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Saulnier Plays Nielsen

Award-winner Morgan Saulnier to play Danish composer's flute concerto

by Anne Bergstrom

When Carl Nielsen was a young boy, he discovered that different lengths and thicknesses of firewood made different sounds when struck together. Out at the woodpile he began banging out tunes. From this humble beginning came Denmark's best-known composer.

Carl went on to study piano and brass instruments, playing cornet in a town band. At the Copenhagen Conservatory he studied music theory and violin. He found the composition training limiting and dull, so he composed on his own. Throughout his career, he was a composer, violinist, conductor, and conservatory teacher. He wrote many types of music: among his best are six symphonies, three concertos, and a wind quintet.

Nielsen's Flute Concerto, written in 1926, is a radiant, mercurial work. Nielsen knew he had a terminal illness, but the music is full of life. There are quick changes in tempo, dynamics, key, and mood. The interplay between solo flute and other instruments, especially clarinet, bassoon, trombone, and timpani, contributes to the excitement.

The work is in two movements. The first begins with a dissonant chord from the orchestra, which sends the flute into a free, twirling passage filled with trills and bumps. The solo flute carries on conversations with solo clarinet and bassoon, and the movement later features a second, more melodic theme. There are several virtuosic cadenzas for the soloist. The second movement again begins with aggressive sounds from the orchestra, but the solo flute calms them down. There are abrupt transitions of mood, with a slow lament by the flute, accompanied by muted strings. This is overtaken by a circus-like march with outbursts from sliding trombones and loud timpani with strings.

Flutist Morgan Saulnier, winner of the Suzanne Brenton Award, will be the soloist in the Nielsen Concerto with the PEI Symphony on November 26 at 2:30 pm. The concert will open with Rossini's overture to L'Italiana in Algieri, and will also include Glick's Suite Hébraique and Mozart's Symphony No. 41, Jupiter.

Saulnier, a native of Stellarton, NS, is a 2006 graduate of UPEI, where she received her BMus with 1st class standing. Morgan has received many awards at music festivals in both NS and PEI, and has advanced to the National Music Festival three times, this year placing third in the woodwind category. She is a three-time recipient of the Royal Conservatory Silver Medal for highest mark in Atlantic Canada—twice for flute and once for piano.

Morgan is currently pursuing her Master's degree in flute performance at Memorial University, where she is a student of Dr. Christine Gangelhoff. Memorial has a very large music department, though there are only six graduate music students. She plans to have a playing and teaching career, thrives on performing, and is inspired by every audience she performs for. Morgan is very much looking forward to hearing all the orchestral instruments bringing out the moods and character of the exciting Nielsen concerto.


Seeking Stability

PEI cultural groups in the Island Arts and Heritage Stabilization Program

by Anne Bergstrom

The Island Arts and Heritage Stabilization Program (IAHSP) is partway through its mandate to strengthen arts and heritage organizations on PEI. It is an initiative of the Community Foundation of PEI. The majority of its funding is from the private sector, led by the Samuel and Saidye Bronfman Family Foundation, with additional support from the Province of PEI and the Department of Canadian Heritage. Its mission is: “To enable increased financial viability, self-reliance and capacity for PEI-based arts and heritage organizations in a manner that allows the artistic missions and managerial practices of those organizations to be brought to a new level over the long term.” The program is designed to cover a 3-year period, 2003-2006.

Many of PEI’s cultural organizations, large and small, have in recent years faced decreases in government funding, along with increased competition for private-sector sponsorship. A number of the smaller groups function with a volunteer board and no paid staff, or minimal staff. Groups often operate on the basis of day-to-day survival, rather than planning for the future. The Stabilization Program has been designed to help arts and heritage groups to “more effectively respond to opportunities in the changing marketplace, thereby increasing revenues and building a wider base of community support upon which to build a sustainable future.”

Groups who met certain criteria were encouraged to apply in 2003, and ten organizations were selected. Executive Director Katy Baker is very pleased that PEI has more groups involved in this program than some much larger areas. Participating organizations are: Victoria Playhouse, the PEI Symphony, College of Piping, Harbourfront Jubilee Theatre, Indian River Festival, PEI Music Awards, Carrefour de l’Isle St-Jean, PEI Crafts Council, The Guild, and the Friends of Farmers’ Bank. All their needs are, of course, varied, but some are shared. Fundraising is probably the largest. Building the audience (“getting bums in seats”) is another, along with attracting and keeping volunteers. For groups which own the property they use, maintenance and renovations are also important. Long-term planning was a seldom-addressed concept for a number of them. The IAHSP has given them the tools and the ability to take a much broader view.

The specific areas addressed were the same for every organization: governance, financial management, organizational effectiveness, short- and long-term planning, and marketing. The goal is to help each organization to find out what issues they need to look at and make recommendations for how to go about that, with funds provided to accomplish for a number of the initiatives. Executive director Katy Baker says it’s a “what you put into it is what you’ll get out of it” arrangement. Board and staff members have to get involved and keep up with the tasks that are requested by the Stabilization Fund in order to receive the money.

According to Baker, the total funding being allocated over the three year period is approximately $800,000. This averages out to about $80,000 for each organization. The money has to be used for specific, outlined initiatives, applied for and approved in advance, to help the organization achieve that “new level” mentioned in the mandate. It cannot be used for ongoing operational expenses, nor for reducing the deficit.

For example, the IAHSP has provided 2-year funding for the PEI Symphony to hire a part-time administrator, develop a comprehensive board governance policy, and develop a new marketing plan, among other initiatives. In return for these and other types of assistance, the Symphony board was asked to do a list of nine other unfunded projects. According to René Hurtubise of the Indian River Festival, the Stabilization Plan has helped them to look at the long term, instead of just short-term survival. The Festival has been able to invest in structure, policies, marketing, and equipment, allowing them to do a better job of presenting a top-quality summer music festival.

Thanks to the IAH Stabilization Fund, ten arts and heritage groups on the Island have benefited from a learning process and a boost of financial assistance that should help them all run much more smoothly, at a “new, higher level.”

A Russian Theme

Pianist Peter Allen is guest soloist in PEISO opening concert

by Anne Bergstrom

The opening concert of the PEI Symphony Orchestra season features a Russian theme. Pianist Peter Allen, who last appeared with the Symphony in the spring of 2000, loves the Russian repertoire, and has decided to play Rachmaninov’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini. He finds the work inventive, imaginative, and filled with a variety of sound and mood.

The theme is drawn from Paganini’s famous A minor Caprice, with a simple 16-bar theme which has been borrowed for variations by Liszt, Brahms, and others. Rachmaninov’s work is not performed as frequently as his Second and Third Concertos; it is the composer’s last work for piano and orchestra.

Before completing it in 1934, he had become discouraged by the failure of several other compositions. During this period, he made his living as a soloist, and is considered one of the word’s greatest pianists of his time. His audiences yearned for satisfying romantic melodies. Finally, with this set of variations, they got it in Variation 18, and the piece was an immediate success. It was premiered with the composer as soloist. The structure of the work is brilliant and, according to Allen, it is the greatest set of variations ever written for piano and orchestra.

The Rhapsody is made up of an introduction, theme, and 24 variations, which are played without pause. It falls loosely into three sections; the middle part has a slower tempo, which builds to the 18th Variation, Rachmaninov’s last great melody and the climax of the piece.

According to R.G. Bratby, “…towards the end of his career (Rachmaninov) would inevitably drink a glass of crème de menthe before a performance of the Rhapsody in order to help him through the swifter passages.”

Peter Allen is a Halifax-based pianist, composer, teacher, and conductor. As a performer, he enjoys playing concertos, solo recital repertoire, and chamber music. He likes them all for different reasons, since each has its own challenges and rewards. As a composer, there are other challenges—there is no guarantee that you will like your finished product. However, he has composed works for piano, orchestra, chamber groups, and string quartet; many works have been performed, and some recorded. He said, “I love the orchestral sound and the music.” When asked if he regretted not playing an orchestral instrument, he said no, “because piano can do it all!”

He conducts when he gets the opportunity, “for fun,” but then said, “It’s all fun!” He is now in his second year as assistant professor of piano at Dalhousie University.

Also on the program are Glinka’s lively Overture to Russlan and Ludmilla, and Kalinnikov’s Symphony No. 2 in A major.

Classical Masterworks

Pianist William Aide performs Mozart’s last piano concerto

by Anne Bergstrom

William Aide

Do you know where the Porcupine is? I don’t mean the critter with the sharp quills. It’s a geographical place in Canada. Half-way between Toronto and James Bay, where gold mines used to thrive, it is the big town of Timmins and the smaller towns around it. Pianist William Aide once thought of billing himself as “The greatest pianist ever produced by the Porcupine,” but decided people wouldn’t know what he was talking about. However, he did call his autobiography Starting from Porcupine, a title making one want to know more.

William Aide will be here as soloist with the PEI Symphony for its Classical Masterworks program, conducted by James Mark, on Sunday, March 26 at 2:30 pm. Aide’s interesting career started in Toronto as a student of the great Chilean teacher, Alberto Guerrero, who also taught Glenn Gould (though Gould later perversely denied it). From there Aide went to New York’s Juilliard School, where he studied with Beveridge Webster. He has traveled widely as a soloist, recitalist and accompanist, and taught at a number of Canadian universities, among them Mount Allison, Acadia, Manitoba (where his most celebrated piano student was the playwright Thomson Highway), Western Ontario, and the University of Toronto, where he is Professor Emeritus. He has premiered many Canadian works, and made a number of recordings, including all the Suzuki piano repertoire.

Aide’s recital debut with the Toronto Symphony in Massey Hall was almost a disaster: “I sit down at the keyboard and signal (the conductor) to start the opening tutti. When I look down at the keyboard, I see that it is covered lightly with soot. To this day I cannot account for this nightmarish hazard, except to imagine that the large suspended cone lights of Massey Hall had somehow been shifted and dirt had fallen. I spend the opening tutti (thank God for classical form) cleaning the keyboard, with a handkerchief I have mercifully remembered.”

With the PEISO, Aide will perform Mozart’s last piano concerto, K 595 in B flat major (no. 27). It has been called one of the miracles of the repertoire. Critic Raymond Tuttle has written of the “great Mozartean paradox: how can music that seems so carefree move us so deeply?” When Carnegie Hall in New York scheduled a special concert for Mozart’s recent 250th birthday celebration on January 27th, this concerto was on the program. Alfred Brendel was the soloist, with Sir Simon Rattle conducting the Berlin Philharmonic.

The other works on the program will be Beethoven’s Coriolanus Overture Op. 62, Serenade Op. 20 of Edward Elgar, and Haydn’s Symphony No. 103, nicknamed the “Drumroll”.

Fiesta Espagñola

Orchestra presents works of composers inspired by Spain

by Anne Bergstrom

Claude Debussy

Music to bring colour to our winter will be presented by the PEI Symphony at its next concert, Fiesta Espagñola, February 12th at 2:30 pm at the Confederation Centre. It will include music by Spanish composers, along with music by French and Broadway composers inspired by Spain.

PEI Symphony conductor James Mark is looking forward to it. He likes concerts with a theme other than all one composer, “because they shut people out who may not like (for example) Beethoven; it’s hard to believe, but some don’t!” Mark adds, “Some of the programme is quite challenging, especially the Debussy Iberia and the Chabrier España, so it will take some focused work, but it should be an enjoyable and varied concert.”

Manuel de Falla’s one-act ballet El Amor Brujo (Love, the Magician) was first performed in 1915. The story tells of a gypsy girl, Candelas, who is in love with Carmelo, but is tormented by the ghost of a man she had loved. The four movements of the ballet suite include Dance of Terror and the well-known Ritual Fire Dance.

De Falla observed of Claude Debussy that he “created spontaneously such Spanish music as might be envied him—who did not really know Spain—by many others who knew her only too well.” Debussy visited Spain only once, but it was enough to write Iberia (the second of his Images for orchestra). It is in three sections: In the Streets and Byways, The Fragrance of the Night, and The Morning of a Festival Day.

Enrique Granados, the other Spanish composer on the program, was known in his lifetime as an excellent pianist, unknown and ignored as a composer. Most of his works were published posthumously. The Tres Danzas Españolas are: Oriental, Andaluza, and Rondalla. He wrote many Spanish dances for the piano, and these three were orchestrated by Juan Lamote de Grignon. Granados and his wife died at sea in 1916 when the liner Sussex was torpedoed by a German U-boat.

España, Rhapsody for Orchestra, was completed by Emmanuel Chabrier in 1883. He had worked as a clerk for years before finally devoting himself to music, and this work brought him the recognition and popularity he had been seeking. Unlike Debussy’s Iberia, this work is not well-regarded in Spain. As French composer Francis Poulenc observed, “España for Spaniards is nothing but a poor relation of their zarazuelas…a portrait of Spanish music by a brilliant apprentice.” For outsiders it is an impressionistic, colourful portrait of Spain in the 19th century.

Cervantes’ literary character Don Quixote inspired a hugely popular Broadway musical. The suite from Man of La Mancha, with music by Mitch Leigh, arranged by Lang, will include such familiar tunes as Man of La Mancha, Dulcinea, and The Impossible Dream.

Singing and Playing

Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra and Chorus presents concert

by Anne Bergstrom

Pianist Jacqueline Sorensen

The Strathgartney Chamber Orchestra & Choir, under the baton of Gerry Rutten, will be presenting a concert at Tryon United Church on November 19 at 7:30 pm. They will feature a varied program, with soloists Jacqueline Sorensen, piano, Sylvia Mutch, voice, and others.

Sorensen is “very excited about playing” with the orchestra. She most often performs in a supportive role as a collaborative pianist, or in chamber music working in an ensemble with others. She told me that “it is a rare privilege to perform as a solo pianist supported by an orchestra: an honour because it requires an invitation.” She is also especially pleased to be working with Gerry Rutten, who was her first band teacher at Englewood, and also her piano teacher for several years. She says, “His influence as a teacher helped to nurture and inspire me to pursue a life-long career in music.”

Sorensen will perform Franz Josef Haydn’s Concerto No. 11 in D Major, the only one of his keyboard concertos to be regularly performed. Its first movement is described as bright and energetic, the second expressive and ornate, while the third is based on a Croatian folk dance called Siri-Kolo. This demonstrates the Turkish influence which was in vogue with composers at the time. The playful cadenzas are by Haydn.

As a frequent accompanist, Sorensen is accustomed to the role of holding the performance together for the soloist. “For example, if the soloist skips a beat, then it is the accompanist’s job to make a smooth transition so the audience doesn’t notice. Historically, the pianist would also be the conductor, but today playing with a live orchestra, there is a separate conductor who keeps it all together…. The biggest challenge is focusing on the security and mastery of my own part, and interpreting /performing with more flair and flamboyance than the supportive roles I normally play.”

Vocalist Sylvia Mutch began studying music at Acadia University as a horn player, and decided to switch to classical voice. Her teacher there was Marie McCarthy, and she was also guided by Paula Rockwell and Susan Dworkin-MacInnis.

Mutch will be singing Sposa son disprezzata by Antonio Vivaldi, and Cuatro Madrigales Amatorios by Joaquin Rodrigo. She says, “The pieces I chose for this concert were pieces that I have a strong love for. The last time I performed the (Rodrigo songs), I was eight months pregnant and singing at the National Music Festival in Charlottetown. It is a very beautiful set and I can’t wait to bring it out again! The Vivaldi piece is one that I worked on for many months, but have never performed. I am equally excited to sing this one.”

The other Haydn works on the program will be one movement of the Symphony No. 87, and one movement of his Divertimento in G Major, with soloists Nancy Clement, Samantha Murphy, and Peter Mutch. Nancy Clement will play three movements of Vivaldi’s Concerto for Flute in F Major, as well as Carolan’s Farewell and Carolan’s Concerto. The Adagio in Sol mineur by Albinoni Giazotto will feature soloists Samantha Murphy, violin, and Rob Drew, guitar.


PEI Symphony Concert

Season opener features concerto by composer Jim O’Leary

by Anne Bergstrom

Jim O'Leary

Composer Jim O’Leary studied percussion at UPEI, and became interested in orchestral music when playing in the PEI Symphony Orchestra. He had written his first piece while still in high school in Newfoundland. He liked the trombone and wrote something for Dale Sorensen to try. Dale introduced him to a trombone concerto by Jan Sandstrom known as the Motorbike Concerto. Jim went to Sweden to visit a friend, and discovered that Jan Sandstrom taught composition at the School of Music in Pitea, Sweden, where Jim had already applied to study for a year.

Jim got his Master’s degree in composition there with Sandstrom, and has stayed in Sweden for the last five years, teaching music in two schools, playing drums in a blues band, and composing. He has received Stockholm County’s Culture Prize, and in 2001 he placed second in the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra’s composer competition. His works have also been performed by Sweden’s Umea Symphony, Toronto’s New Music Concerts, the Motion Ensemble (New Brunswick), and the Vancouver Symphony. Jim’s compositions are for orchestra, chamber music, vocal & choral, electro-acoustic, theatre and film.

His newest piece is a trombone concerto commissioned by the PEI Symphony and written for Dale Sorensen, which will receive its première at the opening concert of the Symphony season on October 23 at 2:30 pm.

The Buzz recently spoke with Jim from Stockholm. We asked him how he finds time for composing with his other activities demanding his time. He said he is taking this year off from teaching, and going to England for a Master of Philosophy program in composition at Cambridge University.

When asked if he writes mostly on commission, the answer was a definite yes. He wants to hear his works performed and doesn’t write “for the sake of writing” or “for free.” He says one needs to have contacts, and that in Canada there isn’t much funding for new music. Jim speaks fluent Swedish and has dual citizenship, but looks forward to returning to live in Atlantic Canada in the not-too-distant future.

Dale Sorensen is a member of the trombone section of the PEISO, and has played solo with them once before. As winner of the Suzanne Brenton Award, he performed the Lars Erik Larsen Concertino in 1989. He has also performed premières of 2 solo works with the Windsor (ON) Symphony. Dale commutes to Halifax where he plays with Symphony Nova Scotia and teaches at Dalhousie, as well as teaching trombone here at UPEI.

He told us that Jim O’Leary’s concerto explores a wide variety of effects for the trombone, including three different mutes. Some of the other techniques are glissando (sliding, which works well on a trombone), extreme low notes, and different types of tonguing. There will also be multiphonics, the sounding of more than one pitch at a time, created when the player sings and plays at the same time.

Sorensen and O’Leary will be visiting some Island high schools the week before the concert to talk about the work and do a demonstration. Jim O’Leary will give a public lecture about composing, with demonstrations of the new concerto from Sorensen.


Clear Highland Air

Chris Norman Ensemble

Review by Anne Bergstrom

Chris Norman Ensemble

Chris Norman brought his ensemble to the Indian River Festival on a rare cool night inside St Mary’s Church, but they soon turned up the heat with their lively playing. The concert was called The Caledonian Flute, as its theme was music of Scotland. Norman is one of the best Celtic flute players anywhere, and he demonstrated his skill on four different types of wooden flute and on the small pipes, a miniature relative of the bagpipe. He is a virtuoso on each instrument, sweeping the listener along with his expressive playing, whether soulful slow airs or finger-busting dance tunes. It was the group’s premiere performance on the Island, but hopefully not the last. He has an almost magical ability to communicate through these lovely, mellow instruments.

Norman told the audience that in Scotland in the early and mid-eighteenth century, the flute was wildly popular, maybe even more than the fiddle. Listening to his group, this was not hard to believe. The concert opened with a medley, beginning with a “classic” tune called “The Thistle” by James Oswald, written about 1740. This was played on baroque flute, viola da gamba, mandola and harmonium, and was followed by various dances found in the Northern Highlands.

Some of the tunes were reels adapted from accordion music of Québec written in the 1920s. Norman pointed out that the small pipes were also in the French mode with a Moorish influence. He said the pipes are not easy listening—more like “difficult listening.” One piece was a drinking song, “On Sussex Down,” introduced by bass player James Blachly, also an excellent singer, who got the audience joining in on the refrain.

The bonus for the player of small pipes is that one can sing along—the pipes are powered by air from a bellows and a small bag under the arms, and the notes fingered on the pipe, leaving the mouth and breath free to sing. This made the song quite rousing when all four of the group joined in.

The other fine musicians were Andy Thurston, guitar and mandola, and Nick Halley, who moved form harmonium to piano to various percussion instruments. The most interesting of these were a caxixi, a basket shaker from Brazil, and two types of ankle bells which provided a counterpoint to drum rhythms. Since they weren’t visible, one began to wonder where the jingling sounds were coming from. Halley was adept at multiple rhythms.

A poignant song, “When First I went to Caledonia,” was about emigrating to Cape Breton (Caledonia). Norman played a cherry wood flute in A, with an alto sound, and he and Blachly also sang. Norman is a native Nova Scotian, but I don’t think he’s related to the fellow mentioned here:

When first I went to Caledonia,
I got on loading at Number Three,
I went to boarding with Donald Norman,
He had a daughter that made good tea.

The evening wound up with an encore, a flashy, fluty showpiece adapted from an accordion piece by Québec’s Jo Privat. The Indian River audience isn’t much for clapping along, but was definitely an appreciative crowd for this stellar, original ensemble.

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