Month: September 2016

A Long and Meaningful Friendship

alex-schafer-house1Murray Schafer and I have had a long working relationship and friendship and I’ve long thought about celebrating him and his work with a special concert, an event that is really overdue.

I first met Murray when I moved to Vancouver in 1973. He was finishing his work with the World Soundscape Project and preparing to move back to Ontario. I was just beginning my career and looking for work at Simon Fraser University where he was doing his research and teaching. Rather than lead me into academia, he said “you are a composer and conductor – just stick to doing that.” I’m grateful to him for that.

Over Esprit Orchestra’s history (we are about to launch our 34th season), I’ve commissioned several works from him, conducted his music more than 60 times (several times on Canadian and international tours in Europe and China) and made CD recordings of his music. I’ve programmed almost all of his works for orchestra and I’ve conducted the outdoor theatrical works Princess of the Stars and Palace of the Cinnabar Phoenix in several separate production runs.

All this is just to say that I know Murray’s music well and respect it, and I know he trusts me and Esprit with his music. Murray will be in attendance at Esprit’s special tribute concert on October 23rd so the event will be a wonderful opportunity for friends and admiring audience members to meet Murray and pay tribute to him as we perform some of his most important pieces for the concert stage. It will be a vibrant celebration of a great composer.

alex-schafer-studio1I’ve lined up some terrific soloists for the concert. For Schafer’s monodrama Adieu Robert Schumann we’ll have the superb mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó in the role of Clara, Robert’s wife, evoking aspects of the last period in Schumann’s life – from his first hallucinations until his death in an asylum in 1856. The text is freely adapted from Clara’s diaries. Passages of Schumann’s compositions (lieder, fragments of his piano pieces) weave in and out of Schafer’s work, evoking moods, characters, and conflicts of the mind as Robert descends progressively into madness. A backstage piano mid-way through the piece plays the melody Schumann wrote down the night of his first dramatic hallucination – a melody he claimed was dictated by angels. The song, Dein Angesicht, opens and closes the composition.

I last performed Adieu Robert Schumann in 1990 with the legendary Maureen Forrester as soloist. I’m thrilled that I’ll now have the chance to do the piece again with Krisztina who is herself developing a legendary career. As for Murray’s flute concerto, this will be the fifth time that flutist Robert Aitken and I have collaborated to perform it with Esprit. The third work of Murray’s on the concert, Scorpius, is one that I commissioned for Esprit and have performed several times before.

Murray has had such a full, diverse artistic life and output. He is a great composer and I want to show this again.

— Alex