamber music theatre piece. I’ve written the music for voice, oboe, double bass, and new electronic instruments. Ellen Moffat has created new electronic instruments which integrate amplified sound, recorded texts, and video projection.

Book. Chair. Table. will be performed by Lia Pas on voice, Erin Brophey on oboe, Richard Carnegie on double bass, and Ellen Moffat on electronic instruments.

A bit more about the piece:

Late in 2012, Ellen Moffat asked me and Saskatoon actor Rob Benz to record three poems by Gertrude Stein from Stein’s book of prose poems, Tender Buttons. I’ve always loved the rhythms and repetitions of Stein’s poetry and was very happy to work with Ellen on one of her projects. Ellen used the recordings in a collaboration with an actor/dancer in Vancouver and when she returned asked me if I was interested in collaborating on a piece of music involving the recordings and the idea of triggering them from an amplified table.

In 2013 Ellen and I approached Erin Brophey of the SSO Chamber Players and Alex Rogalski at PAVED Arts about whether this might be a suitable project for one of the CORE series concerts. Erin & Alex were both excited about the possibilities of Ellen and I working together and so we began the work.

The main source material is the recordings of Stein’s poems Book. Chair. and Table. While listening to them I noticed immediately that not only did Rob and I speak in very different ranges, but in very different rhythms. With the help of some fancy computer programming (thanks to my son, Jarrod, for help with that), I was able to come up with a fairly accurate pitch and rhythm transcription of the recordings and these became the source for melody and ostinati (repeating phrases). Erin had expressed interest in the piece having some stage directions and I had always been impressed by Richard Carnegie’s speaking while playing bass so integrated these things into the piece.

I have always been fascinated by rhythm and process and the entire piece explores both.

In the beginning of Book. the pitches and rhythms of the phrases are slowed down significantly and become quite melodic. All the players speak and then play their phrases as ostinati and the movement ends with jarring sparse rhythms in the bass and oboe with the voice singing melodically above. During the music, Ellen performs on her glass amplified table, writing, fanning pages, and triggering the recordings.

In Chair. Ellen and I perform on a metal folding chair. The seat of the chair becomes my microphone and my part is quite melodic. Ellen is in charge of effects and the recordings triggered from the chair. While Ellen and I perform on the chair one side of the room, Erin and Richard play a game of ostinato cards that are shuffled at the beginning of the movement. These cards have notated phrases from the text recordings that are played in tandem with each other, shifting when either player decides to choose a new card.

In Table. we begin by all using the glass table as a percussion instrument and speak the entirety of Stein’s poem (the shortest poem of the three). One by one, we go back to our own music stands and repeat our spoken phrases as music. Ellen’s part involves glasses struck and bowed and playing with all six recordings of the poems while we speak and play. In the middle there is a chorale-like section created from our ostinati played very slowly.

There are small moments where the meaning of the text and what is happening in the music become apparent, either through the music, Ellen’s actions on the table, or on the screen which projects images of Ellen’s work on the table.

Lia Pas

An incredible achievement

It’s time for a good news story. Your orchestra broke even on last season.

This is no small accomplishment – this is the result of a complete analysis of how we were spending money.  It is the achievement of months of careful decision making and the hard work of every single member of the SSO team – management, staff, board of directors, even musicians.  This is something to celebrate.

For those of you keeping score at home – last year we had a loss of more than $265,000; this year we broke even with the minimal loss of $2300; and in this new season we are on track to not only begin the process of deficit reduction but show a surplus on the season.

Subscriptions are up – this is huge news.  It may not make the nightly news, but it is definitely note worthy in an arts climate where orchestras are constantly bemoaning the loss of subscribers.  Subscribers are up, and we didn’t spend a dime on acquiring those new subscribers.

We have new initiatives – this is significant because if classical music didn’t matter anymore we wouldn’t have people excited about new ideas.  Whether you’ve join the Patrons Club, or you’re excited about the rumours of the after parties, or you’re hoping to snag a Christmas gift at the lobby boutique, you are seeing what can happen when a symphony decides to get relevant.

I firmly believe that people are responding to the programming of the upcoming season – the response has been overwhelming.  People are in love with the idea of a bunch of prairie folk setting off in search of what it means to be an orchestra in the west.  People are excited about the chance to see home grown heroes taking the stage to prove that we grow them talented here!  People are feeling like their symphony is back.  And it is.

Each and every one of us has a part to play in the future of the SSO – each musician, each audience member, each volunteer.  We are all going to be part of Saskatoon’s orchestra.  We can each be ambassadors of the SSO through marketing, development, and public knowledge of the orchestra – don’t be shy to tell your friends you’re going to the symphony; don’t be ashamed to say that you’re playing a part in making sure that there is exceptional music in Saskatoon.  This is the time to show your pride.

I often think that the arts could learn a lot from professional sports – maybe not in terms of dress code, but in terms of team spirit.  Sports teams know that the win is only worth it if there is someone their to share in their moment.  Sports teams make sure that their fans know how important they are, how much they matter in the stands.  And the same is true for music.

This orchestra needs a cheering section because it is doing incredible things.  These musicians need everyone to take pride in piece well played, in a moment on stage that changes the life of a listener hearing it for the first time.  We aren’t asking you to paint your face green and blow those horns from your seats – but we are asking that you celebrate with us!

From deficit to break even to lasting sustainability – this is something to cheer about. And how can you help, you ask? Share the news of upcoming events with people – as the Executive Director for the next three years, I want to have us all sell more tickets.  The musicians are committed to making incredibly artistic music, the management is committed to fiscal responsibility, but the best thing possible would be to start having sell outs.

The fact is, we can’t afford modern advertising – for us to ‘keep up with the jones’ we’d have to quadruple the money we spend on advertising – BUT we do have all of you.  If every single person who loved going to the symphony sold another two tickets to friends or relatives or coworkers, we’d sell out.  We’d have waiting lists.  We’d have people scrambling to get tickets.  We’d have more people taking pride in their music scene, and that my friends is how we create a climate of culture.

If you want something go out and get it – so let’s start packing the place.  Let’s see people realizing that its not about stuffy music and long second halves.  Let’s show people what a little prairie voice can do.

It’s little wonder this orchestra is a survivor.  This is Saskatchewan, its what we do.

See you at the Symphony!

The Road to a Fresh Start

Invitation - 2014-2015 SSO Season Launch

Mark Turner, SSO Interim General Manager

A season launch can say so much about an orchestra.  Whether you know it or not, the launch is so much more than the announcement of what music you can expect to hear in the upcoming year.

At the SSO, we took the last few months to ask ourselves who are we and what role do we play in our city, province, and beyond.

The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra is not only a long standing artistic institution in the city, but we are the orchestra for central and northern Saskatchewan—we play to audiences who trudge through cold wind and dust storms, and wear their dress shoes through snow banks and mud puddles. Each and every person in our audience knows the sheer joy of experiencing a quiet sunset and has been dumbfounded by the northern lights. Our audience is proud that it knows what a combine is and what it does. We all know that the Saskatoon Berry is far superior to other lesser berries. We understand the smell of fresh wet dirt, of a field of wheat, and of pig barns. And you don’t have to live on a farm to know these. Our city is filled with all sights, sounds, tastes, and smells of the prairie.

The SSO is not a big city orchestra—and that’s ok. We don’t need to be a big city orchestra. As one of two professional orchestras in Saskatchewan, we have an important role to play. We have to bring an audio identity to our city. Music plays a key role in the authenticity of a city—it is real people, real music, real experiences; it is central to creating real communities. A symphony orchestra is crucial to the identity of a city.

You might not believe me, but it’s true. Sounds, songs, and musical memories are the strongest and easiest to remember—music infects our ears, our minds, our thoughts, it mixes with emotions, and becomes a part of our soul. Each and every one of us has a personal musical soundtrack to our life.

A prairie symphony needs to be a part of that.

Invitation - 2014-2015 SSO Season Launch

A season needs to address all this and more—it must not only be artistically creative, but it has to make sense. It’s no secret that the SSO has a deficit, so it should be no secret that we approached this new season with a very real goal of ensuring that the programming not only is affordable but will have a lasting impact in reducing our deficit. That means that we have to give you a ‘wow’ factor. We have to give you a chance to see true artists take the stage. We have to make sure that at the end of the day we know we have a responsibility to make programming affordable. If we can’t afford to do it, we can’t do it—but it also means we get to truly explore the things we do well.

This season was designed with an intent of financial stability and growing the artistic quality of performance. If you always come to the symphony, you are in for a serious treat. If you haven’t been to the symphony in a while, I challenge you to come back and see what we’re doing. If you have never been to the symphony, turn off Netflix and be social. It is far too easy to stay home than go out. It’s easier to use a cake mix than start from scratch … but we all know which cake is more rewarding, to mention nothing of taste and quality.

A night out at the arts is one of the last true social experiences in our world—come see what the SSO is doing to be relevant, inspiring, passionate, fun, and responsible.

See you at the symphony,