Whether they realize it or not, generations of graduating UVic students have been touched by the music of Dr. Erich Schwandt.
Professor Emeritus of Musicology in the School of Music, Dr. Schwandt passed away in Victoria on August 2. A native of California, he attended Stanford University for his entire academic training, where he studied harpsichord with noted American musicologist, Putnam Aldrich. After a period of teaching at the Eastman School, Schwandt came to UVic in 1975, where he taught until he retired in 2001.
Erich P. Schwandt
An expert on music of the French Baroque, towards the end of his career Schwandt did major work on the early 20th century composer Erik Satie, notably reconstructing his lost Messe des pauvres, which had its world premiere at UVic in 1997, accompanied by a 40-person choir.
A gentle and witty man, much beloved by his students, he continued to be a presence at the university after he retired, and for 30 years played the huge Clearihue organ at every convocation ceremony in the University Centre Farquhar Auditorium until spring 2013. His work as an organist was profiled in this “Day in the Life” story for UVic’s Ring newspaper back in 2011. “It’s a lot of fun, and it’s an easy thing to do,” Schwandt said at the time. “I get to play whatever music I please.”
Indeed, due to his position as organist, Schwandt may have attended more UVic Convocations than any other person, with tens of thousands of UVic grads hearing his work. “It means a lot to the families to see their child get their degree,” he said, adding that he had “also heard speeches of all kinds from honorary degree recipients through the years.” (Favourites included eco-forester Merv Wilkinson and Canadian author Carol Shields.)
Schwandt was also instrumental (pun intended) in UVic’s acquisition of the Clearihue organ in the late 1970s. “I saw an ad with a very vague description of an organ for sale in Quebec for $20,000,” he recalled in the Ring article. “I went to Quebec to investigate. And it was in a church where it had been subject to extreme fluctuations in temperature and had suffered damage so that it was barely playable. Local organ builder Hugo Spilker went and examined it, took it apart, arranged for transport and modified it mechanically for installation in the new UVic auditorium.”
The French classic organ — originally built by 1966 by Georges Mayer of Sarre-Union, France, for the parish of St. Mathias, Quebec — was purchased and donated to UVic by Dr. Joyce Clearihue, as a memorial to her parents Joseph and Irene Clearihue (Joseph served as UVic’s first chancellor). “I like it very much,” Schwandt said at the time.
Schwandt’s interest in education surfaced at an early age when he tutored the neighboring pastor’s child on the kitchen blackboard. His appreciation of music dates back to his early years in his childhood home, which held two pianos and an organ that he restored while in high school.
In 2015, Schwandt was awarded Honorary Alumnus status at UVic, when then-Director of Music, Dr. Susan Lewis, described him as “one of the department’s defining spirits.”
A memorial gathering for Erich Schwandt, with music and refreshments, will take place at 2 pm Saturday, September 30, at the University Centre Farquhar Auditorium. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Mary M. and Erich P. Schwandt Scholarships. Donations can be made either online or by mail: Faculty of Fine Arts, University of Victoria, PO Box 1700 STN CSC, Victoria BC V8W 2Y2. Attn: Development Office. Please include in Cheque Memo: “Mary M. and Erich P. Schwandt Scholarships”
—With files by Kristy Farkas, Robie Liscomb and Samantha Krzywonos
It’s a busy season for our Visual Arts professors, a number of whom have exhibits of new work on view, both locally, nationally and internationally.
Robert Youds, “City Cut Flowers”
Visual Arts professor and alumnus Robert Youds presents City Cut Flowers, a solo exhibit of new works, until Sept 30 at Winchester Galleries Downtown (665 Fort). Featuring three related painting projects and two light-based works, City Cut Flowers explores picture/objects as imagined and remembered fragments drawn from our urban world. Each piece explores the core perceptual conditions of light, shadow, colour, surface, and their communicative relationship to our aesthetic, cultural, and ideological values.
“I have been thinking about consciousness in our time, and that age-old question: how do we as individuals shape it?” says Youds. “For example, is a home a home without personal choices evidenced through the careful spatial choreography of pictures, colours, surfaces, and light? Where do our aesthetic dispositions evolve from? Can the growing digital and AI realms alter our future understanding of the physical world or will they simply reinforce the same elements through a different means?”
Youds also has another solo exhibit coming up this winter: For Everyone A Fountain runs Nov 17 – Jan 2, 2018, at Open Space. He’ll be hosting an artist’s talk at 2pm Saturday, Nov 18.
New work by Daniel Laskarin
Visual Arts professor and sculptor Daniel Laskarin presents his latest solo exhibit, ruins and reclamation, which continues until Oct 7 at Deluge Contemporary (636 Yates). His work combines industrial forms with elements of minimalist sculpture, material exploration and the lyrical sensibility of visual metaphor. He describes his work as means for thinking through the world, a process by which he might give sensory experience to consciousness.
Objects and materials, combined and manipulated, form things that find their own order in a condition of disorder and yet refuse that which orders everything. Independent materials congeal to create an interdependent network, resulting in unique forms that generate a complex and shifting subjective experience. His diverse media incorporates photography and video, optics, robotics systems, installation and sound. He has been involved with set design, public image projections and large-scale public commissions in Vancouver and Seattle, and has exhibited in Canada and internationally.
Kelly Richardson’s “Leviathan”
New Visual Arts professor Kelly Richardson is in the midst of a very busy few months, with work in a variety of exhibitions. Her hyper-real digital films of rich and complex landscapes that have been manipulated using CGI, animation and sound, have caught the eye of galleries around the world. Her latest solo exhibit, Kelly Richardson: The Weather Makers, runs at Dundee Contemporary Arts in Scotland from Sept 23 to Nov 26. Weather Makers was previewed in this article from The Herald newspaper, which describes her “thought-provoking, post-apocalyptic art in its spectacular large-scale form” as both “visceral and provoking” and “a wonderful fictional and imaginary element tied in to stark scientific fact and research.”
Weather Makers features three of Richardson’s video works and a series of chromogenic prints, Pillars of Dawn, which posits a desertscape of environmental desiccation in which trees and plants have been physically crystallized by some unknown environmental event. “The questions that she’s asking about the way we’re mistreating the world around us, about global warming, the constant consumption of resources and how we’re going to manage after mismanaging it for so long are so incredibly pertinent and urgent right now,” says DCA curator Eoin Dara of Richardson’s show. “Magnificent and complex, Richardson’s work asks us to consider what our future might be like if we continue on our current trajectory of planetary pillaging and consumption, and why we have allowed ourselves to arrive at such a moment of global environmental crisis.”
Richardson also has work at the following group exhibits this fall:
“Embassy 2017” by Cedric Bomford & Verena Kazimierz
Visual Arts professor Cedric Bomford and department LTA Verena Kaminiarz are working together on “Embassy, 2017” an outdoor project for the Calculating Upon the Unforseen portion of Toronto’s upcoming Nuit Blanche on Sept 30. “Embassy, 2017” is described as a large-scale structure “designed to adapt to the site where it is located; which can be seen as opportunistic, parasitic and political . . . Given the current trend of hardening nationalism around the world, it seems fitting to reflect on notions of national identity. Forever in progress, Embassy requires visitors to complete the structure in their minds.” The piece was featured as a highlight of the Toronto Star’s Nuit Blanche preview article.
Professor Emeritus Sandra Meigs opens her latest solo exhibit this fall. Room for Mystics will run at the prestigious Art Gallery of Ontario starting October 18. A recipient of the Governor General’s Award in 2015, and the 2015 Gershon Iskowitz Prize, Meigs was also recently named a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Her new installation, Room for Mystics (which includes work by School of Music Director Christopher Butterfield), emerges from her Iskowitz Prize.
For over 35 years Meigs has created vivid, immersive, and enigmatic paintings that combine complex narratives with comic elements. She derives the content of her work from her own personal experiences, and develops these to create visual metaphors related to the psyche. Meigs will provide an overview of her work and speak about her new installation, Room for Mystics, at an AGO public talk on Oct 18—but more locally, she’ll also be speaking as part of the “Treasures & Tea” series at UVic’s LIbraries from 1-2pm Wednesday, Sept 27 in room A003 of the McPherson Library.
Meigs will talk about what it was like to be a painter in the ’70s and ’80s, and why the donation of her archive from that period to UVic’s Special Collections might be of interest to researchers. She will also show a brand new artist flap book project she collaborated on with poet Ron Padgett.
Sessional instructor and noted local artist Charles Campbell is involved in a pair of international exhibitions this fall: Relational Undercurrents: Contemporary Art of the Caribbean Archipelago at Los Angeles’ Museum of Latin American Art (running Sept 16, 2017 – February 25, 2018) and En Mas: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean at San Francisco’s Museum of the African Diaspora (Sept 20, 2017 – March 4, 2018).
And busy MFA alumni Lindsay Delaronde, and Hjalmer Wenstob were both involved in the One Wave Gathering on September 16. As Victoria’s Indigenous Artist in Residence, Delaronde had a featured performance, while Wenstob worked with local Indigenous youth to create four longhouses on the lawns of the BC Legislature. Wenstob’s involvement was mentioned in this Victoria News article.
Finally, the department’s acclaimed Visiting Artist program is in full swing again, with a number of guests coming in this fall:
All Visiting Artists talks happen at 7:30pm in room A150 of UVic’s Visual Arts building, and all are free and open to the public. Please join us!
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, 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:
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.
Despite unseasonably cold winds and unusually choppy waves, intermedia artist Paul Walde dove into the waters of Algonquin Park’s Canoe Lake on July 8 and, after months of preparation, completed the first stage of The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim.
Paul Walde swimming on July 8 (Photo: Clayton McKinnon)
Emily Denison plays flugelhorn for the swim (Photo: Andrew Wright)
Occurring on the 100th anniversary of iconic Canadian landscape artist Tom Thomson’s drowning in Canoe Lake, Walde was accompanied by an eight-person synchronized swim squad, a five-person brass band playing Walde’s own 45-minute composition written for the occasion, a film crew and a flotilla of a dozen boats, including six canoes custom-painted in Thomson’s signature green.
“The scariest part was when it was really choppy. I got lost and disoriented and blown off course.” Ironically — and unintentionally — Walde ended up in the part of the lake where Thomson’s body was found and Walde almost had to call for help; but, by spotting the tall white totem pole erected beside the Thomson memorial cairn on the shoreline, he was able to reorient himself and complete his swim.
“Landscape painting is about beauty,” Walde said in this Toronto Star article. “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.”
With the site- and temporally-specific portion of the project now complete, Walde — chair of the Visual Arts department — turns his attention to the equally labour-intensive next stage: viewing, editing and preparing the footage for exhibit.
Chris Solar and Joe Leslie (Photo: Andrew Wright)
“The gallery video will be very different from the swim itself,” he explains, comparing it to his 2013 piece, Requiem for a Glacier. ”It’s not a concert video that simply documents the event, but will be a more poetic, immersive experience that ties together the various film and sound recordings. What will make it really unique is my perspective: what I’m seeing and hearing in the water, my sense of disorientation. I’m using Thomson to frame this activity, but at the same time I’m reframing him; it goes both ways.”
Walde feels the timing was right for this project on a number of levels: not only the centenary of Thomson’s death, but also his own age (“I’m 49, how much longer could I really wait to do this?”) and recent advancements in technology.
“There were a lot of ideas I had for the piece that we just couldn’t do 20 years ago: we wouldn’t have been able to have a flying drone or put a camera on my bathing cap and shoot 4K video.” As a result, the final exhibit will include surface, underwater body-cam and overhead footage, as well as recordings both underwater and of the accompanying band, and scenes of the locations featured in Thomson’s paintings.
Walde with synchronized swimmers (Photo: Andrew Wright)
Walde was accompanied on his July 8 swim by a number of other Canadian academic artists, including University of Ottawa visual arts chair Andrew Wright, Fanshawe College visual arts chair Gary Spearin, Ottawa artist Adrian Göllner and recent Visual Arts alumni Brandon Poole and Laura Gildner; also witnessing the performance was Christopher Regimbal, senior exhibitions coordinator for the National Gallery of Canada.
When it comes to choosing his art projects, Walde takes the long view. ”My career is about following these kind of ideas. The ones you can’t shake are the ones you end up doing — this one was gestating for 20 years.”
When asked about future plans, Walde just laughs. “Once this one is complete, you mean? I’d like to do a forest fire piece. I’ve been thinking about that for a couple of years now.”
Paul Walde (UVic Photo Services)
On July 8, 1917, iconic Canadian painter Tom Thomson drowned in Algonquin Park’s Canoe Lake. Now, on the 100th anniversary of Thomson’s death, intermedia artist and Visual Arts chair Paul Walde will swim the length of Canoe Lake — accompanied by a synchronized swim squad, canoe flotilla, brass band, film crew . . . and a minute of silence recorded at the bottom of the lake.
Not only will The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim allow Walde the opportunity of commemorating the centenary of Thomson’s death with this site- and temporally-specific piece, but he will also be reframing the enduring images and legacy of the early 20th-century artist for future gallery installations.
Walde training at a local lake (photo: Brandon Poole)
Media interest in this story has been high, with Walde being interviewed for 10 different media outlets in BC and Ontario, ranging from CBC Radio’s Up North in Sudbury to The Early Edition in Vancouver (skip to the 1:20 mark) and talking about “Canada’s Van Gogh” on radio shows in Victoria, Kamloops, Kelowna and Prince George, as well as this June 22 Times Colonist article and this Saanich News article.
But the most interesting piece was this story that ran on page A3 of the July 9 issue of the Toronto Star, where arts reporter Murray Whyte actually traveled to Canoe Lake to witness the swim itself.
“Landscape painting is about beauty,” Walde says in the piece. “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.”
Walde is well-known for his bold and innovative sound and video installations, including Requiem for a Glacier in 2013, filmed live onFarnham Glacier in BC’s Purcell Mountains and earning international headlines, and Alaska Variations for an Anchorage Museum exhibition in 2016, which was singled out by USA Today as one of the top US museum exhibits of the year and was recently exhibited in Norway.
Tom Thomson’s 1912 painting The Canoe, painted at Canoe Lake
“I grew up in Northern Ontario near where the Group of Seven did their first trip together,” he says. “This is what was presented to us as Canadian art, and through my work I’ve been trying to find other ways of engaging with the landscape, especially around issues of the environment and colonialism.”
“I’m trying to give people a sense of what [the landscape] sounds like, what it looks like below the surface, to try to create . . . a different understanding,” Walde told the Times Colonist.
The Tom Thomson Centennial Swim will be documented by a professional film and audio crew. Footage from the event — including underwater body-cam, mobile boat units and stationary positions — will be combined with shots of the lake and locations featured in Thomson’s paintings.
Thomson was also the subject of Walde’s 1997 theatrical performance, Index 1036, a collaborative work created with his wife Christine Walde, a UVic librarian, which fictively examined Thomson’s death in the context of contemporary performance art.
A former competitive swimmer who uses lake swimming to inform his practice as an intermedia artist, composer and curator, Walde has created a body of work exploring interconnections between landscape, identity, and technology with historical events as a recurring theme.
Canoe Lake, where Canadian artist Tom Thomson died in 1917, is located in Ontario’s Algonquin Park, Canada’s oldest provincial park (est. 1893) where Thomson worked as a guide from 1913 until his death.
UVic’s Visual Arts department is recognized nationally and internationally for developing innovative artistic voices and is one of Canada’s leading contemporary art programs.
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)
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.”