Murray Adaskin Celebration

Artistic Advisor: Rodney Sharman
Friday, October 14, 2016 • 7:00pm

Murray Adaskin

Murray Adaskin began his musical life as a violinist, and came to composing later in life at age thirty-eight. Tonight’s programme spans fifty years of creativity: two works for young people (The Prairie Lily, Daydreams), an excerpt from his only opera sung by one of his most cherished performers and friends, Cathy Fern Lewis (Autumn Song), and one of his most unusual pieces of chamber music (Divertimento No. 3).

Download Program (PDF)


A Wedding Toast

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

Autumn Song
From the opera Grant, Warden of the Plains

Cathy Fern Lewis, soprano; Gwen Seaton, bassoon


Jessica Tovey and Joan Blackman, violins

Sonatine Baroque

I. Adagio
II. Andante
III. Allegro

Jessica Tovey, violin


The Prairie Lily

Jessica Tovey, soprano; Chiharu Iinuma, piano

Divertimento No. 3

I. Adagio maestoso
II. Un poco allegretto e grazioso
III. Moderato, adagio maestoso

Joan Blackman, violin; Nicholas Anderson, horn; Gwen Seaton, bassoon

Program Notes

A Wedding Toast

Original version for soprano and piano composed 1992 in Victoria, BC.
Version for soprano and string quartet transcribed 1994 in Victoria, BC.
Duration: c. 3’30”

Performers: Robyn Driedger-Klassen, soprano; Alana Lopez and Samuel Tsui, violins; Manti Poon, viola; Stefan Hintersteininger, cello.

Between 1992 and 1996, Murray Adaskin created three versions of A Wedding Toast, on a poem by Washington State poet James Bertolino. The first, for soprano and piano, was dedicated to Rosita and Freeman Tovell, the latter a diplomat and UVic professor, on the occasion of their 50th wedding anniversary in 1992. It received its premiere the same year by soprano Cathy Fern Lewis and pianist Robert Holliston at the University of Saskatchewan.

At the request of Adaskin’s friends, Victoria musicians Yariv Aloni and Pamela Highbaugh, he later re-scored the work for soprano and string quartet for performance at their wedding in 1994. A final version for soprano and guitar, arranged in 1996, has not yet been performed.

May your love be firm,
and may your dreams of life together
be a river between two shores –
by day bathed in sunlight, and by night
illuminated from within. May the heron
carry news of you to the heavens, and the salmon
bring the sea’s blue grace. May your twin thoughts spiral upward
like leafy vines, like fiddle strings in the wind,
and be as noble as the Douglas fir.
May you never find yourselves back to back
without love pulling you around
into each other’s arms.

— James Bertolino

The Prairie Lily

Composed 1967 in Canoe Lake, SK.
Duration: c. 2’15”

The Prairie Lily, a song for soprano solo or unison voices and piano, was commissioned by the Zonta International Centennial Project Committee, Regina, with the intention of providing a repertoire piece in the contemporary idiom for schoolchildren in Grade Nine in classrooms across the province. The author of the text, Hugh Blakeney, was the winner of a poetry contest sponsored by that organization. Mr. Blakeney, son of the late former Saskatchewan premier Allan Blakeney, later became active in provincial politics himself.

Musically, Adaskin’s setting reflects the spacious feeling of the poem, with mostly simple four-part quartal and quintal harmonies in the piano, and occasional contrasting dramatic fortissimo interjections. In this manner, the song is slightly reminiscent of Aaron Copland’s open-air ‘American’ style. It forms a close stylistic companion to another work on this program, Daydreams.

Canadian tenor David Mills has performed this piece on numerous occasions, and is believed to have given its premiere.

Blow, where the north wind blows,
Where the north wind blows through Prairie grain.
Blow wild, untame Prairie lily, blow wild,
Blow, where this north wind blows.
Float, on the Prairie grass,
In the shade of a fence post,
Then bask in the sun.
Prairie lily, float quietly,
Blow wild, blow free, Prairie lily,
Float quietly.

— Hugh Blakeney

Sonatine Baroque

Composed 1952 in Toronto, ON.
Duration: c. 9’50”

In 1946, a group of music enthusiasts in Forest Hill Village, an area within metropolitan Toronto, organized its own community concert series. Their programming policy was unique in that several commissioned works by Canadian composers, played by Canadian musicians, were to be performed each season.

The program on March 10, 1952, featuring violinist Eugene Cash, was made up of Baroque repertoire for violin and harpsichord. With this in mind, the unaccompanied violin seemed to be the perfect medium to use when writing in a manner reminiscent of that period. The work is in the spirit of a Baroque Sonata da chiesa. It is written in a tonal idiom, combined with sometimes biting dissonances.

Sonatine Baroque is dedicated to distinguished Canadian violinist Andrew Dawes, former Adaskin student, and long-time member of the Orford String Quartet. Dawes enjoyed a very warm and lasting relationship with the composer and his wife, Frances James. He accompanied them to Switzerland on the occasion of Adaskin’s sabbatical in 1960, where he continued his violin studies with Lorand Fenyves. Dawes, whose association with Adaskin spans almost half a century, has played the work countless times on tours all over the world.

In May 1999, Adaskin was a guest of the Franz Schubert Society, Roskilde, Denmark, where internationally renowned American-born violinist Jack Glatzer performed Sonatine Baroque. Glatzer later made a recording of this work for the Adaskin Collection in Victoria while on tour in 2000. As Adaskin listened to Glatzer recording the second movement, the 94-year-old composer remarked, rather poignantly, that listening to the piece brought to mind “all the things I wished I had done and would have liked to have done.”

Autumn Song, from ‘Grant, Warden of the Plains’

Composed 1966 in Canoe Lake, SK.
Duration: c. 5′

Grant, Warden of the Plains was one in a series of radio operas commissioned by the CBC for Canada’s Centennial, as part of a plan to produce a 60-minute opera from each of its major centres. It represents Murray Adaskin’s only venture in the operatic genre. The text, by Winnipeg poet Mary Elizabeth Bayer (1925-2005), is based on dramatic incidents from the life of Cuthbert Grant (c. 1793-1854), an important figure from the early days of the Red River Settlement. Historically, Grant has been mostly overshadowed by Louis Riel, and has not received his due credit as a prominent Métis leader. Adaskin’s opera is notably well-designed for radio, with spoken narration running throughout in place of visual sets.

The setting of Autumn Song is in a log cabin near Grant Town, Manitoba, in the early 1820s. Cuthbert Grant’s wife-to-be Maria McGillis sings of the coming cold winter with its many hardships and its loneliness, accompanied only by a mournfully undulating solo bassoon.

No time can be so sad, so lonely,
So weep with me these private tears
To welcome winter with a mournful song,
In this the darkest time of all our years …

No time can be so savage or so long,
So full of misery, of fears;
I sing to exorcise the ghosts of cold
Who come and haunt us as the winter nears …
No time can be so cruel, so old,
Nor I so ready; I must find
Warm love, warm heart, warm arms to warm my life,
Or winter will be all too lonely, too unkind.

No time can be so lonely or so sad,
No time can be so savage or so long,
No time can be so cruel or so old,
But I am young, and fear not loneliness or cold.

— Mary Elizabeth Bayer

Divertimento No. 3

Composed 1965 in Saskatoon, SK.
Duration: c. 15′

Between 1956 and 1998, Murray Adaskin composed a series of nine divertimenti, all, with the exception of No.8 for concert band, featuring various combinations of solo instruments. The popular Divertimento No. 3, which sports one of Adaskin’s most unusual chamber instrumentations of a string instrument, a brass and a woodwind, was commissioned by the Regina Campus of the University of Saskatchewan through a grant from the Canada Council. The work, which is dedicated to bassoonist George Zukerman, received its premiere on May 20, 1965, to commemorate the first convocation held at that institution. The performers on that occasion were Howard Leyton-Brown, violin; Mel Carey, horn; and Thomas Schudel, bassoon.


Original version for violin and piano composed 1968 in Canoe Lake, SK.
Version for two violins transcribed 2000 in Victoria, BC.
Duration: c. 3′

Daydreams is one of three pedagogical compositions written in 1968 for intermediate to advanced musicians, the others being Calisthenics and Quiet Song. The work exists in several other versions prepared by the composer at various times; for alto saxophone or clarinet and piano (1971), for violin and cello (1982), and the present version for two violins. The latter was one of two Murray Adaskin compositions commissioned by “New Music for Young Musicians” as part of the Canadian Music Centre’s BC Millennium 2000 series.

The premiere performance of the original version was given in Regina at the 1969 Biennial Convention of the Canadian Music Educators’ Association by the composer, violin, and Keith Cockburn, piano.  The present version was first performed in 2001 at the Victoria Conservatory of Music by violinists Justin Chiu and Jordan Ofiesh.

Daydreams is based on two aspects of violin technique, suggested to the composer by violinist Roman Totenberg; the rotating motion of the hand and lifting the finger to re-attack a note. This duet also teaches violinists two specific positions: to play the E note on the open E string with the fourth finger, and to play the same note on the A string.

Program notes adapted by Stefan Hintersteininger from Murray Adaskin: An Annotated Catalogue of his Music by Gordana Lazarevich and Robyn Cathcart, Dolce Publications, Victoria, 2003.


Murray Adaskin, Composer

Born in Toronto, March 28, 1906, Murray Adaskin began his violin training at the age of ten. Additional training was received in New York and Paris including periods of composition study with John Weinzweig, Charles Jones and Darius Milhaud. A violinist with Toronto Symphony for ten years, Adaskin also served as director of music for the CPR hotels. As Head of the Music Department at the University of Saskatchewan from 1952 until 1966, and then Composer-In-Residence from 1966 until 1973, Murray, along with his first wife soprano Frances James Adaskin, initiated and supported much of the rich musical life which remains as a cultural focus in Saskatoon today. Among his many honours were Saskatoon’s citizen of the year for 1970, a 1980 appointment to the Order of Canada and an honorary doctorate from the University of Saskatchewan in 1984. Murray and Frances Adaskin retired to Victoria in 1973, although it was a busy life of teaching for both, and of composing for Murray. Indeed, during this exceptionally productive time, Murray Adaskin composed nearly half his total output after the age of 65. This included a great number of works for his many friends and colleagues in Victoria. His final work, Musica Victoria, was completed in 2000, at the age of 94. Murray Adaskin died in 2002 at the age of 96 after a lifetime of contributing to the musical life of Canada.

In the book Contemporary Canadian Composers (Oxford University Press, 1975) edited by Keith MacMillan and John Beckwith, Adaskin’s work is described as follows: “What strikes one directly about Adaskin’s music is its optimistic tone — a humane aspect that, as with Haydn, is never far from cheerfulness. This basic characteristic is reflected in his relaxed attitude towards the question of polarization in cntemporary styles: essentially a conservative, Adaskin welcomes experimental ferment, only regretting that he cannot be part of it. And it is as a conservative that he is an immediately appealing composer. His music is generously lyrical, clearly crafted, rhythmically vital, witty, and, curiously enough, recognizably Canadian in content.”

Nicholas Anderson, Horn

Since moving to Vancouver in 2003 from his hometown of Albuquerque, New Mexico, hornist Nick Anderson has been active as both a performer and educator. Nick received a Masters of Music in Horn Performance from The University of British Columbia. He regularly performs with many ensembles including the Vancouver Symphony, Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra, Kamloops Symphony and the Vancouver Island Symphony. He currently plays with the Touch of Brass Quintet, Ventos Wind Quintet and various chamber ensembles in the region. Nick is active as a session musician and has recorded with numerous bands in various genres. As an educator, Nick is dedicated to sharing his love of music through master classes, clinics, and his own teaching studio.

Joan Blackman, Violin

Joan Blackman, former Associate Concertmaster of the Vancouver Symphony, enjoys a vibrant and varied musical life. She has performed and recorded as soloist with the Vancouver Symphony, Victoria Symphony, CBC Radio Orchestra, Turning Point Ensemble and the Banff Festival Orchestra, and has played chamber music with premier groups such as the Penderecki String Quartet and the Purcell String Quartet. She has performed chamber music on Music in the Morning, Music Fest Vancouver, the Pender Harbour Music Society Concert Series, various concert series throughout BC, The Jeffrey Concerts in London, Ont., and the American String Project, which brings together concertmasters and soloists throughout North America. Joan has appeared at numerous summer festivals, including the Hornby Island Festival, the Pender Harbour Chamber Music Festival, and the Victoria Summer Music Festival. Ms. Blackman is also the Artistic Director of Vancouver’s Vetta Chamber Music Society, a longstanding and well-respected Vancouver series that celebrates its 30th anniversary this season.

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.

Chiharu Iinuma, Piano

Japanese pianist Chiharu Iinuma has been increasingly in high demand as a teacher, coach and ensemble pianist.  A founding member of the Ridge Trio, the Chamber Ensemble Bloomington and the Duo Gillham-Iinuma, for many years she was the studio pianist for Joseph Gingold, Janos Starker, Franco Gulli, Neli Shkolnikova, Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, Miriam Fried, Yuval Yaron, James Campbell and IU String Academy at Indiana University’s Jacobs School.  Chiharu has also collaborated at the world’s most prestigious music competitions, including the Tchaikovsky and Queen Elizabeth, Leonard Rose Competitions.  In 1993, she was invited to participate in the inaugural Isaac Stern Chamber Music Workshop at Carnegie Hall in New York.  She has been heard on NHK and CBC radios over the years.  In recent years, she has played in concerts and festivals in Germany, China, Taiwan, Japan, as well as across U.S. and Canada collaborating with Dale Barltrop, Ariel Barnes, Martin Beaver, James Campbell, David Gillham, Tom Landschoot, Blair Lofgren, Antonio Lysy, Christoph Schickedanz, Alan Stepansky, Olivier Thouin, Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi, Rob Weir, Min-Ho Yeh, among others.

Catherine Fern Lewis, Soprano

Catherine Fern Lewis is renowned as a highly versatile soprano and sound artist. An ambassador and active exponent of Canada’s new music and art scene, Lewis has premiered over one hundred pieces by prominent composers and created her own multi-media works that push the boundaries of performance. Lewis earned a BMus from the University of Victoria, BC; and devoted three subsequent years to vocal training in Europe and Canada, studying under luminaries Frances James Adaskin, Selena James, Mary Morrison and Pierre Bernac. She appears as soloist with symphony orchestras and in recitals of new and traditional music. Her improvisations have shaped the work of collaborators from other disciplines; many pieces have been written expressly for her. Lewis’ personal creative explorations are uniquely interdisciplinary, combining movement, sound, film and installation. Her site-specific work has been presented by art galleries and festivals in Canada and Europe.

Gwen Seaton, Bassoon

Originally from the Lower Mainland, Gwen Seaton has played Second Bassoon with the VSO since 2009. Previously she held the same position in the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra. She received her Masters from Rice University studying with Ben Kamins and a BMus from UBC where she studied with Chris Millard and Jesse Read. Gwen has performed as soloist with the Music Academy of the West Festival Orchestra in Santa Barbara and the Shepherd Chamber Orchestra in Houston. She has taught on faculty at PRISMA in Powell River and currently teaches at the VSO School of Music.

Rodney Sharman, Artistic Advisor

Rodney Sharman is Composer-in-Residence of New Music for Old Instruments for Early Music Vancouver. He has been Composer-in-Residence with the Victoria Symphony, the National Youth Orchestra of Canada and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. In addition to concert music, Rodney Sharman writes music for cabaret, opera and dance. He works regularly with choreographer James Kudelka, for whom he has written scores for Oregon Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, and Coleman Lemieux & Co. (Toronto). Sharman was awarded First Prize in the 1984 CBC Competition for Young Composers and the 1990 Kranichsteiner Prize in Music, Darmstadt, Germany. His score for the music-dance-theatre piece, From The House Of Mirth, won the 2013 Dora Mavor Moore Award for outstanding sound design/composition (choreography by James Kudelka, text by Alex Poch Goldin after Edith Wharton’s The House of Mirth). He was a 2014 Djerassi Artist-in-Residence, Woodside, California.

Jessica Tovey, Soprano / Violin

Jessica Tovey is currently in her first year as a double-major undergraduate at the University of British Columbia, Canada. She studies violin with David Gillham and voice with Dale Throness. Jessica is a member of University Singers under Dr. Graeme Langager, as well as the Vancouver Youth Choir under Carrie Tennant . She also plays in the UBC Symphony orchestra under Maestro Jonathon Girard. In 2015 and 2016 Jessica was a member of the Vancouver Symphony Whistler Institute Orchestra and in August this year she studied at the Domaine Forget Music Festival in Quebec.

Jessica studied previously with DeAnne Eisch and latterly with Carla Birston at the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra School of Music where she was also a member of the VSOSoM Sinfonietta. In 2015, Jessica won the Clive Austin concerto competition and performed the first movement of the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in E minor with the West Point Grey Academy Orchestra in April 2016.