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Notes From Prince George: Migrations

Notes From Prince George: Migrations

April 19, 2016
British Columbia

Notes from Prince George: Migrations

This past weekend, I was honoured to join the cello section of the Prince George Symphony Orchestra for a concert titled 'Migrations'. The program featured five works by Canadian composers, all with close associations to the PGSO, and included two world premieres by members of the orchestra. This collaboration alerted me to the richness and vibrancy of creative music-making in BC's northern community and impressed upon me the importance of recognizing significant artistic contributions from outside the Lower Mainland.

During the 2015/16 season, the PGSO is under the artistic leadership of Interim Music Director José Delgado-Guevara, currently on leave from his regular position as Concertmaster of the orchestra. Maestro Delgado-Guevara, along with the PGSO's General Manager Jeremy Stewart, was responsible for curating this innovative and courageous program of new Canadian orchestral music.

In the program notes, Delgado-Guevara writes that "during the last years we have seen the painful reminder of populations forced to make a decision to leave their home countries and look for a safer place to live ... tonight we are honouring the decision, painful or otherwise, that makes us change, move and seek out other alternatives." Each work on the program illustrated this theme in a different way.

The concert opened with John Burge's exciting Rocky Mountain Overture. This work was commissioned by Paul Andreas Mahr for an outdoor concert presented in Fall of 1996. Mahr, who had recently been appointed PGSO Music Director, asked John Burge to compose "a sonically vibrant overture that would effectively reverberate around the valley setting that Prince George occupies. As such, the resultant work makes ample use of brass and percussion while continually building from climax to climax. The grandeur of the setting is captured in some of the more expressive passages, while a few, well-placed silences provide moments for the sound to echo around the performing space." Sadly, Paul Andreas Mahr passed away not long after concluding his tenure at the PGSO.

The next work, Gordon Lucas' A Suite of Earley Musick, was composed in 1997. Lucas, a violinist, conductor and composer and teacher, is a formidable musical force of nature in northern BC. A former concertmaster of the PGSO, Gordon Lucas now directs his own ensemble, Northern Orchestra, in a regular concert series in northern BC. Each of the suite's three movements is based on medieval melodies by composers such as Perotin, Machaut, Dufay, and others. Lucas skillfully preserved the character of the curiously quirky source materials through his lucid, witty and uncluttered orchestration.

Imant Raminsh was born in Ventspils, Latvia, in 1943, and came to Canada in 1948. Following studies in violin and composition in Toronto and Salzburg, Raminsh founded the New Caledonia Chamber Orchestra in 1970. This ensemble would later become the Prince George Symphony Orchestra.

Raminsh's Suite on Five Latvian Folk Songs was written specifically for the New Caledonia Chamber Orchestra at a time when Latvia was still under Soviet control. The music, consisting of five brief movements, is alternately joyous, pensive, yearning, and exquisitely beautiful throughout.

The program was rounded out by two new works by current PGSO members. Anne Scarlett Harris, Principal Second Violin, was born in England and studied music at Trinity College, the University of Birmingham and the University of East Anglia, graduating with a Master's Degree in composition. Anne moved to Canada after graduation, settling in Prince George where she has recently composed works for the faculty of the Prince George Conservatory and for the Casse-Tête Festival of Experimental Music.

Harris writes that her work Six by Three by Twenty-Three "is an expansion of my string trio Six by Three ... the composition was inspired by the idea of the construction of a jigsaw puzzle, in that separate musical motifs interlock together both rhythmically and melodically to create a unified whole." The work is in ABA form. The exuberant outer sections are fast and syncopated, framing a gorgeous chorale middle section.

PGSO Principal Clarinet Simon Cole is a composer who reflects the natural beauty of the Canadian North in his music. Cole's deep love for his home was quite evident in his work Birth of a City, an extended orchestral tone poem depicting various stages in the history of Prince George since its incorporation in 1915. The piece begins quietly and mysteriously, evoking the deep, dark primeval forest with a bass clarinet solo accompanied by the otherworldly sound of a waterphone. Cole takes us on a journey through time and place with music depicting the meeting of two rivers, a forest fire, rural life, and the bustle of a new city. The work closes with a choral hymn constructed out of the motifs from the opening music. Birth of a City is built on a grand, almost epic scale, with the PGSO and Nove Voce Choir sounding much larger than their chamber-sized forces would seem to allow. Cole seems to take inspiration from Gustav Mahler and great 20th century American symphonists like Roy Harris and William Schuman.

As the PGSO's season comes to a close, we look forward to the next event on the northern musical calendar: the Casse-Tête Festival of Experimental Music, taking place June 23-26 in Prince George. The festival features improvisation, free jazz, avant-garde compositions, minimalism, post-rock, noise, and more. Performers come from around Canada and beyond, along with the cutting edge of Prince George’s own scene. Details available at: http://www.cassetetefestival.com

Stefan Hintersteininger, BC Head Librarian
Canadian Music Centre

Related Composers: John Burge, Imant Raminsh