A fresh crop of book prize nominations

Fall is traditionally book prize season and, as with most years, our Department of Writing has a fresh crop of alumni and faculty currently up for prizes.

Alumna Eden Robinson is a Giller Prize finalist for her latest novel, Son of A Trickster (Penguin Random House). This is Robinson’s second Giller nomination, following her debut Monkey Beach back in 2000. Robinson is one of five finalists chosen from a longlist of 12 books — which also included alumna Deborah Willis for her story collection The Dark and Other Love Stories (Hamish Hamilton) — and the winner will be announced on November 20.

Writing professor emeritus and beloved poet Lorna Crozier is a finalist — again — for the Governor General’s Literary Awards, this time for her poetry collection, What the Soul Doesn’t Want (Broadview Press). Crozier won her first Governor-General’s Award back in 1992, and we’ll find out on November 1 if she wins again.

MFA alumna Yasuko Thanh took home the 2017 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize on October 11. She was awarded the $5,000 cash prize for her first novel, Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains (Hamish Hamilton Canada), which was reported in both this Times Colonist article and this CHEK news broadcast, while Thanh spoke about the writing life in this CFAX 1070 Radio interview.

Jurors described Yellow Mountains as “a haunting book that explores the harsh impact of colonialism, the blind, random damage it drags in its wake, and the puny nature of ill-thought out resistance versus the well-oiled wheels of imperialism. Thanh’s book is a sensory treat, a complex collage of images and themes. Original sharp and spiky language brings the reader fully into the narrative moment.”

Also nominated for the 2017 Victoria Book Prize were fellow alumni Patricia Young for her poetry collection Short Takes on the Apocalypse (Biblioasis) and Steven Price for his novel By Gaslight (McClelland & Stewart).

Theatre alumna Carleigh Baker was announced as the winner of the 2017 Vancouver Book Award on October 13 for her short story collection Bad Endings (Anvil Press), which explores a range of human experiences, from the death of a relationship to struggles with mental health. The $3,000 prize recognizes authors of any genre, who evoke an appreciation and understanding of Vancouver’s history and people. Bad Endings is also nominated for the $50,000 Rogers’ Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and Baker was named one of CBC Books’ writers to watch in 2017.

Congratulations also go out to current Writing undergrad Kade Bound, who was recently announced as the winner of the Lambda Foundation’s annual Candis Graham Writing Scholarship.

Finally, Writing professor Tim Lilburn was named the first Canadian recipient of the prestigious European Medal of Poetry & Art on October 10. Commonly referred to as the “Homer Medal,” Lilburn was presented the award by visiting Chinese poet and editor Zhao Si at a small reception on campus.

 

 

 

 

 

Tim Lilburn becomes first Canadian to receive international award

Distinguished poet and respected Department of Writing professor Tim Lilburn has become the first Canadian to receive the European Medal of Poetry and Art.

Tim Lilburn with the Homer Medal and visiting poet Zhao Si

Commonly referred to as the “Homer Medal,” Lilburn was presented with the 2017 prize by visiting Beijing poet and editor Dr. Zhao Si Fang, vice-president of the award committee. Following the tradition of presenting the medal in the country where the writer resides, Zhao Si traveled to Victoria to present the award at a small on-campus reception on October 10.

“The members of the council wish to emphasize the importance of your poetry for contemporary Canadian culture and the world,” noted Zhao Si in her presentation. “You belong to a group that includes some of the greatest poets of our time.”

A prominent Chinese poet, Fang has been translating Lilburn’s work since 2008, including his acclaimed 2012 collection, Assiniboia. She is also the editor of the Chinese magazine Contemporary International Poetry in Translation; their special 2016 Canadian issue included Lilburn’s work, as well as that of retired Writing professors Lorna Crozier and Patrick Lane.

“To be part of a group that includes [former winners] like the Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova, who would complain?” Lilburn told the Times Colonist in this September 29 interview. “It is a great honour.” Lilburn was also interviewed on October 8 on the provincial CBC Radio show North By Northwest about his award.

Created in 2015 in association with the European Union, the Homer Medal is awarded annually by a jury to outstanding creators in the worlds of literature and the visual arts. Previous winners include Turkish poet Ataol Behramoğlu, Armenian poet Gagik Davtyan, Iraqi poet Gulala Nouri and American poet Stanley H. Barkan.

The Homer Medal now joins Lilburn’s other prestigious awards, including the Governor General’s Award for Literature, the Canadian Authors Association Award and the Saskatchewan Book of the Year Award, among others. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2014, Lilburn is the author of 12 books of poetry and essays, and his work has been translated into French, Chinese, Serbian, German, Spanish, and Polish.

“I can think of no more worthy a recipient for this international award,” said Writing chair David Leach at the reception.

Dr. Susan Lewis, Dean of Fine Arts, was quick to praise Lilburn’s work. “The quality and depth of Tim’s poetry create a model of excellence in research and creative activity for faculty, and it’s through his teaching that he provides a strong example for how our artistic practice informs the learning process for our students,” she said before a group that included Writing professor emeritus Lorna Crozier, Governor General’s Award winner Arleen Paré, visiting American poet GC Waldrep, award-winning MFA alumnus and WSÁ,NEC Nation poet Kevin Paul, Writing alumnus and Malahat Review editor John Barton, and a number of Writing department colleagues.

“Tim’s accomplishments and commitment to our students and community exemplify the mission of the Faculty of Fine Arts to provide the finest training and learning environment for artists, professionals and students through the integration of the creation of art in a dynamic learning environment.”

After receiving his award, a clearly moved Lilburn spoke briefly but emotionally about the role of poetry in society.

“We are in a historical moment, where poets can be especially conflicted about what they do. Poetry can seem ineffectual before climate change, the rise of fascism, the need to decolonize and work toward reconciliation with First Nations,” he said. “Some poets could be tempted to set poetry aside in favour of activism, or make their poetry overtly political and turn it into pages of declaration and denunciation . . . . but we should not be so quick to abandon poetry in these extreme, dire times.”

Citing the works of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda — who was himself influenced by Mexican muralist Diego Rivera — Lilburn used the example of Neruda’s poem Let the Woodcutter Awaken, which was written while in exile from Chilean totalitarianism, to describe the impact poetry can have on people’s lives. “He learned from Rivera that if you present large, sweeping depictions of society and history, you can free people and give them a sense of power . . . . he also learned to describe in detail distinct lives, which helps to establish empathy, love, respect and a commonwealth of courtesy, civility and solidarity in his readers.”

Zhao Si presents Tim Lilburn with the Homer Medal

The small room was quiet as Lilburn spoke, his voice embodying poetry’s simple power. “I believe the act of poetry-making itself . . . can have deep, social effect. In my books, poetry is not relegated to the social margins; it is not an adjunct to life and politics. It stands in the very centre of both, quietly and anonymously; in its empathy, imagination, narrative range, and commitment to the assemblage of beautiful, arresting patterns, it creates the political centre.”

In addition to receiving the Homer Medal, Lilburn has two news books coming out shortly: The Larger Conversation: Contemplation and Place, an essay collection being released in November by University of Alberta Press, and The House of Charlemagne, a book-length poem being released in Spring 2018 by the University of Regina Press.

Sandra Meigs joins Canada’s academic elite

Contemporary artist and newly retired Visual Arts professor Sandra Meigs has been named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC)—Canada’s highest academic honour.

Sandra Meigs, 2017 (UVic Photo Services)

The title has been bestowed on only 2,000 Canadians in the 134-year history of the RSC, and has just one criterion: excellence. The peer-elected fellows of the society are chosen for making “remarkable contributions” in the arts, humanities and sciences, and Canadian public life.

“Academians are largely associated with scientific and theoretical knowledge, and I’ve always believed that visual art offers a special kind of knowledge—a knowledge giving form to imaginative discovery,” Meigs says in this September 7 article in UVic’s Ring newspaper. “I feel lucky to be able to meet with this large community of thinkers.”

As one of Canada’s leading contemporary artists, Meigs’s work has been presented at more than 100 solo and group exhibitions put on by some of Canada’s most culturally relevant institutions. In 2015, she won both a Governor General’s Award in Visual Arts and Media and the Gershon Iskowitz Prize for professional artists.

“Through her work and commitment to students, Sandra Meigs inspires the next generation of artists and strengthens the Faculty’s core mission of artistic practice and scholarship,” says Dean of Fine Arts, Dr. Susan Lewis. “On behalf of the Faculty of Fine Arts, I extend my congratulations to her on this richly deserved honour.”

Meigs retired in July 2017 after 24 years with UVic’s Department of Visual Arts and has been at the forefront of the studio-integrated learning model now used by many art schools across Canada. Her work has been shown in close to 100 exhibitions, including solo exhibits across Canada, and internationally in Europe and Australia.

“En Trance” by Sandra Meigs (Photo: Winchester Galleries)

She’s recognized as a critically acclaimed visual artist who creates vivid, immersive and enigmatic paintings that combine complex narratives with comic elements. Drawing inspiration from philosophical texts, theory, popular culture, music, fiction, travels and personal experience during her 35-year artistic career, she creates visual metaphors related to the psyche.

Her latest exhibit, “Room for Mystics,” will run at the Art Gallery of Ontario from October 18 to January 13, 2018; part of the Iskowitz Prize, there will also be a exhibit publication and it will feature a collaboration with UVic School of Music professor Christopher Butterfield. An advance look at some of this new work ran at Victoria’s Winchester Galleries back in January 2017 as the exhibit “En Trance.”

But even though she’s retired, Meigs will still remain part of UVic’s Fine Arts community. Now a Professor Emeritus, she believes the university is home to some of Canada’s foremost artists—but is missing one crucial component.

“The University of Victoria should be proud of its Faculty of Fine Arts, but the Visual Arts department is in need of a real, on-campus contemporary art gallery to pursue our creative research and teaching,” she says. “UVic is one of the few universities in Canada that does not have its own contemporary art gallery. Our recitals and concerts at the School of Music are renown, and performances at the Phoenix Theatre are a magnet for the public—whereas Visual Arts has no such venue on campus to showcase its research and teaching.”

Meigs is the fifth Fine Arts professor to be named a Fellow, joining colleagues Harald Krebs (Music), Mary Kerr (Theatre), Joan MacLeod (Writing) and Tim Lilburn (Writing), as well as RSC College member Dániel Péter Biró (Music) and RSC Medal winner Jack Hodgins (Writing, retired).

The Royal Society of Canada was established in 1883 as Canada’s national academy for distinguished scholars, artists and scientists. Its primary objective is to promote learning and research in the arts, humanities, and natural and social sciences. The society has named 72 current, former and adjunct UVic faculty members as fellows over the years.

“Imagination and play, the exchange of ideas and forms, and a sense of wonder and discovery are some of the aspects of academia that inspire,” she says. “I’d be interested in generating a project with an RSC fellow from any other area. Projects are best born when there’s no expected outcome, when there’s just a spark of creative impulse. It just takes making a connection.”

 

A summer of Visual Arts

It’s been a busy summer for Visual Arts faculty, students and alumni — thanks to a number of new projects, installations and exhibits happening locally, nationally and internationally. Here’s a quick roundup:

Daniel Laskarin with his in-process sculpture

Professor Daniel Laskarin unveiled a new sculpture at Richmond Firehall 3 in July. The new piece, titled to be distinct and to hold together, is the culmination of an $80,000 public commission started in 2015 and sits in front of the new building, housing Cambie Fire Hall No. 3 and the Richmond North Ambulance Station.

Created to resemble a fire tetrahedron, Laskarin’s sculpture is a representation of the four elements necessary for fire: fuel, heat, oxygen and a sustaining chemical reaction. Visitors are invited to interact with the work, pushing to rotate it by hand, which gives it both a literal meaning — in presenting the services named and the community served — as well as a metaphoric meaning — by giving vision to the interlinked and interdependent relationships among Richmond Fire-Rescue, BC Ambulance Service and the broader community. You can watch it spin in this video.

Visual Arts professor Cedric Bomford is having a busy summer out of town, with work in the California Pacific Triennial at the Orange County Museum of Art, running until September. This thought-provoking exhibition offers a survey of contemporary art in and around the Pacific Rim, exploring the topic of architecture and the temporal precariousness of the built environment. Among the issues to be addressed are the recording of history and preservation; the concept of home and displacement; and the influence of global power, economics, and political systems on global construction. And, along with his brother Nathan and father Jim, Cedric also has a project opening as part of Endless Landscape in Gatineau, Quebec, running until August 30.

Kelly Richardson

Kelly Richardson, our new digital/extended media professor, is hitting the ground running with a pair of summer exhibits: the Bonavista Biennale in Newfoundland and the Towner Art Gallery in Eastbourne, England. The group exhibit at the Towner features art from 12 leading international artists, including Richardson, who has been living and working at Newcastle University since 2003.

Timed for the Canada 150 celebrations, the Bonavista Biennale is a contemporary visual art exhibition and running August 17 – September 17. Organized by curators Catherine Beaudette and Patricia Grattan, it will present works by 25 leading Canadian artists in non-gallery sites (micro-brewery, fishstore, old schoolhouse, seal plant, beach, etc) and promises a unique encounter with this spectacular area where history and traditional culture combine. It’s already gaining attention as one of Canadian Art magazine’s “20 show we want to see in 2017”.

There was a good deal of media interest in the latest site- and temporally-specific performance piece by department chair Paul Walde: his Tom Thomson Centennial Swim on July 8 resulted in 10 unique interviews, ranging from a full-page piece on page A3 of the Toronto Star to six different CBC Radio shows and the Times Colonist. “Landscape painting is about beauty,” Walde told the Star‘s Murray Whyte. “But the landscape is dangerous. It doesn’t care if you live or die. That was the very limit of what I could do. For me, to be in the water where he died — that was powerful.”

And professor Megan Dickie has a new publication hot off the press: One Way or Another looks at Dickie’s exhibition of the same title that ran at Open Space from January 13-February 18, 2017. The publication features essays by exhibit curator Megan K. Quigley, writer Kyra Korodoski and MFA alumna artist Kerri Flannigan.

Kerry Flannigan in action

Speaking of Kerri Flannigan, the recent MFA alumna will be spending the next eight months in residence at Victoria’s venerable Open Space, which has provided a vital interdisciplinary gallery and performance space for over 45 years now. Flannigan’s residency will include research and production investigating social media and storytelling, relating to early digital telecommunications. A Victoria-based interdisciplinary artist and writer who explores methods of experimental narrative and documentary, her work is grounded in both personal history and in-depth research; recent pieces examined family mythologies, coming-of-age confessions, body language and swimming pools.

Modeling the collaboratory projects that Open Space engaged in the late ‘70s, Flannigan’s project employs archival research, DIY skill sharing, and collaborative production, and will culminate in a series of public workshops and performances. She will be focusing on slow-scan, and will work with artist Patrick Lichty, as well as former Open Space directors/artists Peggy Cady and Bill Bartlett. As one of the oldest artist-run centres in Canada, Open Space has played a significant role in the development of contemporary art in Canada. In addition to hosting thousands of artists over the years; it also publishes, manages a resource centre, maintains archives, and manages a commercial lease for the lower level of its building.

Lindsay Delaronde supported by dancers during ACHoRd (Photo: Peruzzo)

In other Visual Arts alumni news, recent MFA Lindsay Delaronde — now Indigenous Artist in Residence for the city of Victoria — presented the powerful dance performance piece AChoRd. A great example of how reconciliation can — and should — involve the arts, AChoRd was performed on June 25 in front of the BC Legislature as part of Victoria’s Canada150 celebrations.

As Emilee Gilpin writes in this fantastic Tyee article, “the performance, called ‘ACHoRd,’ was not a regular dance but the result of weeks of storytelling, healing and transformation. The group, comprised of Indigenous and non-Indigenous women, explored the theme of reconciliation by listening to and learning from one another, creating movements and strategies of support.” To get more of a sense of the creation, intent and impact of the event, be sure to read Gilpin’s piece, which also features exceptionally strong photography by Peruzzo.

Another recent Visual Arts MFA alumna with work on view this summer is Kwakwaka’wakw artist Marianne Nicolson. Her video installation There’s Blood in the Rocks — running until September 16 at the Legacy Art Gallery Downtown — uses pictographic imagery and song in a quiet but powerful video installation that tells the often-silenced history of the 1862 small pox epidemic in Victoria, which utterly devastated thousands of West Coast First Nations people. With this piece, Nicolson acknowledges the loss of her ancestors while affirming continued Indigenous presence in the land and the strength, endurance and resurgence of First Nations peoples over time.

“Forestrial Brain” in process (photo:
Yannick Grandmont)

Visual Arts alumni Jim Holyoak and Matt Shane have spent the past two months working on the collaborative drawing installation Forestrial Brain at Open Space — the culmination of an eight-day hike on the West Coast Trail, followed by a six-week residency at Open Space. The enormous, immersive drawn installation explores west coast forests and ecologies, steeped in fantasy and imagination. This shared world is one at the borderlands of wilderness and civilization, the real and the imaginary, deep time and the present,” says Shane. To mark their achievement, Open Space is holding a finissage (closing reception) for Forestrial Brain during the Integrate Arts Festival: 7pm Friday, August 25, with music to follow. Read more about what Times Colonist art critic Robert Amos calls “the biggest, most complex and engaging artistic creation I can ever remember in that space” in this article.

Shane an Holyoak are just two of many Visual Arts alumni involved in the 11th annual Integrate Arts Festival, running August 25-27 in a number of venues and galleries around Victoria. Watch for work by Colton Hash, Laura Gildner, Leah McInnis, Maddy Knott, Marianne Nicolson, Elizabeth Charters and Xiao Xue. And don’t miss Laura Gildner’s “Public Displays of Affection” walking tour (1-2pm Sat, Aug 26), a participant-driven performance work touring between selected exhibits in the downtown core. 

In award news, 2017 BFA grad Xiao Xue continues to make headlines with her remarkable walking camper project, titled “something to ponder on” — which will also be on view during the Integrate Arts Festival in downtown’s Bastion Square. As well as being singled out as an outstanding undergrad in this UVic News article, she won the top prize in June’s Rainhouse Technology Challenge—beating out prototype drones, satellites and submarines. “Xiao’s work shows a unique blending of art and technology. It’s a remarkable application of imagination,” said Rainhouse’s Ray Brougham in this Victoria News article. Xiao was also interviewed on CBC Radio’s On The Island on July 12, and was featured in this CHEK TV news segment on July 13.

Xiao Xue with her walking camper

Breaking news! Xue has just been confirmed as the national prize winner in 2017’s BMO 1st Art invitational competition. Not only does she win $15,000, but her work will be featured as part of a special exhibition at the University of Toronto’s Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, running from November 16 to December 16, 2017 (alas, it will only feature a video and documentation of her work, and not the actual camper itself), as well as in a special spread in Canadian Art magazine.

And 2017 BFA grad James Fermor has also been named the BC provincial winner in the same competition, earning him $7,500. His work will also appear in the same Toronto exhibit.

Finally, current third-year student Cassidy Luteijn made the news this summer as one of the finalists for a Canada 150 condom wrapper design contest. Her uniquely “Canadian” imagery includes a sexy beaver and a moose with underwear draped on its antlers. The story has been reported by the Martlet, CBC Radio, the Huffington Post and others.

 

 

 

 

Maestro Timothy Vernon becomes Honorary Doctor of Music

When this year’s group of graduating Fine Arts students cross the stage of UVic’s Farquhar Auditorium on June 13, they’ll find themselves in the presence of a true master — or maestro — as Timothy Vernon will also be receiving an Honorary Doctor of Music (DMus) on the same day.

Maestro Timothy Vernon

The founding artistic director of Pacific Opera Victoria, Maestro Vernon has earned the admiration of audiences by virtue of his artistic vision and fashioned POV into one of the city’s true cultural treasures. Renowned for the quality of its often challenging productions and for bold programming that can range from Handel to contemporary works, Pacific Opera Victoria has proven itself as arguably the most successful, innovative and progressive arts organization in the country — primarily thanks to Timothy Vernon.

“Timothy is an active community leader, volunteer, and an inspiration to aspiring students and professional musicians,” says Dr. Susan Lewis, Dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts. “He has conducted for opera companies and orchestras across Canada and is deeply committed to the careers of emerging Canadian artists.

Vernon’s leadership and dedication to the Victoria arts community — and beyond — is well known. As the founding Artistic Director of Pacific Opera Victoria, he has led most of POV’s more than 100 productions since the company’s inception in 1979, including at least three world premieres and numerous Canadian premieres. He has conducted for opera companies and orchestras across Canada, served as Conductor Laureate for Orchestra London (Ontario) and has been a leader in education with his tenure at McGill University and his role as artistic director of the Courtenay Youth Music Centre.

Vernon receiving his Honorary Doctor on June 13. (Photo: Darren Stone, Times Colonist)

Inspiring graduates

In his address to graduating students on June 13, Vernon admitted that he was worried about the future of opera and how its “quiet voice” is in danger of being drowned out — particularly with the disappearance of music programs in the public school system.

“How do we find the faith in this elusive thing that is art, in the face of an apparently indifferent and hostile world?” he asked. Citing a POV rehearsal for La Traviata on September 11, 2001 — the day of the 9/11 attacks in the USA — Vernon spoke of the inspirational realization that came from that terrible day.

“We asked ourselves, what were we doing here making opera in the face of these horrific events? But from that low point came a discovery: that real artists fight. The real way of dealing with the demons within is to invoke the angels of our better natures — and who better than our great creators in all of our arts and traditions and histories? Even reading a page from one of Mozart’s masterpieces offers a glimpse of perfection . . . every performer understands that. Can the world ever have enough of beauty, truth, depth and grandeur? Never, we decided, should we apologize for pursuing a life in the arts; it needs no defense. It is essential for the spiritual heath of society, as in the individual . . . fashion may change, but the truth of the achievement of great art remains relevant.”

School of Music voice professor Benjamin Butterfield has a long history performing with Vernon and POV, and was quick to laud the maestro. “No one deserves greater recognition for their achievements,” he says. “Timothy is a role model to so many, crossing all generations. His unflagging enthusiasm for everything and anything, his integrity towards all he involves himself in and his inexhaustible desire to learn makes him a crucial member of this community. He is eternally young at heart — and yet, at the same time, he can engage about anything with anyone by drawing on his wealth of experience, knowledge and diverse personal interests. It is not only his enthusiasm about life but his understanding of what is important that keeps him firmly embedded in the conscience of this community.”

Timothy Vernon with Benjamin Butterfield at the special reception following Convocation (photo: Kristy Farkas)

In recognition of his work in expanding professional opera in Canada and his commitment to young musicians, Vernon was presented with the Order of Canada in 2008, and is also the recipient of The Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal, among numerous other honours.

A life lived in music

Raised in Victoria, Vernon studied conducting as a teenager at the Victoria School (now Conservatory) of Music and, at just 14, held appointments as organist and choirmaster in local churches. He went on to study in Europe at the Vienna Academy of Music and Salzburg’s Mozarteum, as well as in Nice, Sienna and the Netherlands, before returning to Canada in 1975 to become conductor and music director of the Regina Symphony Orchestra. In addition to beginning his work as POV’s artistic director in 1980, he began teaching at McGill University’s Faculty of Music in 1986, where he also served as conductor of the McGill Symphony Orchestra and associate director of Opera McGill.

Butterfield fondly recalls participating in Mahler’s 2nd Symphony under Vernon’s leadership while both were at McGill. “That concert remains for many one of the greatest experiences of their lives; Timothy’s knowledge and love of the piece was beyond comprehension — he taught everyone, through that one event, how to love what they do. The fiery ease with which Timothy brought the orchestra and choir to life is still talked about in musical circles. Timothy stood tall that day — as tall as any true leader.”

School of Music chair Christopher Butterfield with Fine Arts Dean Susan Lewis and Timothy Vernon (photo: Kristy Farkas)

Most recently, Vernon was appointed artistic director of Opera Lyra Ottawa in 2015, but it is his continuing work with Pacific Opera Victoria for which he is best loved locally. And given the long history the School of Music’s has with POV — where numerous students, graduates and faculty in the voice program continue to perform — Maestro Vernon is an ideal choice to receive this latest award.

“Timothy has always thrived on sharing his talents, knowledge and wisdom with students,” concludes Butterfield. “He is witty, clever, well-read, well-spoken and a man of great integrity, and has much to offer through his decades of experience in music and in the world. UVic has done a good thing in acknowledging Maestro Vernon with this Honorary Degree. Our arts community is better for it.”

Music research leads to REACH Award

She has helped uncover the forgotten works of suppressed composers and played alongside the likes of the National Orchestra of Taiwan and the Moody Blues. Now, the research and creative practice of School of Music flute professor and music scholar Suzanne Snizek is receiving renewed attention with the news that she is among the 10 recipients of UVic’s inaugural REACH Awards.

Music professor Suzanne Snizek (UVic Photo Services)

“This is a tremendous honour,” says Snizek. “I am very thankful to my colleagues who took the time to nominate me, and happy that my work has been recognized in this way.”

Combining the Teaching Excellence Awards with the Craigdarroch Research Awards, the REACH Awards celebrate the extraordinary teachers and researchers who lead the way in dynamic learning and make a vital impact at UVic, in the classroom and beyond.

“The REACH Awards mark a new era of recognition for our university,” says UVic president Jamie Cassels. “By honouring research and teaching together, we acknowledge how they’re inextricably linked for the betterment of our students, our university, our partners and collaborators, and society at large.”

Snizek, who received the Award for Excellence in Artistic Expression on May 25 at an evening ceremony at the Royal British Columbia Museum, is an expert in “suppressed music” — classical music silenced under the Nazi regime because of the composers’ ideologies, aesthetic or Jewish heritage. Many of these works are exceptional, but are rarely performed to this day.

“If it’s a good piece of music, it should be played,” says Snizek, who was delighted when one of her music students picked two suppressed pieces for an end-of-year recital. “One of the challenges for this music is that it gets ghettoized again as ‘suppressed music.’ So I’m trying to present it on its own terms, and include it in my teaching here so students can encounter this music for themselves.”

You can listen to some samples of Snizek playing suppressed music here.

Indeed, Snizek has dedicated much of her academic career to bringing this suppressed music back to life. Through audio recordings, publications, performances and lectures around the world, she’s part of a global effort to bring these forgotten treasures back into our musical and historical consciousness, and to remind us what can happen when the rights to free speech and artistic expression are violated.

Snizek’s research was originally inspired by the illegal detentions at Guantanamo Bay in the early 2000s. “The inherent cruelty and injustice of ‘indefinite detention’ has always been particularly unacceptable to me and so was a natural starting point for my research.” Unfortunately, she says she isn’t shocked that issues of personal and artistic suppression are still as relevant today as in the World War II era.

“It doesn’t at all surprise me, but it does concern me,” she admits. “None of this is just dry history, it all has a very real human impact: in generations of family trauma, in artistic production — or lack thereof. In 1940, the war was going quite badly for the Allies, and many felt the world was at the point of coming to an end . . . just listening to the news today can generate empathy for their despair.”

Research aside, she has also been pleased with student response to this body of work. While awareness of history and context differs greatly according to the individual — “I had one student who told me he knew nothing about the Holocaust . . . [as well as] participants in UVic’s I-Witness Holocaust Field School” — Snizek says there has been a great deal of interest in discovering a previously unknown potential repertoire.

Given her international academic and performance background, she also credits the School of Music with nurturing “a healthy, supportive atmosphere” among its students. “The sense of nurturance and the personal attention students receive in our Music department is quite unique. I think we do an exceptionally good job in that area.”

As both a flute performer and music scholar, she says there’s no denying the global impact of a small group of people can make with this kind of work. “There is growing interest in ‘recovering’ these composers, and attitudes have markedly improved even since 2005. People are far more aware now,” she says.

“In the Netherlands, for example, just two musician-researchers managed to recover a large number of excellent musical works and were also successful in disseminating them through recordings, live performances and by making the scores accessible to other musicians. And there are similar centres in Los Angeles and London that have developed strong platforms and networks for promoting these works.”

Snizek has also experienced the emotional impact of her work first-hand. “When I first played through Hans Gál’s Huyton Suite, which had been written during his internment in 1940, it was rather intense,” she admits. “I had closely read his internment diary, met and interviewed his daughter and stayed for a couple of weeks on the Isle of Man where he had been interned . . . so I was coming at this piece of music from a deeply experiential level.”

Learn more about Snizek and her students via her Flute Studio Blog.