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Friday, December 18, 2009

Bevan "Fowre Thowsand Wynter" 2

When Allan talked to me about doing a "prequel" (my term, not his!) to Nou Goth, I said yes. We originally planned for it to be done for Pro Coro's 2008 Christmas concert. Allan began work, we continued occasional email conversations, talked about instrumentation (originally similar to Nou Goth, with a few winds in addition to harp, percussion, timpani, organ and strings), and all went ahead as planned.

Allan made great progress and in September of 2008, while in Edmonton rehearsing for our season-opening concert, Pro Coro also had a performance of the Rachmaninoff All-Night Vigil in Calgary. I went down a day early to meet with Allan at his home, get a score, and look it over with him. We talked about his texts, possible pronunciation (more about in my next post), and the general shape of the work.

However, Pro Coro was going through a financial crisis that fall and I'd taken over the job of Executive Director as well as Artistic Director. In October, after the Treasurer and I had gone through the budget for the umpteenth time, it became clear that we simply could not afford to hire the orchestra for Fowre Thowsand Wynter and manage to get out of debt by the end of the season (the final year of a three-year plan to elminate our deficit). I should say that Pro Coro normally has enough room in the budget to hire an orchestra once each season, usually for our Good Friday concert (we' d also gotten a grant in previous years that was specifically to hire orchestras for a series of all of the late Haydn Masses, but that was in addition to our usual budget). I'd managed to make this work for the 2008-09 season by programming Good Friday so that we'd need minimal instrumentalists (Victoria Requiem and Rutter Requiem in the version for six instruments). However, our budget now had to be radically cut in other ways, so we had to cancel Allan's premiere.

That was truly one of the most difficult phone calls I've ever had to make. Allan had done enormous amounts of work and spent countless hours working on the piece and now it was all going to disappear. I was determined to make this a postponement, not an end, to the project, but it was still enormously painful.

I can only say that I'm so happy it was not an end to our collaboration, but that we were able to include it in the 2009-10 season. As such things go, other things happened that turned the delay into a positive, instead of a negative: Allan was able to apply again for a Canada Council commissioning grant (he'd just missed the deadline the year before) and got it, as well as a grant from the Alberta Foundation for the Arts; he revised the piece substantially, particularly the orchestration, dropping the winds; and we were able to do the work in a year when we weren't organizationally stressed (and for me, personally stressed trying to do several jobs at once).

And, I should note, we ended the 2008-09 season with our deficit eliminated.

Just a bit more about the process of collaboration/commissioning, particularly of building a relationship with a composer.

When I was doing research for my dissertation (and later book) about Swedish choral music, it became clear that one of the reasons (although there were others) that so much high-level a cappella music was written for Swedish choirs was the personal relationship between conductor/ensemble/composer. Eric Ericson is a prime example of this. He had close friendships with a number of composers, but perhaps one of the closest was with Ingvar Lidholm. Lidholm is arguably the most important Swedish composer of his generation and has written a number of very important choral works (his masterpiece for me is ...a riveder le stelle)--you can find a recording by Ericson's Chamber Choir of all of his choral music here.

Eric formed the Chamber Choir in 1945 with a group of 16 friends, primarily to perform early music that they'd studied, but rarely heard. Their first concert in 1946 was all early music with the exception of Hindemith's Acht Kanon. However, Lidholm, having heard this choir and being one of Eric's closest friends, wrote a new work for them: Laudi. I'd read how difficult this work was for the choir and Eric had written about how they'd struggled for more than six months to try to master some passages. One time I asked Eric how they'd persevered through this. He simply replied, "He was our friend."

Ultimately, that's often what it's all about.

Allan is our friend, and certainly I was determined to make sure that Fowre Thowsand Wynter would see its premiere with Pro Coro, and it's absolutely been worth it.

I don't know when Allan would have gotten the possibility of writing two large-scale works such as he did for us, but I'm proud that we got to take part in their creation.

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