The Borealis String Quartet with Thomas Beckman (centre)

Named in honour of one of British Columbia’s most beloved legacy composers and teachers, the Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings allow emerging composers to gain experience writing for string quartet, along with the invaluable opportunity of having their pieces read, workshopped, rehearsed, and performed by a professional string quartet through sessions facilitated by a professional Composer-Mentor. The program’s unique format is designed for composers to receive feedback from both the Borealis String Quartet and a guest Composer-Mentor, so they may revise and refine their works several times over the course of the twelve-week seminar. Thanks to the generosity of the Deux Mille Foundation, sponsor of the Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings, all events are offered to participants and to audiences free of cost.

This year, the Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings included a special partnership with the Vancouver Maritime Museum, centered around the celebrated RCMP schooner, the St. Roch. Built in North Vancouver in 1928, the St. Roch was the first vessel to sail the Northwest Passage from West to East (1940-1942), and the first to completely circumnavigate North America. The St. Roch, a National Historic Site, celebrated its 90th Anniversary on Canada Day, July 1, 2018.

The 2018 Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings, this year moderated by Composer-Mentor Rita Ueda, culminated in two well-attended public performances. The first, on Saturday, June 30th, took place at the CMC’s intimate Murray Adaskin Salon. The second occurred on Sunday, July 1st at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, in close proximity to the St. Roch herself, as part of the museum’s Canada Day celebrations and the 90th Anniversary of the St. Roch. The second performance was recorded by CBC, and excerpts were broadcast on CBC’s North By Northwest.

This session of the Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings saw the world premieres of ten new works inspired by the St. Roch, composed by Bruce Bai, Thomas Beckman, Georgia Couver, Kirsten Ewart, Cyrus Fu, Konstantin Klimov, Mohammad Motevaselan, Angela So, Karl Wallace-Deering, and Emmett Wilson.

Composer Thomas Beckman describes his experiences participating in the Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings over the past two sessions:

“When I sat down to write Tango, it was originally for the Acrofire Entertainment group who were in need of an original piece for their latest promotional video. As a string player myself, I thought to write a short and energetic piece for string quartet, which, as I serendipitously discovered, ran concurrently with the requirements for the Canadian Music Centre in BC’s Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings. Through this workshop, I met ten other emerging composers, that year’s mentor composer, Farshid Samandari, and of course the Borealis String Quartet with whom I had worked with before on another project.”


“Working with professional ensembles is crucial to a composer’s development. Hearing one’s music live reveals a myriad of technical details that are responsible for the overall success or failure of the work. In these precious moments you have a chance to revise the score, create a better solution, achieve a finer balance, and ultimately understand how to write more effectively for the specific group you happen to be working with. In the case of the Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings, it is greatly advantageous to be working with the Borealis String Quartet. Their involvement should serve as a great attraction for new composers who might be considering participating in future sessions.”


“For 2018, I wanted to establish a theme for the workshop that would add greater relevance to the subject material and engagement with the public. Having become a regular patron of the Vancouver Maritime Museum I quickly learned about the St. Roch and it’s 90th anniversary. In our current period of political upheaval and partisanship I became inspired by the St. Roch’s story: men and women from disparate cultures working together to conquer the elements, rather than each other. The curator of the museum latched onto my proposal and in the end our collaboration produced the following developments: One, we were able to host a secondary performance of the Jean Coulthard string quartet works, and this time to a crowd of 100 or more at the museum beside the ship; two, we staged a successful recording of the concert which is going on CD; three, we performed an interview with Matthew Parsons on CBC’s North by Northwest radio program which shed new light on the program and its historical theme.”

“There are moments in a musician’s life when the unexpected concert, lesson or in this case, workshop can serve as a turning point in one’s career. The experience of participating in the Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings significantly emboldened my decision to go deeper into the craft of composing. Musical notes translated into the real thing, and the addictive experience of having your own creation brought to life are powerful motivators for just about any composer.”

Thanks to the creative efforts of Thomas Beckman, each year, one work from among the pieces is selected for a special audio and video recording. From the works presented at the 2017 Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings, the jury selected Thomas Beckman’s Tango to be professionally recorded and filmed for a unique and dynamic music video.

“By the end of the 2017 Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings workshop, I initiated a new component that would effectively expand the program to include the production of one new music video per year. The idea behind this was both to capitalize on the work wrought during the workshop, and to create a strong portfolio piece that would assist the composer in gathering new opportunities. My piece, Tango, would serve as the pilot work for this project.”


“The recording was held at Dunbar Ryerson Church in Kerrisdale. A famous site for classical recordings in Vancouver, it held fast to its reputation by endowing the performance with spacious acoustics and a certain freedom to the players. Audio engineer Justin Brown used the well-tested formula for string quartet, employing a pair of stereo microphones about five feet in front of the ensemble with an overhead condenser overhead. Given the size and echo response of the church, he decided to place another condenser microphone in the rafters approximately 90 feet away.”


“With Tango recorded, we next moved to the Beaumont Studio for a half-day shoot with cameraman / director Darko Sikman, dancer Sierra Tasi Baker, and the Borealis Quartet. We rented a smoke machine, set up lights, staged an improvised dance, and captured an atmospheric performance. In the editing session, both Darko and I were overcome with a sense of satisfaction as for the first time we were able to witness all the components together. This feeling is something I’d like for many of our other local composers to experience. It is a deeply motivational and decisive factor for subsequent creative work.”

Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings 2018 Winning Composition

We are pleased to announce that the jury has selected Angela So‘s Ice Drifter as the winning composition of the 2018 Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings. Ice Drifter will be professionally recorded by the Borealis String Quartet and made into a music video filmed on location at the Vancouver Maritime Museum in and around the St. Roch.

Vancouver-based composer Angela So writes for a variety of ensembles, and her pieces have been featured in multiple showcases including the Canadian Music Centre, the Orpheum Annex, and festivals such as Sonic Boom. Her works have been played by groups such as the Borealis String Quartet, Nu:BC Collective, and the Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra. Her background as a classical pianist ignited a passion for composition that prompted her to go back to school, studying with Owen Underhill and Sabrina Schroeder at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts. Currently, Angela is exploring the connection between instruments and the creation of different sound worlds, with interesting harmonies and timbres. Her music is described as tuneful with lush and vivid imagery drawn from nature, drawing on feelings of yearning and nostalgia.

Angela writes the following about her piece:

“Ice Drifter was inspired by the unparalleled tenacity of the St. Roch ship in its journey through the Northwest Passage. The sense of hope and adventure felt by its crew, and the struggle of being stuck in ice and breaking through, were the elements focused on in this piece. While touring the St. Roch ship at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, I could imagine the rough waves of the sea, the barrenness of the Artic, coupled with the sound of cracking ice as the St. Roch passed through as the first achievement of its kind.”

Stay tuned for next year’s session of the Jean Coulthard String Quartet Readings, to be announced in early 2019!