Leader in Art Song performance receives honourary degree

One of the world’s great interpreters of the German art song tradition known as Lieder and one of the most frequently recorded lieder singers of modern times, Mitsuko Shirai is acclaimed worldwide for her extraordinary performances and recordings of songs by Franz Schubert, Robert Schumann, Hugo Wolf, and others.

Now, Shirai will receive an honorary doctorate from UVic on November 14, as part of the Fall Convocation. During her visit to campus, she will also give two presentations at the School of Music as an Orion guest artist.

As part of a Lieder duo with her husband Hartmut Höll, the Japanese soprano and mezzo-soprano has set a high standard as an interpreter of German lied; the duo has given recitals in Europe, Scandinavia, Israel, Africa, Japan, South America, Russia, the USA and Canada, but they are especially well known in Germany and Japan. A committee of Japanese artists awarded Shirai the Great Idemitsu Music Award 1996 in appreciation of her artistic work. She has been praised by German publication Der Stern as “the first leading lady of Lieder singing”.

But Shirai is not just limited to recital singing. A contralto, she has also found acclaim for her performances of Gustav Mahler’s orchestral songs, appearing in concerts with the Berliner Philharmoniker, New Japan Philharmonic, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Nouvel Orchestre Philharmonique de Paris and the Wiener Symphoniker. Shirai has also appeared in operas ranging from Mozart to Wagner.

Shirai is also distinguished for her illustrious teaching career. She teaches at the Musikhochschule in Karlsruhe, one of the primary music schools in Germany, and has conducted numerous workshops in Germany, Austria, Finland, the United States and in her native Japan. Many of her students have gone on to become the bright lights of today’s concert stages.

Shirai will speak about her career as a performer and teacher from 4–6pm Thursday, Nov 15, in MacLaurin B037. Don’t miss this unparalleled opportunity to get to know one of the foremost performers of our time—one who has worked closely with other icons of song performance. And then from 3–5pm Saturday, Nov 17, in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall, she will lead a masterclass on Lieder by Robert Schumann, working with graduate student vocalists Alana Hayes and Kyron Basu (with Music professor Harald Krebs on piano) on two Schumann song cycles (opp. 35 and 135). Both these events are free.

New artist residency strengthens connections between art & science

Victoria-based artist Colton Hash is the inaugural recipient of an Artist-in-Residence program announced today by the Faculty of Fine Arts and Ocean Networks Canada (ONC), a UVic initiative. The new ONC residency will strengthen connections between art and science, and broaden perspectives on major issues ranging from technology and the environment to biodiversity and healthy communities.

Colton Hash with his full-size sculpture of an adolescent female orca (photo: Ashton Sciacallo)

A recent graduate of UVic’s combined undergraduate program in Visual Arts and computer science, Hash was selected for the residency from a field of nearly 70 local, national and international applicants. He will hold the position from November 2018 to March 2019 and, following his residency, will provide a public exhibition of the resulting body of work.

“I see this as a great opportunity to collaborate with ocean scientists and experiment with digital media to communicate some of the dynamic processes that play a critical role in coastal waters,” says Hash.

“Whether it’s how a kelp forest responds to climate change or how the thawing of frozen methane affects sediment stability of submarine slopes, I hope I can use interactive art to inspire viewers to care more about what is happening beneath the ocean’s surface.”

Hash has built his artistic practice on the integration of environmental knowledge through visual art and computer programming in order to communicate concepts related to ecosystems and climate change. A short film of his interactive sculptural installation, “Resonant Disintegration” (with projected visualizations of climate data and underwater recordings of shipping traffic), won the two top awards at the Research Reels contest during UVic’s Ideafest in 2018, and was recently remounted at Victoria’s Flux Media Gallery in October during the Antimatter Media + Art Festival. His work was also featured in UVic’s KnowlEDGE news feature in March 2018.

Colton Hash with his “Resonant Disintegration” sculpture

“The ecological challenges we face are complex and hard to be understood through science alone,” he adds. “People are being flooded with scientific data and intellectual analysis of what is wrong with the world, without having time to process what it means to them on deeper, more personal levels. Art can create spaces for people to reflect emotionally, spiritually and intuitively on our relationships with nature.”

While in the position, Hash will interact with UVic fine arts faculty members and ONC scientists, as well as other individuals using ONC’s world-leading ocean facilities. He intends to develop an interactive digital media installation that allows the public to explore and emotionally connect with ocean systems.

“Ocean Networks Canada is looking forward to collaborating with Colton,” says ONC chief scientist Dr. Kim Juniper. “We’re excited to see what his use of ocean data will produce to convey marine conservation and global change in his art.”

Bill Gaston wins Victoria Book Prize

Department of Writing professor Bill Gaston has won the 2018 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for his short-story collection The Mariner’s Guide to Self Sabotage (Douglas & McIntyre).

Gaston (centre) with Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and Brian Butler (photo: Victoria Book Prize Society)

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps and co-sponsor Brian Butler presented Gaston with his $5,000 prize at a gala October 17 event at downtown’s Union Club.

A set of 10 cautionary tales showcasing the author’s range and narrative versatility, The Mariner’s Guide to Self Sabotage effectively captures Gaston’s gift for making ordinary moments feel transcendent. Judges praised his ability to move “seamlessly from the funny to the poignant to the surprising and absurd.”

The author of seven novels, seven short-story collections, three plays, two nonfiction books and a poetry collection, Gaston also released the memoir Just Let Me Look At You: On Fatherhood (Penguin Random House) in 2018. He previously won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize in 2007 for the short-story collection Gargoyles (House of Anansi), which was also shortlisted for the Governor General’s Literary Award and the Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize, and won the ReLit Award. In 2002, Gaston was a finalist for the Giller Prize with Mount Appetite (Raincoast), as well as the inaugural recipient of the Timothy Findley Prize, awarded by the Writer’s Trust of Canada.

2018 was a strong year for the Writing department at the Victoria Book Prize, given that fellow nominees included professor emerita Lorna Crozier (What the Soul Doesn’t Want), longtime instructor Patrick Friesen (Songen) and longtime Faculty of Fine Arts colleague Maria Tippett (Sculpture in Canada: A History).

Also winning that night was author Monique Gray Smith, who picked up the $5,000 Bolen Books Children’s Book Prize for Speaking Our Truth: A Journey of Reconciliation (Orca).

“This is our 15th year awarding the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize and we are still going strong,” says Victoria Book Prize President Alyssa Polinsky. “We couldn’t do this without the support of our generous sponsors, an engaged community of readers and all the talented writers and illustrators we celebrate each year.”

The awards gala was hosted by CBC Radio’s Gregor Craigie, with Victoria’s Poet Laureate Yvonne Blomer opening the evening with a reading from her recent works.

Established in 2004, the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize is a partnership between the City of Victoria and Brian Butler of Butler Brothers Supplies. The prize is named for UVic alumnus Brian H. Butler (BA, Philosophy), a generous and longtime contributor to the Greater Victoria arts community. Past president of the Victoria Symphony Society, he has served on numerous community boards and for United Way campaigns.

Flute concert offers rare & daring program

Prize-winning flutist Suzanne Snizek has a dedicated practice of bringing lesser-known and previously suppressed music to the concert stage. In a noon-hour Faculty Concert on Tuesday, October 9, Dr. Snizek will present a rare selection of music by Czech, Korean, Jewish and Soviet composers.

Dr Suzanne Snizek

The concert will be rich in quality, diverse in musical styles and includes challenging solo flute pieces by Korean composer Isang Yun and Soviet composer Edison Denisov. “Both works are highly expressive although the styles differ greatly,” says Snizek.

She compares Denisov’s writing to that of Shostakovich’s “angularity and melancholy, with hints of humour,” while Yun’s work is explosive and daring and challenges the flutist to play at the extreme ranges of dynamics and colour.

Her concert was previewed in this October 4 Times Colonist article.

Snizek is an expert in suppressed music, has published on the topic and performed this repertoire extensively. She is the 2017 REACH award recipient for Excellence in Creative Expression at UVic, where she recently recorded her first CD devoted to suppressed music, titled Chamber Music (Re)Discoveries.

Guest pianist Yoomi Kim will join Snizek in works by Sylvie Bodorová and Gunter Raphael. A Jewish composer who survived the Holocaust, Raphael’s music suffered as a result of the political suppression he experienced during that time.

Kim is a pianist, conductor, composer and teacher at the Victoria Conservatory of Music.

The Faculty Concert Series featuring Suzanne Snizek (flute) and Yoomi Kim (piano) runs from 12:30–1:20 pm Tuesday, Oct. 9, in the Phillip T. Young Recital Hall in UVic’s MacLaurin Building B-wing. Admission is by donation.

Theatre historian Sasha Kovacs joins Phoenix

While the Department of Theatre crossed the half-century mark with their 50th anniversary in 2016, they’ve already started planning for the future by welcoming a number of new professors to their teaching faculty. Due to a round of recent retirements that saw the likes of design professor Allan Stichbury, director Linda Hardy and theatre historian Jennifer Wise step down, they had the opportunity to bring in fresh talent in the guise of acclaimed designer Patrick DuWors, voice and speech expert Michael Elliott and theatre historian Sasha Kovacs.

New Theatre professor Sasha Kovacs

An arts researcher, creator, administrator and educator, Kovacs holds a PhD from the University of Toronto. As the new assistant professor in Theatre History, Kovacs specializes in Canadian theatre history and theatre historiography (“how we come to ‘know’ and tell the history of performance in the place we now call Canada,” she explains), as well as performance archives and theory, material theatre culture, devised theatre and experimental dramaturgy.

When asked what she’ll be bringing to UVic (beyond a husband, new daughter and extended family), she says, “A passion for thinking about research as a creative practice.”

The timing is good for Kovacs, who just received a national prize from the Canadian Association for Theatre Research in June for her research work on late 19th/early 20th century poet-performer Pauline Johnson Tekahionwake. Her essay, “Beyond Shame and Blame in Pauline Johnson’s Performance Histories,” was published in the 2017 edited collection Canadian Theatre Histories and Historiographies and won the CATR’s annual Richard Plant Prize.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the community at the Phoenix,” she says. “It’s hard to find a comparable department—one that really values a balanced focus on practice and research. This is a major priority for me—it matches my own commitment to ensuring that the critical academic research I do is creative, and that the creative expressions I generate as an artist are critically engaged.  Being a good thinker and researcher makes a person a better performer/director/designer, just as much as honing creative instincts makes a person a better thinker. I’m happy to join a place that shares these values.”

Teaching and practicing

As a teacher, Kovacs is passionate about both connecting with students “who really believe that this discipline we work in and study can change the world” and building their confidence.

“I want students to feel as though the classes they take under my guidance expand their performance vocabularies and enrich their understanding of the traditions of our discipline.”

2012’s “Telephoney”

Born and raised in Toronto, where she developed both an academic and practicing theatre career, Kovacs has mounted a number of her own projects with the international and interdisciplinary performance collective Ars Mechanica, and has worked with a number of notable Canadian performance companies, including Nightwood Theatre, Tarragon Theatre, Buddies in Bad Times and Canadian Stage. She has also designed community-building arts programs for children, adults and seniors as the program director for Scarborough Arts, one of the City of Toronto’s six Local Arts Service Organizations (LASO).

With such an extensive background, does she have any concerns about swapping life in the theatrical centre of Canada for the western edge of the country?

“It has been wonderful to spend so much of my life in Toronto, where the theatre scene is always buzzing, but it’s also—and only—one scene,” says Kovacs. “It’s a good time for me to expand my horizons and learn about a new community that is making—and has always made—really rich contributions to Canada’s cultural and theatrical landscape. This move is welcome at a time when I’d like to cultivate focus in my life, commit to fostering connections with students through my teaching, and pursue more depth in my research.”

Kovacs (left) in 2013’s “Tomorrow we will run faster”

Given her work with Scarborough Arts, does she foresee any community outreach here in Victoria? “Of course, I want to continue working with different arts communities in Victoria, and I will keep seeking out these interdisciplinary and multi-generational artistic environments,” she says, “but I’ll do so knowing that it will take some time to make meaningful contributions.”

Ultimately, Kovacs is excited to be joining UVic’s Phoenix. “UVic’s theatre department has a rich history in leading exceptional research on theatre and performance history,” she concludes. “I am very honoured and humbled to be working in a place that has inspired so many other historians to make exciting and ground-breaking contributions to the field. I hope I can keep the legacy alive!”

Rapid fire Q&A:

  • What three words would you use to describe Victoria?

“Deep (I’m used to shallow lakes, not the ocean), sweet (are there a lot of pastry shops here, or is it just me?), blue (don’t know why, I just see the colour blue in my mind’s eye whenever I think of the city).”

  • If you could travel back in time and attend any theatrical performance in history, what/when would it be?

“Hmmm—that’s a hard one. You’d think I would have said something specific to Canadian theatre history but I think, in fact, I’d like to have been there for Molière’s last performance in his Le Malade Imaginaire—the biting comedy that marked the end of his life and career.”

  • What would you say to parents worried that their child wants to pursue an arts degree and live a creative life?

“They should be proud, because arts degrees cultivate creative thinkers and the creatives will save the world! ‘Please,’ I’d cry, ‘let your child save the world!’”

  • How do you define student success?

“I’m my happiest when students show me ways of living that even I didn’t think were possible. Then I know I’ve done my job. I’ve given them the tools and confidence to carve out their own path.”

Vanier Scholar Dennis Gupa on his Paddling Visions

What are the interconnections between climate change, sea rituals and traditional ecological knowledge and practices, and how those be explored through applied theatre practices? That’s the focus of the research currently being conducted by Theatre PhD candidate and Vanier Scholar Dennis Gupa.

Gupa is currently wrapping up a year of research on the ground—and on the seas—in his native Philippines, which is partially supported through a 2017 CAPI Student Research Fellowship.

Dennis Gupa in the Phillippines

“I have been here in the Philippines for my field work since September 2017. My site is located in Samar-Leyte Region and I am working with local elders in the island community of Guiuan, where the deadliest typhoon of 2013—Haiyan Typhoon—entered,” he writes.

“One of the most relevant activities I organized during this field research was the intentional congress festival, Paddling Visions [which saw] scholars and artists from the Philippines and Canada gather in a four-day congress festival of performances and academic dialogue and issues about climate change, human, ecological and gender violations, and indigenous knowledges.”

Held in May 2018, Gupa’s Paddling Visions sought to expand dialogue on climate justice in the Philippines. “This event is one of the activities that executes and explores my methodologies—participatory/community action research and applied theatre as research,” he writes.

Hear more about Gupa’s work in this short video:

 

“My heart overflows with gratitude for the participation extended by the communities in engaging them in grounding stories on the impact of climate change,” he says, noting the widespread participation in his research from all walks of life—including elders, women, children, fishermen, government officials, teachers, artists, scholars and others.

Gupa is working with Theatre professors Kirsten Sadeghi-Yetka and Warwick Dobson.

Gupa at the Paddling Visions conference

After receiving a scholarship from the Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture to study contemporary theatre and traditional mask dance at Bandung’s Sekolah Tinggi Seni Indonesia, the Asian Cultural Council’s awarded Gupa a fellowship to undertake a director-in-residence program in New York City, where he participated in and observed contemporary theatre directing process with Ma-Yi Theatre Company, National Asian American Theatre Company and the Juilliard Drama School.

In addition to an MFA in Directing from UBC and a Theatre MA from the University of the Philippines, Gupa was also awarded the 2016 Performance Studies international Dwight Conquergood Award and the $10,000 Ada Slaight Drama in Education Award in 2017.