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GBS Program Notes : April 1, 2017

Jubilee Overture - Malcolm Forsyth (1936-2011)

Malcolm Forsyth was a Canadian composer, conductor, trombonist and music educator. Born in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, he studied trombone, conducting, and composition at the University of Cape Town, receiving a Bachelor of Music in 1963. He played trombone with the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra, completing his Master of Music in 1966 and Doctorate of Music in 1969. He emigrated to Canada in 1968 after landing a job with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, playing tenor and bass trombone. As well, he was appointed Professor of Music at the University of Alberta, a position he held for 34 years. He also became Composer-In-Residence in 1996 and remained so until the time of his retirement in 2002.

A member of the Goliard Brass Quintet and the University of Alberta Brass Quintet, he formed and led the Malcolm Forsyth Trombone Ensemble, and was conductor and director of the West Wind Chamber Ensemble. In addition to studio work for radio and TV, he was the program host and director of CBC TV's 'Twentieth Century Music', broadcast commentator on CKUA radio, and program annotator for the Edmonton Symphony. Forsyth was conductor of several University of Alberta ensembles and was guest conductor of the Alberta Ballet Company in 1980, and frequently guest conducted other orchestras throughout Canada and South Africa.

Forsyth composed in a 20th-century idiom, but it was also of paramount importance to him to create music that sounded good to contemporary listeners. In a 1987 interview for CBC radio, Forsyth spoke of a split in his own output between his academic or 'research' music and his more accessible works, which were written more intuitively. Forsyth's distinctive use of rhythm and use of the orchestral palette were hallmarks of a richly expressive style. His compositions ranged from works for large orchestra to chamber and choral pieces and songs. Certain works, notably Sketches from Natal, his First Symphony, and Music for Mouths, Marimba, Mbira and Roto-Toms, show strongly the influence of the music of the indigenous people of southern Africa, in particular the Zulu.

After settling in Canada it was natural for Forsyth to also investigate the music and culture of its indigenous people. Consequently many of his later works embody the spirit of native North American music, most notably Atayoskewin (which won for Forsyth the 1987 JUNO award for best classical composition), Canzona and one of his last major works, the violin concerto Trickster Coyote – Lightening Elk. The Jubilee Overture however dates from his early career in South Africa while still playing in the Cape Town Symphony. Written in 1964 when he was only 28, it had been commissioned by the orchestra to mark the occasion of their 50th anniversary.

Violin Concerto (Faces of Woman) - Elizabeth Raum (1945- )

One of Canada’s leading composers, Elizabeth Raum’s works have been widely performed and broadcast both nationally and internationally. She is a highly prolific composer, having produced extensive chamber music, choral and vocal works, music for orchestra and band, as well as opera and ballet. She has also written a great deal of music for film and video, winning numerous awards in the process. In addition, Raum spent much of her musical career working as a professional oboist, and for many years was principal oboe for the Regina Symphony.

Born in New England, her musical training included a performance degree in oboe at the famed Eastman School of Music. She played principal oboe with the Atlantic Symphony Orchestra in Halifax for seven years before settling in Regina, playing in the Regina Symphony and beginning to flourish as a composer. Highly celebrated for her work as a musician and composer, to mention but a few of her many accolades, Raum has been presented with the Commemorative Medal for the Centennial of Saskatchewan, the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada medal and in 2010 received the Saskatchewan Order of Merit. In 2004 she was given an honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from Mt. Vincent University.

Her Violin Concerto (Faces of Woman) was written in 1992 for her own daughter, Erika, who then only twenty was already an outstanding concert violinist. A commission by the Regina Symphony, the piece was recorded and broadcast nationally by the CBC and Erika’s sister, Jessica, who produced a documentary of the composing and performance of the work entitled “Like Mother, Like Daughter.” Cast in a very substantial four movements, it is a tour de force of violin writing, employing a postmodern synthesis of styles informed by the great tradition of the violin concerto idiom. There are wonderful flavours of Brahms and Prokofiev that intermingle with more contemporary elements in a very personalized, songful style.

Youth, the first movement is quite conservative, reflecting simplicity and innocence. It leads directly to the lively Waltz with Trio (Romance) which features in the trio music that her daughter, Erika, had written as an unaccompanied violin piece for her sister, Jessica’s wedding. Raum set her daughter’s theme to an orchestral accompaniment and elaborated on the violin part for the concerto. The third movement, Mystery, creates a mood at once whimsical, sad and, of course, mysterious. This leads to the intense, final movement, The Sibyl, a representation of the realities of life. Full of passion and frustration, and virtuosic passages for the soloist, it concludes the work with a brilliant display of strength and bravura.

Fall Fair - Godfrey Ridout (1918-1984)

Godfrey Ridout was a prominent Canadian composer, conductor, music educator and writer. Born and bred in Toronto, Ridout inherited the Victorian/Edwardian English musical tradition of Elgar, Holst and Vaughan-Williams, studying at the Royal Conservatory with Ettore Mazzoleni and Healey Willan amongst others.

Ridout lived and worked in his native city for his entire career, teaching at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Music for almost 35 years. He also enjoyed popular music, and composed a great deal of music for CBC Radio and film scores for the National Film Board early in his career. He also famously wrote programme notes for the Toronto Symphony orchestra from 1973 until the end of his life. Renowned as an ‘eccentric traditionalist’ he was often described as old-fashioned in his musical tastes.

Ridout achieved his first musical success in 1938 with Ballade for Viola and String Orchestra written when he was only twenty. One of his best known works, Fall Fair was commissioned by the CBC for a special performance at the United Nations General Assembly in New York City. Its illustrious premiere was given by Sir Ernest MacMillan, and the CBC Symphony Orchestra, on United Nations Day, Oct. 21st, 1961. The exciting and tuneful Fall Fair has become one of the most frequently performed Canadian orchestral works. It portrays the hustle and bustle of an autumn carnival, typical of the events that Ridout remembered attending frequently in Lakefield, Ontario, during the 1920s.

The composer himself describes Fall Fair thusly, “… (It) opens with a noisy flourish followed by a rather vulgar tune in D major… After some elaboration and the introduction of new country-fiddle figures, the first tune appears again…in long notes, as a horn solo. After further expansion there is a broad middle section featuring a ‘big tune’ for English horn with harp and pizzicato strings. Returning to the first tempo, the ‘bucolicism’ is rampant. A lop-sided waltz, a hymny passage, a brief return to the first tune, and finally a Coda on the ‘big tune’ wind it up.”

Nipissing - Big Water - Richard Mascall (1972- )

Nipissing (authentically pronounced ‘NIP-sing’) - Big Water was commissioned by the North Bay Symphony, for performance during the 400th anniversary year of the arrival of Samuel de Champlain at Lake Nipissing in 1615. The commission came with the very specific condition; that I compose an ‘anthemic tune’ that would be used to create an inaugural ‘school song’ for Nipissing University, and in some manner incorporate it into the larger symphonic work. In addition to the orchestral work I was to provide a ‘stand-alone’ song for which lyrics would be written so that it could be sung at university functions by students/chanted at school hockey games etc.

The orchestral work evolved into a five-part symphonic poem that programmatically portrays an ancient coming-of-age ritual for a young Nipissing man. The piece begins in the forest on the ancient Manitou Island in the middle of Lake Nipissing. (Prior to the damming of the French River in 1903 which intentionally raised the lake level to make it more navigable, the small archipelago of the Manitou Islands had been a single island and the typical site of the nomadic native settlements for millennia.)

The orchestra evokes a woodland soundscape accompanying the solo voice

of the violin, and thereafter the other solo strings. The timeless grand order of nature gives way to the introduction of measured time, symbolizing the beginning of the ritual. We hear melodic utterance from the horns that sets everything in motion and builds towards the ceremonial second section – a call and response texture between the elders and the people. The first bassoon plays the role of the principal elder, with the other double reeds representing the other elders. Amidst clangs of ceremonial percussion, the bassoon declaims its liturgy first to the response of the elders, then the entire congregation. This leads directly to the Celebration Song and the sounding of the Grandfather drum, the heartbeat of Mother Earth. The anthemic tune is first announced by the principal elder, accompanied by the other elders, and then presented in a series of verses throughout the rest of the orchestra. The native ‘honour beat’ pattern signals the transition into the fourth section, Out on the Water, where the initiate and a group of young warriors enter the final phase of the ritual and launch out onto the lake in their canoes. The music attains a mercurial quality here as they glide across the water, birds soaring above, fish teeming below. Revelations come to the initiate out on the face of the open water, which lead to the final grandiose C major conclusion, Awakening.

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