Barbara Pentland Celebration

Artistic Advisor: Barbara Pritchard
Friday, November 18, 2016 • 7:00pm

Barbara PentlandBarbara Pentland was a pioneer, an important member of the first generation of modernist composers in Canada, and a legendary figure in the musical history of British Columbia. Despite encountering discouragement throughout her life, Barbara Pentland’s intense commitment to her artistic values never waned. This evening’s concert spans nearly fifty years of Barbara Pentland’s extraordinary creative output through a broad selection of some of her most beloved chamber works. Pentland’s own instrument, the piano, is featured prominently in several pieces ranging from the early Five Preludes, composed during Pentland’s graduate studies at Juilliard, to the late song for soprano and piano, Ice Age, wherein her compositional voice has become much more distilled and concentrated. The program also includes Pentland’s two major works for harp, Commenta and Trance, as well as a more light-hearted Sonatina for solo flute, and the mercurial pedagogical miniature Puppet Show for piano duo, which reflects Pentland’s life-long interest in education.

— Stefan Hintersteininger, 2016

Download Program (PDF)


The Lake

Documentary Film Premiere
Written, directed, and produced by John Bolton

Five Preludes

I. Prologue • II. Legend • III. Jest • IV. Romance • V. Curtin

Jane Hayes, piano

Sonatina for Solo Flute

I. Andante tranquillo • II. Allegro • III. Allegretto giocoso

Mark McGregor, flute

Ice Age

Janice Isabel Jackson, voice; Barbara Pritchard, piano


Puppet Show

Jane Hayes and Barbara Pritchard, piano duo

Let the Harp Speak, from Three Sung Songs

Janice Isabel Jackson, voice; Barbara Pritchard, piano


Albertina Chan, harp


Mark McGregor, flute; Albertina Chan, harp


Program Notes

The Lake

Music by Barbara Pentland; libretto by Dorothy Livesay
Composed 1952 in Vancouver, BC.

Performers: Angus Bell (John Allison); Kwangmin Brian Lee (Johnny MacDougall); Heather Pawsey (Susan Allison); Barbara Towell (Marie); Turning Point Ensemble conducted by Owen Underhill.

The Lake / n’-ha-a-itk is, in a sense, a project and a history that have been 143 years in the making. The steps along the way are the real-life story and interaction of Okanagan pioneers Susan and John Allison with the syilx/Okanagan people in the 1870s: the 1952 creation of a remarkable chamber opera entitled The Lake by two of Canada’s most distinguished women artists — composer Barbara Pentland and poet Dorothy Livesay; the rediscovery and championing of the opera by soprano Heather Pawsey, eventually leading to the first professional performance by Turning Point Ensemble and Astrolabe Musik Theatre in 2012; and the ‘return’ of the opera to its authentic location as part of a cross-cultural collaboration with Westbank First Nation in 2014.

When the semi-staged version of The Lake was mounted in 2012 in Vancouver with James Fagan Tait as director, Jordan Coble from Westbank First Nation skillfully and graciously provided the syilx/Okanagan cultural context in an educational event hosted by Vancouver Opera. syilx/Okanagan elder and cultural leader Delphine Derickson Armstrong attended one of the concert performances in Vancouver, and showed a strong interest in working together. As a result of these interactions, and the long time vision of Heather Pawsey to perform the opera on the historic site of the Allison homestead overlooking Lake Okanagan, the journey towards a jointly created new production was begun. With the generous support of Quails’ Gate Winery (currently the site of the original 1873 Allison “Sunnyside Ranch” homestead) and the active participation of Westbank First Nation cultural contributors, audiences experienced a rare connection of culture and place that integrated living and vital syilx/Okanagan traditions with a premiere of a fully staged BC opera in its natural setting.

Owen Underhill, 2014 / Heather Pawsey, 2016

Five Preludes

Composed 1938 in New York.
Duration: c. 9′

Sensing a need to develop her skills as a composer, Barbara Pentland won a fellowship to the Juilliard Graduate School in 1936 where, for the next two years, she submitted to a course in 16th-century counterpoint under Frederick Jacobi. At the same time, steady encounters with the new music of the day — of which so much more could be heard in New York than in Winnipeg — incited her to fresh rebellion. Leaving Jacobi, she spent her third year at Juilliard searching for freer and more individual means of expression under the encouraging guidance of Bernard Wagenaar. The works of Hindemith and Stravinsky became a significant influence at this time, combining, as they did, the strong counterpoint which her studies with Gauthiez and Jacobi had taught her to respect and the harmonic resilience and freedom she had come to crave.

The Five Preludes were written while Pentland was studying with Bernard Wagenaar at Juilliard. Lively incidental piano pieces in the 19th century tradition, they show Pentland beginning to assimilate dissonance, and Hindemith-like angular rhythms into her previous Franck-influenced style.

Program note adapted by Stefan Hintersteininger from 1. Barbara Pentland, The Canadian Encyclopedia, article by Betty Nygaard King, John Beckwith, Kenneth Winters, 2006 / 2013; 2. The Pentland Project, program notes by Owen Underhill, 2005.

Sonatina for Solo Flute

Composed 1954 in Vancouver, BC.
Duration: c. 8′

Barbara Pentland’s first years in Vancouver were, at the beginning, rather lonely ones; “initially, life in Vancouver was considerably quieter than it had been in Toronto for Pentland, and, though she enjoyed the pioneer spirit felt in Vancouver at the time, she felt the loss of others with the same [artistic] interests as herself.”

Someone who might have been a kindred spirit to Pentland was composer Jean Coulthard, who was also on the university’s teaching staff at the time. However, the two women never really became more than polite acquaintances. The profound differences between the two composers’ styles — Coulthard’s traditionalism never meshed particularly well with the staunchly modernist Pentland — and their personalities seemed to hinder the development of a close relationship.

Partly through the assistance and encouragement of Harry and Frances Adaskin, however, Pentland scored several successes in the early 1950s, and as more of her works were performed (including the Sonatina), she was able to be more optimistic about her new home.

Barbara Pentland’s Sonatina is the earliest work for solo flute in the Canadian Music Centre collection. It also marks the close of Pentland’s compositional style from a strongly neoclassical approach to the incorporation of more contemporary techniques, and (in her words), “a more transparent texture using less but more meaningful material.” Pentland made a series of visits to Europe in the 1950s, bringing her into contact with the music of (among others) Anton Webern. The influence of his music on her own creation was remarkable and immediate.

Sonatina for Solo Flute is in three contrasting movements: a calm Andante tranquillo, an energetic Allegro, and a playful Allegretto giocoso. The work received its premiere performance in February, 1955, by flautist Jean Murphy (a student of Pentland’s) at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Program note adapted by Stefan Hintersteininger (2016)

Ice Age

Composed 1986 in Vancouver, BC.
Duration: c. 9′

Ice Age, for soprano and piano, was composed in 1986 and is the last work Pentland wrote for voice. She chose to set a poem, written in 1975, by Dorothy Livesay (1909–1996), a fellow Winnipegger born just three years before Pentland. Livesay is perhaps “best known as a strong sensitive poet dealing as capably with public and political issues as with personal and intimate emotion and reflection.” In addition, she — like Pentland — lived a life of commitment to such issues as militarization, women’s experience and environmental concerns.

Livesay also settled in Vancouver and taught at the University of British Columbia, Pentland did; quite possibly, this physical proximity — coupled with their similar life experiences and interests in history, politics and the environment — inspired these two women to collaborate on three significant vocal works over the ensuing decades: The Lake (1952), a one-act thirty-minute opera interpreting the interactions between early settlers of British Columbia and its First Nations inhabitants; Disasters of the Sun (1977), a large-scale dramatic work for voice and chamber ensemble that explicitly explores gender issues; and, finally, Ice Age.

Although Pentland was not personally involved in social activism in a political sense, she was certainly a humanist and an engaged artist, deeply affected by political and environmental developments. This engagement is unequivocally present in her dramatic musical illustration of the poem’s chilling nuclear war imagery. The music illustrates the helpless, fearsome “nuclear winter scene.” Pentland makes use of serial technique in Ice Age, however her approach is much freer in this later work than in Three Sung Songs from two decades prior.

Program note excerpted from Catherine Abele’s dissertation Barbara Pentland’s Songs for Soprano: A Performer’s Guide to Selected Major Works, University of Cincinnati, 2015. 

Ice Age

In this coming cold
devouring our wheat fields
and Russia’s
there’ll be no shadow
nor sign of shadow
all cloud, shroud
endless rain
eternal snow

In this coming cold
which we have fashioned
out of our vain jet-pride,
the supersonic planes
will shriek destruction
upon the benign
yin yang
ancient and balanced universe

Worse than an animal
man tortures his prey
given sun’s energy
and fire’s blaze
he has ripped away
is moving to destroy
the still centre
heart’s power.

Now who among us
will lift a finger
to declare I am of God, good?
Who among us
dares to be righteous?

— Dorothy Livesay

Puppet Show

Composed 1964 in Vancouver, BC.
Duration: 1′

Barbara Pentland met a kindred spirit, fellow Manitoban, and future champion in Robert Rogers, a young pianist with a keen appetite for contemporary music who had studied with Frances Adaskin in Vancouver before taking a position at the University of British Columbia in 1966. Pentland, a very fine pianist herself, had already written a great deal of music for her own instrument, including duets, but it was really during her association with Rogers that she began to fully explore the possibilities of this form.

At the week-long Festival of the Contemporary Arts in February, 1961, Pentland performed with Robert Rogers in a duo recital of contemporary works. The program included Stravinsky’s Sonata for Two Pianos and two works by Pentland; Duets after Pictures by Paul Klee and Sonata for Two Pianos. She made a strong connection with Rogers and began to turn her attention to piano duo repertoire. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, she composed a number of pieces for this medium.

Puppet Show, a brief work suitable for student performers, combines Pentland’s enthusiasm for the piano duet form with her continuing interest in composing piano music with pedagogical intentions. The piece illustrates in miniature the light-hearted teasing of a Punch and Judy show.

Program note by Stefan Hintersteininger (2016)

Let the Harp Speak, from Three Sung Songs

Composed 1964 in Vancouver, BC.
Duration: c. 2’15”

Of the many modern European works Barbara Pentland was exposed to while participating at the Darmstadt Internationale Ferienkurse fur neue Musik in 1955, it was the music of Anton Webern, in particular, that inspired her shift into a completely new stylistic direction. She began to assimilate Webern’s approach, which authors Eastman and McGee describe as being “one of extreme economy in which each pitch, each rhythm, and each tone colour are weighted with infinite care.” In a 1968 article in Music Scene magazine, Pentland provides an explanation to interviewer Peter Huse of why this newfound, highly economical, transparent style appealed to her in the years that followed her visit to Darmstadt: “I realized you can say as much with two notes as with 20 if you use the right two in the right place.”

The elimination of non-essential notes — a hallmark of this ‘Webernesque’ approach — posed some difficulties for Pentland when it came to writing for the voice, and during the subsequent decades — the 1960s and 1970s — she limited her vocal output to just two sets of songs, both entitled Sung Songs, one for solo voice and piano and one for vocal quartet (or chorus).

Eastman and McGee write: “It is not that Pentland [preferred] instrumental writing, but she has experienced some difficulty reconciling her [latest, exceedingly economical style] to the voice. She [believed] that the biggest problem has been finding texts which can work — short, simple, direct lyrics that do not have their own musical rhythm — and that kind of poetry [was] not easily found … She outlined her difficulties in searching for suitable texts and explained that for this reason ‘so many composers today, [the 1960s,] including myself, have turned for song texts to simple translations of ancient Chinese and Japanese lyrics.’”

For this reason, Pentland decided in 1964 to set English translations by Clara M. Candlin of three brief lyrics from the ancient Chinese Sung Dynasty (970–1279), each expressing a single mood or atmosphere. Pentland opted for brief musical settings that match the concise length of the poems.

All three songs capture the ‘Webernesque’ approach with frequent semitones and their permutations, a lack of rhythmic pulse and definition, single chords and short figures flanked by silence, and continually changing timbre and register, juxtaposing extremes of both.

The Columbia History of Chinese Literature indicates: “The typical theme of the [tz’u] lyric is love (and almost always love-longing), and the typical musical accompaniment is by stringed instruments … Yen Chi-Tao is typical of the men who wrote most of the lyrics that have come down to us from the Northern Sung.”

In accordance with the above description, the lyrics of Let the Harp Speak present the love-longing theme, where the speaker’s sorrowful heart longs to reunite with a seemingly distant (either physically or emotionally) loved one.

Program note excerpted from Catherine Abele’s dissertation Barbara Pentland’s Songs for Soprano: A Performer’s Guide to Selected Major Works, University of Cincinnati, 2015.

Let the Harp Speak

Raindrops bid farewell to clouds and Fall.
Flowing streams return not to their springs.
Sorrow that remains, 
When will it cease?
Bitter as the kernel of a lotus seed is my heart
Curbing tears, I cannot sing.
Let the harp strings speak for me.
Sing the wish to meet again!
Can it be?

— Yen Chi-Tao (A.D. 1100) trans. Clara M. Candlin


Composed 1981 in Vancouver, BC.
Duration: c. 8′

In the early 1980s, Barbara Pentland told an interviewer that both her musical interests and physical limitations (a spate of illness, declining eyesight) had led her to concentrate on solo and chamber works to the exclusion of larger forms such as the orchestra.

The Latin word ‘commenta’ is the plural form of ‘commentum’, meaning an invention or design. Pentland’s Commenta certainly has the feeling of a freely-associative fantasia. The work, which is Pentland’s only piece for solo harp, is stylistically typical of her late output; unsentimental, direct, and completely uncompromising. About Commenta, Owen Underhill writes that “Pentland uses thematic chords and sonorities that continually repeat and evolve. The music is at times contemplative, at times impulsive and percussive. Particularly striking is the use of extreme registers, and special harp techniques such as ‘thunder’, ‘falling hail’, ‘Aeolian tremolo’, and pedal glissandi.”

The composer’s own notes on Commenta are as follows: “[the work] was written towards the end of 1980 into ’81, my first work for solo harp. It was inspired by the fine playing of Erica Goodman in two previous ensemble works featuring harp, with technical help from Donna Hossack (in Vancouver), former harpist with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Structurally the piece can be divided into three main sections, evolving from the bard-like opening and proceeding through contrasting aspects of the theme to a climax. In the second section a rather giocoso fugal elaboration is interrupted by more sober episodes, which lead to a suggestion of tolling bells fading in the distance. The final section recalls some earlier commentary and reaches an aleatory zone where the player has certain freedoms with given tones. A variant of the opening brings the work to a close.”

Commenta received its premiere performance on June 23, 1982 by its dedicatee Erica Goodman, at the American Harp Society conference in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Program note adapted by Stefan Hintersteininger (2016)


Composed 1978 in Vancouver, BC.
Duration: c. 9′

Barbara Pentland was awarded the Diplôme d’honneur by the Canadian Conference of the Arts in 1977. The citation noted that she had been faced “with ultraconservative attitudes both towards female composers and new means of expression. However,” it added, “intolerance from the unthinking has never deterred Pentland … [She] has contributed to all major categories of music and her catalogue of works is impressive.” The citation quoted her remark “There is an element of daring in all great art” and stated, “Such an element runs through much of the music of Barbara Pentland.”

Nowhere is this truer than in her later chamber works, of which Trance is a prime example. An extended, free-form fantasia, Trance is notable for its use of ‘aleatoric zones’, a classic Pentland notational technique akin to unmetered, unmeasured proportional notation. Trance is also remarkable for its theatrical elements; the flautist is directed to begin playing from offstage, and to gradually move towards the stand (as though in a trance). The aleatoric zones are interspersed with more active, rather scherzando sections. The work employs microtones in the flute part, and percussive extended techniques in the harp writing.

The work received its premiere performance in the late 1970s by Barbara Pentland’s trusted friends and collaborators, flautist Robert Aitken and harpist Erica Goodman.

Program note adapted in part by Stefan Hintersteininger from Barbara Pentland, The Canadian Encyclopedia, article by Betty Nygaard King, John Beckwith, Kenneth Winters, 2006 / 2013.



Barbara Pentland, Composer

Barbara Pentland (1912–2000) was born in Winnipeg and began to write music at the age of nine, an activity which was met with strong disapproval from her conventional and socially prominent parents. She nevertheless continued to write surreptitiously during her school years in Montreal and was eventually “allowed” to study composition while at finishing school in Paris. In 1936, she received a fellowship enabling her to continue studies at the Juilliard Graduate School in New York.

During the Second World War years Pentland became an instructor at the Royal Conservatory of Music of Toronto and in 1949 she was invited by Harry Adaskin to join the just-founded music department of the University of British Columbia.

Pentland’s earliest works are flavoured by the chromatic tradition of the French late-Romantic school of Franck and D’Indy. In the 1930s she became concerned with avoiding the textures and idioms of 19th century music; at that time, she was greatly impressed by the linear focus of early music, and of Gregorian chant in particular. As she began to embrace modernists aesthetics, her work became neoclassical in spirit inspired, if not influenced, by Copland, Stravinsky, and Bartok. After her contact with Schoenberg’s pupil Dika Newlin in the late ’40s and her introduction to the music of Webern and a sojourn at Darmstadt in the mid-’50s, she adopted serial techniques.

By the middle years of the 20th century Pentland saw herself as a committed high modernist and a steadfast partisan of contemporary values. In the 1960s and 1970s, Pentland continued her explorations investigating such then current trends as microtones, “found” texts, directed improvisation, and tape.

Though Pentland was recognized by scholars and many fellow composers as one of the most significant figures in 20th century Canadian music, her work was rarely popular with audiences or a broad spectrum of performers. Pentland wrote her last works almost invariably for members of a loyal coterie of performers in Vancouver and elsewhere who celebrated the quality as well as originality of Pentland’s work. Her final years were clouded with ill health, and at the time of her death in the winter of 2000 she had been unable to compose for almost a decade.

— David Gordon Duke, 2003

John Bolton, Filmmaker

John Bolton is an award-winning filmmaker from Vancouver, Canada, preoccupied with revelation, consolation and transcendence, sometimes even in that order. He produces, writes and directs dramas, documentaries, performing arts pieces and the occasional disaster film through his production company Opus 59 Films. John’s most recent films are the feature length “musical docudrama” AIM FOR THE ROSES (in association with the Canada Council for the Arts and the British Columbia Arts Council), about Canadian musician Mark Haney and Canadian stuntman Ken Carter, which had its world premiere at Hot Docs and which was DOXA’s opening night film; and the short documentary DEBRIS (for the National Film Board of Canada), about Tofino, BC-based “intertidal artist” Pete Clarkson and the making of his most ambitious and personal project to date — a memorial to the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake & Tsunami, made entirely out of marine debris from the disaster — which had its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Albertina Chan, Harp

Harpist Albertina Chan is a versatile musician, active in both the contemporary and classical realms. She has been featured performing concertos by Handel, Vivaldi, and Wagenseil with A Company of Instruments Baroque Orchestra as well as the Mozart Concerto for Flute and Harp benefitting the Dalit Foundation of Canada. As a chamber and orchestral musician, Albertina has performed and premiered works with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Turning Point Ensemble, Music on Main, the Erato Ensemble, the Vancouver Film Orchestra, the Vancouver Cantata Singers, as well as for touring performers including Idina Menzel and The Tenors. She performs extensively with CORDEI, a harp and violin duo she founded with violinist Janna Sailor which is committed to performing the works of Canadian composers. Albertina earned her Master of Music with Judy Loman at the University of Toronto and her Bachelor of Music with Jennifer Swartz at McGill University. Previously, she studied in Vancouver with Rita Costanzi and Elizabeth Volpe. Her playing has been recognized and awarded in competitions held by the American Harp Society. Albertina also earned her Doctor of Dental Surgery while at the University of Toronto, and recently opened her own office Dolce Dental in Vancouver.

Jane Hayes, Piano

Since her debut with the Toronto Symphony, Jane Hayes’ concerts have taken her across Canada, the United States, Europe and Mexico. An active recording artist, she has 17 CDs available on the Fanfare, EMI, Centrediscs, ATMA, Artifact, CBC-Musica Viva and CBC SM5000 labels. In addition to her position as Director of Keyboard Studies at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Langley, Jane maintains a busy performing schedule as soloist, collaborator, and chamber musician and founding member of the Turning Point Ensemble, the Yarilo Ensemble and Sea and Sky with clarinetist François Houle. Beyond her active performing schedule, Jane is a dedicated teacher and educator. A faculty member at Kwantlen Polytechnic University since 1993, Jane was the recipient of the 2015 Kwantlen Faculty of Arts Distinguished Teaching Award given for outstanding achievement in her field as noted by students.  As a proponent of Canadian music, she released a teaching edition and recording of early piano works by Barbara Pentland in 2010 which is available through Avondale Press. She is in demand as an adjudicator, competition judge and clinician throughout Canada, and is past president of the Canadian Music Festival Adjudicators’ Association.

Janice Isabel Jackson, Voice

Janice Isabel Jackson has sung over 200 world premieres, including many works written specifically for her, and performed with contemporary music ensembles and in concert halls around the world — Beijing, Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Torino, Toronto, Montreal, New York, Berlin, Johannesburg, Cape Town and more. She has appeared in countless contemporary music festivals including the November Festival (Ghent), Wien Modern (Vienna), Ludwigs Lust (Hamburg), The Proms (Amsterdam), IRCAM (Paris), Big Torino 2000 (Turin), the Diem Festival of Electro-acoustic music (Denmark), and the Scotia Festival of Music (Nova Scotia). She is also the Artistic Director of the Halifax-based contemporary vocal music society Vocalypse Productions, through which she has produced many new works such as Tim Brady’s new opera Ghost Tango (2015) for 2 singers and electric guitar. She recently spent 5 weeks at the Banff Arts Centre as a musician in residence. She has received recognition for her contribution to Nova Scotian culture from The Honorable Myra A. Freeman, Lieutenant Governor, as well as an Established Artist Award through Arts Nova Scotia.

Mark McGregor, Flute

Described as a flutist of “huge physical energy,” Mark Takeshi McGregor has performed across North America, Europe, Australia, and Israel, including appearances at Festival Montréal-Nouvelles Musique, Music Gallery (Toronto), Vancouver New Music Festival, New Works Calgary, Le Hum (Moncton), Athelas New Music Festival (Copenhagen), and the Internationale A•DEvantgarde-Festival (Munich). An outspoken advocate of new music, Mark is the principal flute of the Aventa Ensemble in Victoria and one-half of the Vancouver-based Tiresias Duo with Rachel Iwaasa. McGregor has given the premiere performances of Anna Höstman’s flute concerto Trace the Gold Sun with the Victoria Symphony, concertos by Piotr Grella-Mozejko and James Beckwith Maxwell with the Aventa Ensemble, and two new works written especially for him by the British composer Michael Finnissy. Recent and upcoming commissions include new works by key Canadian composers including Michael Oesterle, Nicole Lizée, and Paul Steenhuisen.

Barbara Pritchard, Artistic Advisor / Piano

Barbara Pritchard specializes in performing piano music from the 20th and 21st centuries. While living in Toronto, she played with the Arraymusic and Continuum ensembles, and for several years she was a faculty member in the Banff Centre’s summer program.  Since moving to Halifax in 1998, Ms. Pritchard has established herself as a soloist and chamber musician, giving many recitals with the help of grants from the Canada Council and Arts Nova Scotia. She has returned to Toronto several times for performances, including a solo recital at the St. Lawrence Centre in January 2015 (presented by New Music Concerts and Music Toronto). In November 2015, in recognition of her contributions to cultural life in Nova Scotia, Ms. Pritchard received an Established Artist Recognition Award from the Creative Nova Scotia Leadership Council. Her third CD, Toccata (2012), was nominated for a 2014 ECMA Award: Classical Recording of the Year. Toccata was also chosen as one of Musical Toronto’s Top Ten Albums of 2012.