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Moderns, Mozarts,
& Mozart Imposters

A few years ago, a documentary film was made on the MCO. It told the engrossing story of our commission and premiere, with soloist Victoria Sparks, of Sid Robinovitch’s Percussion Concerto. As well as inspiring a documentary, the concerto premiere garnered a near-full house of eager music-lovers who’d flocked to hear Robinovitch’s dancing, blues-like concerto, rendered with such finesse by Sparks. Please note: tickets purchased on this page are for the evening concert (1-hour matinee here).

Back by popular demand, the concerto’s third movement for marimba is presented at the opening of our April concert, with Sparks reprising her role as the soloist. Pensive, and with more than a twinkle of Sid’s well-known wit, it’s the perfect aperitif for all that comes after; a kind of overture encapsulating the evening’s musical themes.

In the modern portion of the evening, we also have Kevin Lau’s (above right) gorgeous and similarly pensive Writ in Water, commissioned by the MCO & premiered to much fanfare at our March 2019 concert. Then there’s a new MCO-commissioned work by Julian Grant (above middle). On the program’s witty, mischievous side, there are also works by Mozart (his light-hearted Divertimento No. 14), Mozart imposters (the so-called Symphony No. 3 in E-flat major, falsely attributed to M) and Mozart family members (Leopold’s Toy Symphony, quite literally written for toy instruments).

An evening of rich, important new music and Mozartian levity. Anne Manson conducts.

Victoria Sparks

Winnipeg-based Victoria Sparks is a solo, orchestral, and chamber percussionist and educator. She performs regularly with the MCO, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet and the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. Before joining the University of Manitoba music faculty in 2018, she was the Coordinator of Percussion Studies at Brandon University. Victoria works closely with clarinettist Cathy Wood in their collaborative project Viđarneistí, and is the founder and director of the MBA Prairie Percussion Workshop.

The concert begins at 7.30pm on April 22nd in Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster at Maryland. (Click here for 1-hour matinee details.) Tickets, at $36 for adults, $34 for seniors and $15 for students and those under-30 (incl. GST), are available at McNally Robinson, Organic Planet (877 Westminster Ave), and on MCO’s Ticketline at 204-783-7377.




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Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Westminster United Church
22 April 2020

Anne Manson, conductor
Victoria Sparks, percussion

Sid Robinovitch
Percussion concerto

Julian Grant
Jump Cuts

Kevin Lau
Writ in Water

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Allegro, from Divertimento in B-flat Major (K 270)

Leopold Mozart
Toy Symphony

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
(The so-called) Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major (K 18)—written by Carl Friedrich Abel

Victoria Sparks

Winnipeg-based Victoria Sparks is an active solo, orchestral and chamber percussionist. She completed bachelor’s degrees in Music and Education after studying with Rob Gardner and Jauvon Gilliam (University of Manitoba) and her master’s in Percussion Performance with Jon Crabiel (Butler University). Active as a soloist in a variety of chamber music series in Winnipeg, Victoria also performs regularly with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. She is principal Timpani/Percussion with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra and works with other local arts organizations including the Brandon Chamber Players, GroundSwell, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and The Winnipeg Singers. In 2016 she had the honour of premiering Sid Robinovitch’s Concerto for Percussion and Strings with the MCO. Victoria works closely with clarinettist Cathy Wood in their collaborative project Viđarneistí. This duo has commissioned works for their unique instrumentation and they perform regularly in Manitoba and at conferences and festivals throughout Canada and internationally.

In 2018, Sparks was delighted to join the Desautels Faculty of Music at the University of Manitoba teaching percussion and directing the percussion ensemble. Previously, she was the Coordinator of Percussion Studies at Brandon University (from 2010). She is the founder and director of the MBA Prairie Percussion Workshop (since 2012), an education- and performance-based event for percussion students in middle and high school. She also maintains an active schedule as an adjudicator and clinician in Manitoba and Saskatchewan through various organizations and festivals.

Sid Robinovitch

A native of Manitoba, Sid Robinovitch taught social sciences at York University in Toronto, but for over three decades has devoted himself to musical composition, having studied at the Royal Conservatory of Toronto and Indiana University. He lives in Winnipeg, where he works as a composer and teacher.

Encompassing a wide variety of musical styles and forms, Robinovitch’s works have been performed by the Elmer Iseler Singers, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, and the Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver Symphony Orchestras. His music has been frequently broadcast on CBC radio and often featured on Manitoba Chamber Orchestra programs, including Canzoni Romane and Cantus Borealis for choir and orchestra and, most recently in 2016, his Concerto for Percussion and Strings.

In addition to his concert works, Robinovitch has written music for film, radio and TV, where he is probably best known for his theme for the CBC-TV satirical comedy series, The Newsroom. He has received six JUNO and Western Canadian Music Award nominations and won a Prairie Music Award for outstanding classical composition of the year for his Suite for Klezmer Band and Orchestra recorded by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bramwell Tovey.

Julian Grant

Julian Grant was born in London, UK, and lived in Canada, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Beijing before settling in the US in 2010. He has composed 20 operas of various lengths and sizes which have been performed by English National Opera, The Royal Opera, Almeida Opera, Mecklenburgh Opera, Tête à Tête and, most recently, Boston Lyric Opera. His collaboration with Mark Campbell, The Nefarious, Immoral but Highly Profitable Enterprise of Mr Burke & Mr H, was premiered last season, and was subsequently nominated for an International Opera Award. In addition, he has won the National Opera Association of America’s New Opera prize and has been nominated for a London Theatreland Olivier Award.

From 2002-07, he was Director of Music at St. Paul’s Girls’ School, London, a post previously occupied by Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan-Williams. In Hong Kong, he hosted a classical music radio show and in Beijing worked with the Beijing New Music Ensemble. In 2012, his Cultural Olympiad commission, Hot House, devised by Gareth Malone, was premiered at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden. He currently lives in Princeton and New York where he has an ongoing relationship with the Princeton Symphony Orchestra, who next season will give the US premiere of 五代同堂 (Wu Dai Tong Tang, or Five Generations, One House), which was performed by The Manitoba Chamber Orchestra in 2014.

Julian Grant is an advocate for universal music education, and has written operas for children to perform.

Symphony No. 1 in E-flat Major, K. 16
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart

Mozart’s father Leopold’s talents included a moderate gift for music and a stronger knack for business. He shrewdly recognized the commercial potential of having such musically precocious offspring as Wolfgang and Maria Anna, Wolfgang’s older sister by five years. Beginning in 1762, he took them on performing tours. In 1763, they set out on what proved to be a three-and-a-half year journey that took them to Germany, France, the Netherlands, England and Switzerland. Getting about by coach proved difficult and uncomfortable. All three caught several diseases, including smallpox.

The warmth of the reception that greeted the children everywhere surely offered great compensation for the woes of travel. They performed at numerous royal courts, including those of France and England. When father Mozart fell ill with a cold in August 1764, while they were visiting London, they moved to a suburban town, Chelsea, where it would be easier for him to recover. As Maria Anna recalled in later life, “Our father lay dangerously ill; we were forbidden to touch the keyboard. And so, in order to occupy himself, Mozart composed his first symphony with all the instruments of the orchestra, especially trumpets and kettledrums. While he composed and I copied he said, ‘Remind me to give the horn something worthwhile to do!’”

The symphony you will hear at this concert is one of three that survive from this period. There were probably others. It may not be the first in order of composition, but that is how it was published. It was most likely premiered in London during February 1765.

It displays considerable charm and even greater promise. Mozart composed quite appealing themes for the opening movement, but he didn’t yet possess the skill to do much more than present them. The slow second movement reaches for pathos, an emotion that he was yet to experience. Surely the most successful section is the shortest, the finale, a dancing, authentically youthful frolic.

This symphony mirrors the sunny, refreshing symphonic style of Johann Christian Bach. This gifted son of Johann Sebastian occupied a favoured position in London’s musical life when the Mozarts arrived there. He and Wolfgang struck up a warm friendship, despite Bach’s being 21 years older. When Bach died in 1782, Mozart paid his respects through the lovely slow movement of Piano Concerto No. 12. He drew its main theme from the overture to one of Bach’s operas.

During a concert at the English court, the two friends played a light-hearted trick on the audience. Little Wolfgang stood before the organ, concealed by Bach’s body. At certain moments, Bach would stop playing and Mozart would continue, then Mozart would pause and Bach would resume. They alternated with such ease and fluidity that no one guessed there were two organists at work—until the “team effort” was revealed.

Jump Cuts
Julian Grant

The composer has provided the following note:

My commission from Manitoba Chamber Orchestra came with a very specific brief: it should be 12 minutes long and be written for a reduced chamber orchestra—strings, two oboes, two horns and a bassoon. This is standard scoring for the dawn of the symphonic repertoire—the very earliest symphonies of Mozart and Haydn, for example. I did think of writing a three-movement homage to those early symphonies, but that is territory that was comprehensively covered by the twentieth-century neoclassicists—and Stravinsky’s legacy loomed too large.

My usual workplace is in the opera house, though I have been dabbling more and more on the orchestral scene recently. Thus, it was no surprise that my twelve-minute curfew conjured up an iconic piece: Rossini’s William Tell Overture. This consists of four very different scenes: an elegy, a storm, a pastoral idyll and the military galop immortalized by the Lone Ranger. But my sketches for Jump Cuts did not start with a narrative or a scene (my usual practice) but with snippets that oddly refused to coalesce. At the same time, on late night TV, I had caught a re-run of an old classic: Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless (with Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg, the 1960’s precursor of all the cool gangster flicks) and the germ of this piece was born. I stopped trying to force what seemed like irreconcilable elements together (a process known as consilience, according to a physicist friend), and studied how Godard pioneered the idea of a jump cut—sequential shots of the same subject taken from different angles, with no transition, or an abrupt segue from one scene to another.

So instead of Rossini’s four distinct scenes, my piece darts around from mood to mood, tempo to tempo, as if the fabric is cut by scissors. The initial idea, a call of two horns, one noisy, and one muted, as if from a distance, is thrown around in a variety of guises, culminating in a kind of drunken dance. Do please make up your own narrative, enjoy the unexpected scenes and landscapes that unfold, and prepare for a few jolts.

By the way, I am told by a film director, that my use of the term ‘jump cut’ is not quite accurate, it should in fact be a ‘smash cut’ (a non-sequitur shot from one unrelated thing to another), but I feel my piece jumps rather than smashes, so forgive the technical inaccuracy for the sake of poetry. (© Julian Grant 2019.)

Symphony in E-flat Major, Op. 7 No. 6
Carl Friedrich Abel (misattributed to W.A. Mozart as Symphony No. 3, K. 18/Anh.A51)

Beginning in 1762, Leopold Mozart took his children on performing tours. In 1763, they set out on what proved to be a three-and-a-half year journey that saw them appearing in Germany, France, the Netherlands, England and Switzerland. They performed at many royal courts, including those of France and England.

The entire family caught several diseases during their travels, including smallpox. The warmth of the reception that greeted the children everywhere surely offered some compensation for such woes. Leopold fell ill with a cold in August 1764. As Maria Anna recalled in later life, “We had to rent a house in Chelsea outside the city of London, so that my father could recover from a dangerous throat ailment, which brought him almost to death’s door … We were forbidden to touch the keyboard. And so, in order to occupy himself, Mozart composed his first symphony with all the instruments of the orchestra, especially trumpets and kettledrums. While he composed and I copied he said, ‘Remind me to give the horn something worthwhile to do!’ At last after two months, as father had completely recovered, we returned to London.”

It was long thought that the gracious and charming Symphony you will hear tonight was a work by Wolfgang that he composed during this period. The confusion derived from the posthumous discovery among his papers of a manuscript score of this symphony that is clearly in his hand. In the late 1870s, it was published in the first complete collection of his compositions as Symphony No. 3, K. 18/Anh.A51.

Later research has proven that the true composer is Carl Friedrich Abel. Mozart had copied the piece out, most likely for purposes of study, while he was visiting London. In copying it, the only change he made was to substitute clarinets (which were just coming into regular use in the orchestra) for Abel’s original oboes. This evening’s performance will employ oboes. Abel’s symphony was published in 1767 as the last of the Six Symphonies, Op. 7.

Abel was a German-born, London-based composer, viola da gamba soloist, and impresario who had studied with Johann Sebastian Bach in Leipzig. After spending nearly 15 years in Dresden, he visited London for the first time in 1758. He founded a concert series there that showcased his versatility. Five years later, he formed a partnership with Johann Christian Bach, youngest son of Johann Sebastian, who had settled in London the year before. Together they launched a series of annual concerts that became extremely popular, to the point that they quickly spawned numerous competitors. London remained the centre of both men’s lives for the rest of their days.

The Bach-Abel concerts ran for 16 years and presented 15 or more programs per season. A new concert room built especially for them opened in 1775. The two impresarios provided most of the music for these events, with a strong emphasis on the newly-developing genre of the concert symphony. The events also showcased visiting solo artists from the continent.

During Mozart’s visit to London, his entire family stayed in the home that the Bach and Abel families shared. Both the older composers supported and encouraged him. His friendship with Bach grew especially warm. Bach died in January 1782. As a tribute to him, Mozart based the slow movement of Piano Concerto No. 12, K. 414, on a poignant theme from Bach’s opera La calamità dei cuori (The Calamity of Hearts).

Concerto for Percussion & Strings: Third Movement
Sid Robinovitch

The composer has provided the following note:

This piece is written for mallet percussion and strings. It’s in a classical fast – slow – fast form featuring the marimba in the two outer movements and the vibraphone in the middle one. After a moody introduction with strings doubled by tremolos on the marimba, the first movement focusses on an aggressive rhythmic figure occasionally broken by chordal sequences. The second movement is lyrical, with melody being passed back and forth between strings and vibe. The third movement uses a repeating cluster in the strings accompanied by arpeggiated marimba material. It is this movement that we will hear tonight.

Writ in Water
Kevin Lau

The composer has provided the following note:

Writ in Water derives its title from the epitaph on poet John Keats’ gravestone, which reads, “Here Lies One whose Name was writ in Water.” These words, written by Keats himself, suggest impermanence: the ephemeral nature of an artist’s legacy, perhaps, or of life in general. The sentiment behind the epitaph is more complex. To me, these words express despair, defiance, resignation, and a strange kind of affirmation all at once.

Writ in Water’s music embodies these conflicting states of mind. Moments of tranquil lyricism collide with moments of anxiety and pain. Certain phrases appear once, only to fade, unresolved, like words written in water. Much of the music passes in a dream-like manner, attempting (and often failing) to find firm ground.

At its core, Writ in Water represents my attempt at grappling with the themes of life, death, and memory associated with Keats’ epitaph. The Kübler-Ross model of grief—comprised of stages of denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—provided me with an initial psychological and structural guide, although in my work these stages unfold in a manner that is by no means linear. Each is characterized by a particular fragment of musical history. I wanted this piece to feel like a journey into the past, as a metaphor for the way we engage, productively or otherwise, with our own past while grieving. The work’s end pays homage to the final bars of Haydn’s ‘Farewell’ Symphony—in which instruments are extinguished one by one, like candles.

Toy Symphony (Cassation in C Major)
Leopold Mozart

The father of Wolfgang Amadeus won considerable renown in his own right. He planned at first to enter the clergy, but his obvious musical talents led him to adopt that calling instead. Mozart Senior joined the Prince-Archbishop of Salzburg’s orchestra in 1743. Over the next 20 years, he worked his way up from violinist to Court Composer and Vice-Kapellmeister.

Only two of his seven children survived to adulthood, and both proved musically gifted: Maria Anna (born 1751) and supremely, Wolfgang, her younger brother by five years. Leopold devoted many years to them, both as instructor and impresario. They toured much of Europe, father presiding over his offspring’s remarkably precocious feats of musical skill. Eventually it was just Leopold and Wolfgang who continued the trips. These journeys, and the resulting neglect of Leopold’s court duties, were partly responsible for his lack of further advancement (his obstinate, prickly personality figured in, as well), but they proved crucial to the enrichment of Wolfgang’s natural gifts. Over the years, the father provided the son with multi-faceted service: proofreader, editor, preserver and cataloguer of manuscripts, valet, propagandist, advisor and travel arranger. Toward the end of his life, developments such as his disapproval of Wolfgang’s relocation to Vienna as a free-lance musician, and his choice of wife, diminished their closeness. Their many letters reveal a man who cared deeply about his son, and was deeply frustrated over the lack of proper recognition given to Wolfgang’s genius.

In Leopold’s day, his most famous creation was a widely-used instruction method for the violin, published in 1756. His son’s music has cast his own considerable catalogue of works utterly in the shade, but the best of it deserves revival, and not just for reasons of curiosity. Among his compositions are several light-hearted, highly pictorial serenades and divertimentos. He composed most of them for performance during the annual carnival season in Augsburg: Musical Sleigh Ride, Peasant Wedding, Military Symphony and so on.

Toy instruments have been popular in central Europe since the mid-eighteenth century. Families used to gather together and play rattles, cuckoo calls and so forth during the winter months, in households where one might also find such knickknacks as musical clocks, mechanical instrument-playing dolls and artificial singing birds. Many composers wrote music that included toy instruments, from chamber works to pieces with orchestra. More recent composers who have used toy instruments range from the Strauss family to the contemporary Austrian HK Gruber.

For many years, this Toy Symphony was not known to be Leopold’s creation. Under this title, it had been attributed to Joseph Haydn at least as early as 1786. The myth was exploded in 1951, when musicologist Ernst Fritz Schmid discovered, in the Bavarian State Library of Munich, a manuscript by Leopold Mozart (entitled Cassation in C Major) three movements of which were what had previously been known as Haydn’s Toy Symphony.

In addition to an orchestra of two horns and strings, the scoring calls for cuckoo, rattle, toy trumpet and drums. Built on themes resembling Austrian folk songs, this is jolly music but still well-mannered in typical eighteenth-century, middle-European style, the stately second movement, a minuet, in particular. Also, this postscript, from Wikipedia:

“Recent research on a newly found manuscript suggests the Austrian Benedictine monk Edmund Angerer (1740–1794) to be the author (of the Toy Concerto). If Angerer’s manuscript (from 1765, entitled Berchtolds-Gaden Musick) is the original, the Toy Symphony was originally written not in G but rather in C. These findings, however, are disputed among scholars. There is reason to believe that the true composer will likely never be known, in whole or in part, given its confused origins and the paucity of related manuscript sources.”

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