Ice Lanterns for Christmas

When we first started planning our Candlelight Christmas concert, we had this beautiful idea of lining the walkways up to St John’s Cathedral with ice lanterns. Patrons would have arrived to our special candlelit evening with beautiful frosty candle light…

Well we decided to do it anyway, even though  we don’t have an audience arriving!

And the result…well, you’ll see in the live stream!

We loved it so much we thought that you should try it at home to give your yard a magical glow for the holidays.

What you’ll need:

  • balloons
  • water from the tap
  • a cold night
  • water proof LED lights – like these

This is something so easy, anyone can do it!

Essentially, make a bunch of water balloons – just big enough to fit in the palm of your hand. Pick a nice cold night, and put your balloons out in a snow bank for the night.

Armed with your waterproof led lights (warm white for the effect we got), remove the  ice globes from the balloons and decide how you want to place them.

Then place the light in the snow, and the ice globe on top.

It’s really that easy – and it’s down right magical!

 

Discovering Tusen Tankar

A year ago, trumpeter Dean McNeill introduced us to a piece called Tusen Tankar…and we knew it had to be part of our 2020 Christmas live streams.

Conservation efforts come in all shapes and sizes. From those linguists fighting to preserve the status of “dying” languages in remote villages to the many environmentalists who contribute by saving endangered wildlife each year, every bit helps our planet hold on to its beauty in some way. It is no different in the Arts sector, where entire genres and forms are spared the fate of falling into obscurity by the collective efforts of inspired and curious creators.

An ongoing effort which captures this spirit of revitalization can be found in the projects carried out on behalf of the Swedish Song Archives, a massive undertaking of traditional music documentation begun in 1968, and one whose contributions to modern Swedish folk music are immeasurable. It is thanks to this initiative that the traditional and haunting ballad “Tusen Tankar” was able to reach the ears (and bows) of the talented musicians at Kronos Quartet over fifty years later.

As part of their mandate to preserve traditional Swedish folk music wherever it could be found, the Swedish Song Archives team hired Märta Ramsten (a musicologist and song researcher) to record musicians and singers around Sweden. One of Ramsten’s first stops was the city of Östersund in Jämtland County. Of the many musicians who were recorded during the Jämtland trip, there was one who stood out to Ramsten (so much so that she would return and record an additional 300 songs performed by this very singer). The musician in question was one Thyra Karlsson, whose extensive vocal repertoire and charisma rendering folk ballads shone like few other Swedish vocalists of her time.

Ostersund, Sweden

Ramsten described the humble Karlsson as “a God-fearing singer” who possessed a “clear and fine voice and [who sang] with great musicality and authenticity”. In her travel report for the Jämtland trip, Märta Ramsten expressed a hope that “the Östersund audience – who are used to hearing fine Jämtland musicians – will someday also have the opportunity to listen to Thyra Karlsson and her songs.”

Thyra Karlsson was delighted with the attention these archival recordings brought her way from members of her local community. In a letter to Ramsten, Karlsson wrote of the changes that took place in her life after the recordings were created. “[Its wonderful to] think of what I have experienced since then, what I have dreamed of all my life. To be able to sing for others… My life [has] became much more fun and richer in content”. Although Karlsson passed away in 2001, her letter to Ramsten is quoted in the cover text of a 2014 album produced by Caprice Records to honor her musical legacy. 

In 1998, three years prior to Karlsson’s passing, singer Emma Härdelin was searching for old Swedish songs to resurrect with her band (the Jämtland folk music group “Triakel”). After getting in touch with Ramsten, Härdelin heard Karlsson’s rendition of a long-forgotten song “Tusen Tankar” or “A Thousand Thoughts”. An unrequited love ballad that takes on new layers of meaning during the coldest and darkest months of the year, this raw piece of folk music helped to immediately establish a following for Härdelin and her Triakel bandmates. 

Speaking about her experience studying Karlsson’s rendition, Härdelin has remarked that “Tusen Tankar is one of the most beautiful and sad love songs [I’ve] ever heard. We learnt it from an archive recording of Thyra Karlsson, a great singer of traditional Swedish folk songs. Thyra’s greatest wish was to make a record so that her music could reach a new and wider audience.” And reach a wider audience it did, not only through Triakel’s performances of the song, but in the deeply moving arrangement for strings penned by the brilliant musicians of the Kronos Quartet. 

Tusen Tankar is the first track on Kronos’ album “A Thousand Thoughts”, and paints with every aching lilt of its melody a picture of pure love. Though the beloved in Tusen Tankar will never return, this song reminds all of us to hold our loved ones dear… especially during trying times. Kronos Quartet’s ethereal version owes a debt of gratitude to Karlsson’s original interpretation, and to Härdelin for her faithful replication of Karlsson’s vocal stylings which continue to inspire young folk artists in Sweden and around the globe each year. Tusen Tankar is a song that encourages us all to be grateful for those we cherish in our lives and, not unlike Auld Lang Syne, to remember fondly those who are irreplaceable in our lives. 

We’re thrilled to be performing it with Dean McNeill in an arrangement by David Braid specially done for our Night at the North Pole.

Share Christmas with Seniors

Normally the month of December means upwards of 30 performances for the musicians of the SSO – on top of our annual Holiday Pops concert and performances of Messiah, the SSO Chamber Ensemble usually go out to perform at seniors’ residences across Saskatoon thanks to support from the City of Saskatoon.

This year, it broke our hearts to not be able to do those seniors performances as they are some of the most memorable and touching moments of the year – the joy of music is never more obvious than in those concerts!

But there are silver linings this year too. The launch of our Digital Concert Stream means that we are able to share the concerts in digital format with seniors’ residences – it also means that we’re not limited to sharing this music with people here in Saskatoon, but now our concert films can be shared with any seniors’ facility.

We know that the staff at seniors’ residences are overwhelmed right now, but we’d love to hear from folks at those facilities, whether that’s staff, residents, even family and we’ll make the process simple and easy to share this Christmas music with everyone.

We need to find out who we can be in touch with – if you know the person at your facility who we can send the video to, please let us know and we will take it from there!

Click here to fill out the form

You can also give us a call to sign up 306-665-6414

 

Watch party ideas for a Night at the North Pole!

We all need a little Christmas this year – so for our live stream concert of A Night at the North Pole, we have a few ideas to get you in the holiday spirit!

Let’s start with something to drink – hot cocoa is pretty much the must here. It looks like the weather outside during the live stream won’t be frightful, but that does not mean you shouldn’t enjoy a cup of hot chocolate.

This recipe is made with a combination of cocoa powder and chocolate chips. The cocoa powder adds the distinct “hot cocoa” flavor, and the chocolate chips melt into the mixture making this drink extra creamy, rich and luxurious. A splash of vanilla extract rounds out all that chocolaty flavor and makes this what we consider the perfect Homemade Hot Chocolate.

  • Place the milk of your choice in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Using milk instead of water, makes this hot chocolate extra creamy and flavorful. We prefer whole milk or 2% milk, but you can choose any milk that you choose (You could even use unsweetened almond milk).
  • Whisk in cocoa powder and sugar, and heat until warm.
  • Once the milk is warm, add chocolate chips, whisking until they melt into the milk.
  • Add a splash of vanilla extract.
  • Serve immediately, topped with your favorite garnishes: marshmallows, whipped cream, chopped chocolate, crushed candy canes or more.

Now, the reindeer notably enjoy their cocoa with some Bailey’s, or Kalhua, or Peppermint Schnapps….merely spirited suggestions…

For a special treat, we turned to the SSO’s Principal Bassoon for inspiration!

As Stephanie notes, this recipe gives you a delightful light (and pretty easy!) shortbread cookie to enjoy.

Ingredients you’ll need:

  • 1 cup of butter
  • 1/4 cup of corn startch
  • 1/2 cup of icing sugar
  • 1&1/2 cups of flour

 

Place all your ingredients into a bowl, and beat for 10 minutes with an electric mixer.

Once the dough is consistent, drop by spoonful onto a cookie sheet.
(this is where you can add an extra topping if you want!)

Bake for 10 minutes at 320°F (160°C)

 

A Nutcracker’s Story

Listening to Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite during the Holidays is cherished by many as a beloved tradition, one that gets them into the festive spirit of the season in no time flat. Surprisingly, the original ballet that Tchaikovsky composed the suite for (a ballet based on an adaptation of E. T. A. Hoffmann’s story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King” by Alexandre Dumas) received a lukewarm reception from audiences and critics alike. Although this original production was far from successful, its enduring charm and appeal would grow over time thanks to the 20-minute suite that Tchaikovsky compiled from its many colorful scenes. 

Since the late 1960’s, the popularity of the complete Nutcracker ballet has blossomed so enormously that it has become a cultural staple of the ballet world. Every young ballet dancer dreams of joining a professional production of this timeless classic. Performed by countless ballet companies, primarily during the Christmas season and especially in North America, it is estimated that performances of the Nutcracker alone generate American ballet companies 40% of their annual revenue. The Mouse King himself would be hard pressed to turn down that much cheese! So let us twirl and leap our way back through time, to the snowflake-laden land of Russia at the turn of the 19th century, and witness how this masterpiece came to be… 

Hot on the heels of Tchaikovsky’s successful 1890 ballet suite “The Sleeping Beauty, Ivan Vsevolozhsky (then the director of the Imperial Theatres) commissioned the Russian composer to create a double-bill program that incorporated both an opera and a ballet. For the first part of the bill Tchaikovsky offered up his opera “Iolanta”. To satisfy the ballet portion, Tchaikovsky decided that another collaboration with Marius Petipa (“The Sleeping Beauty”’s choreographer) was in order. The libretto for the ballet was chosen by Petipa, entitled “The Story of a Nutcracker”. The plot needed to be excessively trimmed to fit a two-act ballet, and elements of Hoffmann’s original source material could not be fully utilized. There is a lengthy flashback sequence in Hoffmann’s tale (titled “The Tale of the Hard Nut”) that describes how the Prince became the Nutcracker. So detailed is this sequence that it could have been the subject of its own ballet and, unfortunately, could not be included in Petipa and Tchaikovsky’s reimagining.

Petipa’s vision for the ballet was absolute, and as such gave very detailed compositional guidelines to Tchaikovsky in designing each scene of the story for the stage. His suggestions were warmly received by Tchaikovsky, who crafted each number’s tempo and number of bars precisely as he was bidden. Still, this fruitful partnership was not one which leaned in dictatorial favor of the choreographer. When Tchaikovsky needed a break from composing to conduct concerts for the opening of Carnegie Hall, Petipa gave him his blessing and encouraged Tchaikovsky to enjoy his 25 days in the United States. Tchaikovsky returned with a renewed interest in the project and composed many parts of The Nutcracker Suite in Rouen, France.

Although Petipa fell ill in August of 1892 and was unable to continue work on the project, his assistant of seven years (Lev Ivanov) ensured that his artistic vision would reach that stage accompanied by Tchaikovsky’s charming orchestrations. So it was that, after several stressful months of pulling the project together for debut, The Nutcracker Ballet was performed at the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre in Saint Petersburg on December 18th of 1892. Italian composer Riccardo Drigo served as the maestro. The story’s child characters were brought to life by real children, who were students at the Imperial Ballet School in Saint Petersburg at the time. 

Petipa’s libretto was criticized as “lopsided”, with critics focusing on his shying away from being faithful to the source material of Hoffmann’s tale as well as his decision to feature children so prominently in the ballet. Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker suite was the saving grace, its idiomatic writing praised as being “astonishingly rich in detailed inspiration” and “from beginning to end, beautiful, melodious, original, and characteristic”.  Though Tachaikovsky felt at the time that he had fallen short of the success he achieved with The Sleeping Beauty, the Nutcracker Suite would live on to become his most endearing contribution to the world of music. 

Fast-forward nearly thirty years, and the choreographer Alexander Gorsky decides to resurrect the Nutcracker (with some important changes). He stages a 1919 production which gives the Sugar Plum Fairy’s dance with her Cavalier to Clara and her Nutcracker Prince. Gorsky also makes it plain that these two lead characters are to be played by adults instead of children. In 1934, choreographer Vasili Vainonen staged his own version of the Nutcracker ballet, focusing his efforts on improving the work by making changes based on the critical reception to the 1892 debut. Taking Gorsky’s lead, Vainonen casts adult dancers in the roles of Clara and the Prince. Vainonen’s version would greatly influence all productions of the Nutcracker ballet which came after it.

The first complete performance of the Nutcracker ballet outside of Russia took place in 1934 in London, England. Staged by Nicholas Sergeyev with a focus on Petipa’s original choreography, this performance of the ballet was an international success. In 1940 another abridged version of the ballet (performed by the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo) was staged by Alexandra Fedorova using Petipa’s choreography as inspiration. And so the Nutcracker ballet arrived in the United States, where (on the evening of 24 December 1944) thousands of Americans were blown away by the San Francisco Ballet’s take on the Russian tale. Despite the enormous success of this production, it was The New York City Ballet’s 1954 performance of George Balanchine’s reworked Nutcracker (and, more specifically, Maria Tallchief in the role of the Sugar Plum Fairy) which helped elevate the work from semi-obscurity into an annual Christmas classic for the continental West. 

The Nutcracker Suite remains one of Tchaikovsky’s most popular compositions to this day. Containing some of his most memorable melodies, the music itself belongs to the Late Romantic period and is practically unavoidable on cable television during the holidays. The “Trepak”, or “Russian dance”, is arguably the most exhilarating and energetic pieces in the ballet, to which the idyllic “Waltz of the Flowers” provides a lush contrast. The “March” is known by Will Ferrell fans everywhere, as it is to this tune that he (as Buddy the Elf) decorates Gimbles’ Toy Store. The “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy” exemplifies all the magic and mystery felt by children (and adults alike) who eagerly await Santa on the evening of December 24th. Tchaikovsky’s admiration of the music of Mozart and Haydn is peppered throughout passages of the Overture, the “Entrée des parents”, and “Grossvater Tanz” in Act 1. Tchaikovsky’s original score uses the celesta to create the sparkling effect heard in the “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”. When he discovered the celesta in Paris, Tchaikovsky fell in love with its “heavenly sweet sound”. He also makes use of toy instruments during the Christmas party scene.

Whether you are a fan of ballet or not, some element of Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite has featured into your holiday celebrations in one way or another. We hope you enjoy the SSO’s take on this timeless classic, and that the spirit of the season can bring you just as much magic as Tchaikovsky brought to that bearded and slack-jawed toy soldier so many years ago.