Measha Brueggergosman embodies the term ‘diva’ in the best sense. Who else could boast of both singing opera on the world’s most prestigious stages and acting as a judge on Project Runway?

Winnipeggers and the MCO have been with Brueggergosman since the beginning. As an up-and-coming soloist, the soprano performed an emotional concert with the MCO two weeks after the 2001 World Trade Center attacks. While establishing herself as an international celeb over the course of the next 15 years, she would perform with the MCO no fewer than five times, as well as record a CD with our orchestra for CBC Records.

This season, the Juno-winner sings the exquisite Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss in an intimate arrangement for piano quintet. With Earl Stafford conducting, the MCO also performs Strauss’ Metamorphosen and a new work by local composer Luke Nickel.

More Measha

Née Measha Gosman, Measha and her husband combined their last names when they married to form Brueggergosman. Never one to follow the beaten path, the celebrated opera singer has recorded Ron Sexsmith and Frank Sinatra tunes, appeared on Much Music’s Video on Trial, and performed the Olympic Hymn at the Opening Ceremonies of the 2010 Olympic Games. The vocally acrobatic performance inspired the NBC host to remark with a laugh, “That’s a hymn for you, right there.”

The concerts begin at 7:30 pm on April 26th in Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster at Maryland. Tickets are $34 for adults, $32 for seniors and $10 for students, including GST, at McNally Robinson, the West End Cultural Centre (586 Ellice at Sherbrook), Organic Planet (877 Westminster Ave) or MCO’s Ticketline (204-783-7377).

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Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Westminster United Church
26 April 2017

Earl Stafford, conductor
Measha Brueggergosman, soprano

Luke Nickel
Manitoba Arts Council commission
World premiere performance

Richard Strauss

Richard Strauss
Four Last Songs
 —arr. by John Greer

Concert sponsor / Gail Asper Family Foundation
Concert media sponsor / Neighbours of Tuxedo (Best Version Media)

Luke Nickel composer residency made possible with the assistance of the SOCAN Foundation

Earl Stafford

Earl began his music education at the age of eight, making his debut two years later as a piano soloist with orchestra. Since then, he has played around the world, receiving critical accolades for his performances. The Globe and Mail wrote, “His pianistic artistry was sheer poetry.” He was awarded the gold medal as best accompanist at the 1980 International Ballet Competition in Varna, Bulgaria.

In 1984, Earl was appointed Music Director and Principal Conductor for Canada’s Royal Winnipeg Ballet, a position he held until 2009. He has also served as music director for the Saskatoon Symphony, and has held positions on the faculties of the University of Manitoba and The Banff Centre. Earl was invited to conduct for Queen Elizabeth’s Royal Jubilee Gala in 2002 and was music director for the Governor General’s Awards with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. He has made numerous recordings for CBC and has appeared as a piano soloist on Bravo and A&E.

Earl’s work with the Royal Winnipeg Ballet earned him a sterling reputation, which has resulted in numerous repeat invitations as guest conductor. He has worked with many of Canada’s finest orchestras including the Toronto Symphony, the National Arts Centre Orchestra, the Symphonies of Vancouver, Victoria, Kitchener-Waterloo, Winnipeg and Saskatoon and the Orchestre Métropolitain du Grand Montréal.

Internationally, Earl has appeared with the Tokyo Philharmonic, the Hungarian State Opera, the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, the Queen’s Hall Orchestra of London and the Theatre Harmony Orchestra of Moscow. Earl has also collaborated with many of the world’s finest artists, including James Ehnes, Janina Fialkowska, Desmond Hoebig, Angela Hewitt, Angela Cheng, Josh Groban, Evelyn Hart, Oscar Peterson, Joel Quarrington, Alain Trudel, Stephen Sitarski, Kyoko Takezawa, Mel Tormé, Ron Paley, Edith Wiens, Mark Zeltzer, Ian Tyson, Neil Sedaka, Fernando Varela, Jann Arden, Anne Murray and more.

Earl is comfortable conducting and playing a variety of styles of music—from the classics to the avant-garde, and from chamber music to pops. He is a versatile conductor who isn’t afraid to take chances.

Measha Brueggergosman

Noted by the San Francisco Chronicle as “a singer of rare gifts and artistic intensity” and by the Miami Herald for possessing “a superb voice capable of just about everything,” Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman has emerged as one of the most magnificent performers and vibrant personalities of the day. She is critically acclaimed by the international press as much for her innate musicianship and voluptuous voice as for a sovereign stage presence.

3.2 billion television viewers worldwide witnessed the Opening Ceremonies of the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games, and all heard the lauded soprano’s epic performance of the ‘Olympic Hymn.’

Notable performances of the recent past include: Mahler’s Des knaben Wunderhorn conducted by Jaap van Zweden with the Chicago Symphony; Cage’s Aria with Renga under Michael Tilson Thomas at the debut concert of the YouTube Symphony at Carnegie Hall; Messiaen’s Poemes pour Mi with Daniel Harding and the London Symphony and Mendelssohn’s Elijah with Yannick Nézét-Seguin and the Orchestre Métropolitain du Montréal. Measha also performed at Gustavo Dudamel’s inaugural concert as Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

Deeply committed to the art of song, Measha Brueggergosman has given solo recitals at London’s Wigmore Hall, Roy Thomson Hall, Carnegie Hall, Spivey Hall, the Kennedy Center, and the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, and many other venues across North America and Europe. Always happy to try something new, she participated in the Verbier Festival’s one-off presentation of Rufus Wainwright Goes Classical, sharing performances of works from the classical repertoire with Rufus Wainwright and Angelika Kirchschlager, arranged especially for the occasion.

Ms Brueggergosman has been honoured to participate in a number of special events including the gala re-openings of Roy Thomson Hall and the University of Michigan’s Hill Auditorium, Canada Day celebrations from Parliament Hill in Ottawa, and the opening ceremonies of the XVI International AIDS Conference in Toronto—sharing the stage with Bill Gates and former President Bill Clinton. She has given a Royal Command Performance for Queen Elizabeth II and has sung for, amongst others, the Prince of Wales, Queen Margrethe II of Denmark, Queen Sonja of Norway, President Tarja Halonen of Finland, Nelson Mandela and Kofi Annan. In 2012 she served as a judge for the inaugural season of Canada’s Got Talent. Measha has hosted other cultural variety shows and was the subject of a full-length CBC feature documentary, Spirit in her Voice.

Beyond the great concert halls of the world, Ms Brueggergosman lends her voice, passion, and energy to social and environmental causes as a Canadian goodwill ambassador for three international organizations: the African Medical and Research Foundation; Learning Through the Arts; and the World Wildlife Fund. Her commitments to these organizations have taken her on a broad spectrum of missions—from primary schools in New Brunswick to internally displaced persons camps of northern Uganda.

In April 2015 Measha and her husband Markus welcomed to their family Sterling Markus, a baby brother for three year old Shepherd Peter.

Luke Nickel

Luke Nickel (b. 1988) is an award-winning Canadian interdisciplinary artist and researcher currently undertaking a PhD at Bath Spa University. He has worked with ensembles EXAUDI, the Bozzini Quartet, and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, and has collaborated with galleries and organizations such as the Panoply Performance Laboratory (Brooklyn), G39 (Cardiff), and the Arnolfini (Bristol).

A recipient of support from the Canada Council and other arts organizations, Luke currently has two main strands of work. The first is centred around memory and the process of transmitting musical scores. In this practice, he aims to remove the concrete document of the score and relocate it to the unstable domain of the human memory. He does this by communicating all the parameters found in traditional scores in ephemeral means such as unrecorded conversations or temporary audio files. By rendering the score unstable, he allows forgettings, mis-rememberings, and transformations to permeate the fabric of the musical material.

The second strand of Luke’s work is focused on the notion of text as sound—or sound in text. In this stream of work Luke is developing spoken vocal quartets that examine traditionally musical qualities (such as proportion, silence, and density) while at the same time treating the text itself musically. Oftentimes the subject of the text is, in itself, musical. So far these works have taken the format of performances, installations, objects, and writings and have been presented at the Arnolfini Gallery, Bang the Bore concert series, and Bath Spa University. Examples can be heard in the pieces String Quartet #1 and White Fang Field Recording.

Luke is also an active curator, and currently co-directs the Cluster Festival in Winnipeg. Cluster Festival is now in its seventh year and has featured hundreds of interdisciplinary artists from across the world in innovative forms of presentation.

Luke Nickel

The composer has provided the following note:

For the last three years, I have not written a single note of music. Instead, I’ve made pieces collaboratively with musicians using any means except musical notation. I’ve made pieces that consist solely of orally-transmitted descriptions of an imaginary factory. I’ve made pieces that chew up existing music and spit it out into tangled new configurations. I’ve made pieces for art galleries that contain only speaking, not a note of music to be heard.

This piece for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra marks my return to traditional musical notation. But with it I bring the great joy and endless possibility that I found using these other compositional methods.

In writing for the MCO, I have chosen to use Barber’s Adagio as a source material. I’ve always been intrigued by the first musical phrase of the piece: the succulent chords, the sense of floating tension …

I like to imagine Barber’s Adagio as a great ship that sails calmly through our collective subconscious. In my piece aaadagio, we listen to what lies beneath the behemoth ship. What turgid melodies swirl through the deep? What creaking sounds does the ship make while weathering a storm? How does light sound when it glints on the water?

Full disclosure: I’m writing this description before I’ve written the piece, let alone heard it! So, please consider this a statement of intent, and forgive me if the piece you’re about to hear doesn’t quite match what you’ve read.

In short: A former composition teacher would often jokingly ask me what the effect would be if I used Barber’s Adagio to end of one of my compositions. This piece is my answer. (aaadagio is dedicated to Chris Paul Harman, to whom I owe my love of musical provocation.)

Richard Strauss

On 2 October 1943, the opera house in Munich, Strauss’s home city, was destroyed by Allied bombs. The composer was moved to write as follows to his biographer, Willi Schuh: “The burning of the Munich Hoftheater, the place consecrated to the first performances of (Wagner’s) Tristan and Meistersinger, in which 73 years ago I heard (Weber’s) Der Freischütz for the first time, where my good father sat for 49 years as first horn in the orchestra … this was the greatest catastrophe which has ever been brought into my life, for which there can be no consolation and in my old age, no hope.”

Immediately afterwards, he sketched a few bars of music that he labelled Mourning for Munich. He put them aside after they reminded him of a waltz he had composed in 1939 for a documentary film about Munich, a film that was never released. He revised the waltz by adding a sombre, minor-key section inspired by the destruction of the opera house, and christened the resulting concert work Munich: A Memorial Waltz.

In September 1944, conductor Paul Sacher commissioned a new work from him. The following February, the Semper Opera House in Dresden (where eight Strauss operas had premiered, as well as three of Wagner’s) suffered a similar fate to Munich’s opera house. Then the Vienna State Opera was heavily damaged on 12 March 1945. The very next day, Strauss turned back to the 1943 ‘mourning’ sketch and used it as the point of departure for Metamorphosen (subtitled ‘a study for 23 solo strings’), the work that he composed in response to Sacher’s commission. He completed it on 12 April, mere weeks before the end of the war.

It is a deeply emotional, passionately eloquent lament, reflecting his distress over not only the destruction of the opera houses, but what they represented to him: the grand German culture that had nurtured him. For a time, he considered releasing this very personal work for performance only after his death. In the end, he relented. Sacher conducted the premiere on 25 January 1946, leading the Collegium Musicum of Zurich.

Strauss scored Metamorphosen for 10 violins, five violas, five cellos, and three double basses. It falls into three broad, continuous sections. The centre panel is quick in tempo and impassioned in mood. Strauss book-ended it with slow sections, the last even slower and more desolate than the first.

“Themes proliferate and interweave in seamless counterpoint,” author Michael Kennedy has written. “These themes, particularly the first, sound familiar to the listener, not because they are especially reminiscent of earlier Strauss themes, but because they seem to carry echoes of Wagner, Brahms, and others. Only at the very end do we realize what the principal theme really is, when Strauss quotes the opening of the Funeral March from Beethoven’s ‘Eroica’ symphony (No. 3), and writes underneath it in the score ‘In Memoriam!’ He later said that not until he reached this point did he realize that this was the theme that had been haunting him from the start. In no other work of his is the writing for strings more eloquent, more moving, and more technically accomplished. The thematic allusions are so subtle yet so poignant that we seem to be hearing a funeral hymn for the whole of German music.”

Four Last SongsRichard Strauss
—arranged by John Greer

Like his eminent predecessors, Schubert, Schumann and Brahms (as well as his contemporaries Hugo Wolf and Gustav Mahler), Strauss made major contributions to the repertoire of German-language lieder (art songs). He composed some 200 in all. He wrote many of the early ones for a specific singer: Pauline de Ahna, the soprano who became his wife in 1894. “She sang my songs,” he wrote, “with an expression and a poetry such as I have never heard since.”

Toward the end of 1946, four years after he had composed his most recent songs, he came across Im Abendrot (In the Evening’s Glow), a poem by Joseph von Eichendorff (1788-1857). Its mood suited his world-weary, post-war frame of mind perfectly. The characters, an elderly couple gazing into the sunset, reflected his and Pauline’s situation like a glove. He completed his setting on 6 May 1948.

An admirer had recently sent him a volume of poems by Hermann Hesse (1877-1962). From it, he chose four pieces, possibly intending to join them together with Im Abendrot to form a song-cycle. He completed only three of them: Frühling (Spring) on 18 July, 1948; Beim Schlafengehen (Falling Asleep), on 4 August; and September, on 20 September.

Strauss died without hearing them in concert. He left no indication that he intended them to be performed together, and therefore no sequence of presentation. Ernst Roth, an editor at his publishing company, Boosey and Hawkes, decided that they formed a cycle. The performing order upon which he settled—Beim Schlafengehen, September, Frühling, and Im Abendrot—was followed at the premiere. That took place in London on 22 May 1950, eight months after Strauss’s death. Norwegian soprano Kirsten Flagstad was the soloist and Wilhelm Furtwängler conducted the Philharmonia Orchestra. Soon afterwards Roth, with the benefit of hearing the songs performed, revised the order into the one by which they have been known ever since.

These mellow, achingly beautiful works represent—consciously so—Strauss’s musical last will and testament. In them he put aside the realistic horrors of mid-twentieth century life and returned to the ripely Romantic style of his early music, deepened by vast intervening experience.

Frühling (Spring), the first song, pays rapturous, nostalgic tribute to that glorious season of the year, one that seems full of hope after the chill of winter. The cycle of seasons continues in September, the second song. As summer turns inexorably to autumn, text, atmosphere and music darken and decay, and the poet begins to accept the inevitable end of all things.

Beim Schlafengehen (Falling Asleep), the third song, continues the poet’s journey towards the afterlife. Im Abendrot (In the Evening’s Glow), the fourth song, completes the voyage. After the soprano has sung the final words, “ist dies etwa der Tod?” (can this, perhaps, be death?), Strauss quoted the ‘transfiguration’ theme from Death and Transfiguration, a tone poem he had composed 60 years previously. As he lay on his deathbed, he said to his daughter-in-law, Alice, “Dying is just as I composed it in Death and Transfiguration.” Pauline Strauss died less than a year later, nine days after the first performance of the Four Last Songs.