Concert pays tribute to Maureen Forrester

Maureen Forrester

The UVic Orchestra honours the extraordinary Canadian mezzo-soprano Maureen Forrester in a concert on October 27 in UVic’s Farquhar Auditorium. Often described as one of the world’s leading contraltos, Forrester was an artist who not only achieved great acclaim but was also a generous teacher whose legacy carries on through her many students. As a superstar who brought international attention to Canada, this is a fitting way to celebrate Canada’s sesquicentennial.

The program features a new work commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra by Howard Shore, Canada’s acclaimed film composer well-known for his scores for The Lord of the Rings trilogy. L’Aube (Dawn) — which will be premiered by the TSO on October 19 — is a song cycle for mezzo soprano and orchestra with text by writer, producer and documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Cotnoir. Also on the program is one of Forrester’s signature works, Gustav Mahler’s masterpiece, Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth), as well as Richard Wagner’s Rienzi Overture.

Noa Frenkel

Israeli contralto Noa Frenkel and Victoria’s beloved tenor, Benjamin Butterfield, will be guest soloists with the orchestra. Frenkel is a versatile artist with an extensive vocal range and an affinity for many musical styles. Her repertoire reaches from Renaissance to contemporary music. Co-head of performance at the School of Music, Butterfield enjoys an international career as one of Canada’s most successful and sought-after artists. He has performed to critical acclaim throughout North America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia and New Zealand.

“Performing a huge Mahler piece with two incredible singers who are driving forces in the world of singing, is an exceptional opportunity for the students in the orchestra,” says conductor and School of Music professor Ajtony Csaba.

This special concert, presented in partnership with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra in celebration of the 150th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, received financial assistance from the Government of Canada.

Don’t miss this special UVic Orchestra Concert, 8pm Friday, October 27 at the University Centre Farquhar Auditorium. Tickets $10-$20 from the UVic Ticket Centre (250-721-8480 or online) and at the door.

French Connections concert unites community

Music and food have a way of bringing people together — colleagues, friends, communities — and the Faculty Chamber Music concert and dinner on October 14 is no exception. Faculty and alumni will join on stage with some special guests for a 50th anniversary celebratory concert of stories and songs. The program features Igor Stravinsky’s theatrical masterpiece L’Histoire du soldat, Camille Saint-Saëns’ humorous and fun-loving Carnival of the Animals, and Rapsodie nègre by Francis Poulenc.

CBC’s Gregor Craigie

Gregor Craigie, local celebrity and host of CBC’s On the Island, will narrate the Stravinsky. Donovan Waters, Professor Emeritus at UVic’s Faculty of Law, will recite the Ogden Nash verses during Carnival of the Animals (the poems were written more than 60 years later to accompany the music). Waters, a leading international expert in trust law and the author of several texts including Law of Trusts in Canada, has a passion for the spoken English language. The Saint-Saëns will be conducted by School of Music  alumnus Owen Underhill, who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Music Centre.

A special French-themed dinner at the University Club — think beef bourguignon, ratatouille and crème caramel — will give concert-goers the opportunity to mix and mingle with hosts Craigie and Waters as well as gain insight into the program in a pre-concert talk with UVic Distinguished Professor, Dr. Harald Krebs.

Phillip T Young breaks ground for the new Music building in the 1970s

The concert will give special opportunity to honour former School of Music Chair and Professor Emeritus, the late Phillip T. Young. Young was the real force in establishing the then Department of Music and in getting a music building back in the 70s. “Phil is seen as the main inspiration for the school and the direction it went,” recalls Professor Emeritus Lanny Pollet. “He was an excellent administrator and good at getting things done. The school, including its recital hall, wouldn’t have happened without his leadership.”

In appreciation of this, the School of Music faculty named the hall the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall. As Pollet recalls, “there was no question…it was important to honour his contribution to the school.” Young’s wife, Cathy, will be present and a new plaque will be installed in the lobby of the Recital Hall to commemorate him and the hall as part of this 50th anniversary year.

“This special evening affords the opportunity to think about and celebrate all the faculty whose contributions echo in the halls of the building and especially this wonderful concert hall,” explains Lafayette Quartet cellist and co-head of performance, Pamela Highbaugh Aloni. The Faculty Chamber Music Series brings a large number of the School’s performance faculty together on stage. “We really are stronger when working together,” remarks Highbaugh Aloni, who has been teaching at UVic for 25 years. “This concert really speaks to my experience at UVic over years: the synergy that is palpable when you enter the building and the relationships I’ve built with this very collegial, immensely talented and fun group of colleagues.”

The all-star line-up of School of Music performers includes Bruce Vogt, Arthur Rowe and Harald Krebs (piano), Patricia Kostek (clarinet), Suzanne Snizek (flute), Merrie Klazek (trumpet), Scott MacInnes (trombone), Benjamin Butterfield (tenor), the Lafayette String Quartet and Alex Olsen (bass). Several School of Music alumni will also join the stage.

Join us for French Connections Faculty Chamber Music dinner (6pm at the University Club) and concert (8pm in UVic’s Phillip T. Young Recital Hall) on Saturday, October 14. Tickets for the concert are just $10-$25, or $80 for the concert and dinner package, from the UVic Ticket Centre (250-721-8480 or online) and at the door.

—Kristy Farkas

Annual LSQ health forum gets brainy

Staying informed is an important part of staying healthy — a fact the Lafayette String Quartet well knows. For the past 12 years, these artists-in-residence and School of Music professors have hosted their annual free Health Awareness Forum, with topics ranging from mental health and aging well to cervical cancer, personalized medicine and, naturally, the healing power of music.

This year’s forum, coming up on Thursday October 5, is focusing on healthy minds with Our Vital Brain: Being Mindful About Optimal Health. Learn what’s new in brain health and how the practice of mindfulness and music-making are helping to positively impact overall health.

Three specialists will share their expertise and lead the audience through mindfulness exercises, with time for a Q&A. As a new initiative this year, a student research poster contest will be associated with this annual forum. The event starts at 6:15pm with refreshments and a chance to view the posters in the lobby, prior to the evening presentation at 7pm in UVic’s David Lam Auditorium (MacLaurin Building A-Wing).

The Lafayette String Quartet

This year’s presenters include Alexandre Henri-Bhargava, a clinical assistant professor of medicine at UBC and neurologist with Island Health in Victoria; Mark Sherman, executive director of the BC Association for Living Mindfully; and Erin Guinup, voice teacher, conductor of the Tacoma Refugee Choir and host of the podcast Why We Sing.

The Lafayette Health Awareness Series began in 2006 with a dialogue on the topic of breast cancer, a disease that profoundly impacted the Lafayette String Quartet, UVic’s quartet-in-residence, when one of its members was diagnosed and treated in 2001. This free forum was created to provide expert and updated information to the public on various health topics.

Admission is free and everyone is welcome, but RSVPs are strongly encouraged, as this event often sells out.

Remembering Erich Schwandt

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

 

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.