It’s not every day that an organization launches a new concert series, let alone a new theatre. Undertaking one of these projects alone would be daunting. Doing both simultaneously is the challenge of a lifetime. Yet that is what the CMC did last Friday evening, inaugurating our new Murray Adaskin Salon with a live concert and documentary film premiere celebrating Adaskin‘s life and music. The film, made possible in part thanks to a generous grant from the BC Arts Council, is called A Wedding Toast, and is based on Adaskin’s work for soprano and string quartet set to a poem of the same name by James Bertolino.
Originally written for soprano and piano, Adaskin arranged the work for the wedding of a member of the Lafayette String Quartet, Pamela Highbaugh, to Yariv Aloni. The film (which you can watch below), just under ten minutes long, features a live performance of the work by soprano Robyn Driedger-Klassen and the Arcato String Quartet, which features a cameo appearance by none other than CMC BC Librarian Stefan Hintersteininger as cellist.
Adaskin is a fascinating, pivotal figure in Canadian music, and laid a solid foundation for what we can now safely call the Victoria School. A modernist without being radical, his music is contrapuntal in nature but, written by a violinist, filled with long lines and beautiful melodies. And his music is suffused with humour. It’s his nature, but one can’t help read into his music the influence of Milhaud, with whom he studied after John Weinzweig. As Rodney Sharman said, his Divertimento is not just, “my wig is a bit crooked,” it’s more “my powdered wig is on crooked.”
The programme spanned nearly fifty years of output by Adaskin, who wrote more than half his entire output after retirement in Victoria. Performances featured Soprano Cathy Fern Lewis, who sang Adaskin’s haunting Autumn Song so beautifully. And Jessica Tovey, an emerging double threat as both Soprano and Violinist, in outstanding performances of Daydreams, a violin duo performed with Joan Blackman, and The Prairie Lily, sung with Chiharu Linuma, who christened Adaskin’s completely refurbished piano with her gorgeous accompaniment.
Joan Blackman, to whom I could listen forever, also performed Adaskin’s Divertimento No. 3, a sardonically humorous neoclassical trio, performed alongside Gwen Seaton‘s revelatory bassoon playing and Nicholas Anderson, whose musicality on the french horn was simply sublime.
It made the entire evening even more of a celebration to have Adaskin’s wife, Dorothea Adaskin, and members of her family in attendance.
Why Murray Adaskin?
In order to be truly relevant to our place and time, we felt it was imperative to begin by recognizing the enormous contribution of the generation that first established the tradition of writing concert music on Canada’s west coast: five BC composers who have made larger-than-life contributions, both in terms of their bodies of work, and their substantial dedication to teaching the next generation of composers.
Those composers are Murray Adaskin, Barbara Pentland, Jean Coulthard, and Elliot Weisgarber, each of whom personifies this exceptional gift to our musical heritage, along with Rudolf Komorous, who will be honoured on the occasion of his 85th birthday on December 8th at a concert co-presented with the University of Victoria.
To help us create a fitting tribute to each composer, we turned to five Artistic Advisors, individuals who are most closely affiliated with each composer. They helped choose the programs and select musicians who are expert practitioners of that composer’s music, or are particularly well-suited to specific repertoire.
To help us celebrate Adaskin, we turned to CMC Associate Composer Rodney Sharman, a student and lifelong disciple of Adaskin, and we are completely indebted to him for his invaluable insight and artistic advice.
We also turned to award-winning filmmaker John Bolton and his colleague Maggie MacPherson to help us produce documentaries about each composer and their music. Each of these short films is quite different from the other, yet they are all centered in the composer’s music, each one a performance-based art piece which brings the composer’s personality alive and helps make their music more accessible.
As a young violin student at the University of Victoria, I was lucky enough to receive the Murray Adaskin Scholarship, which meant I got the chance to play for him. This is a particularly fond memory for me because he was so warm and kind to me and full of fun, all of which made a big impression at that relatively young age.
How remarkable, then, forty years later almost to the day, to be able to launch our very first season with a concert in his honour and dedicate the City of Vancouver’s newest theatre to his memory as the Murray Adaskin Salon.