"I am 3/4ths Canadian, and one 4th New Englander - I had ancestors on both sides in the Revolutionary war." - Elizabeth Bishop

Saturday, March 13, 2010

EB100 and Symphony Nova Scotia

On Friday 12 March 2010, a couple hundred people gathered at the Rebecca Cohn auditorium in Halifax, N.S., for the launch of Symphony Nova Scotia’s 2010-2011 season. I have been a subscriber to SNS for many years. For me, SNS is one of the great benefits of living in Halifax. SNS is one of our cultural gems. The programming for the upcoming season is fantastic. You can find out more about it on their website: www.symphonynovascotia.ca

If you read my February post “The Origins of an idea: the theory of a centenary” and Suzie’s “First Encounter,” you will remember that my first idea for celebrating Elizabeth Bishop’s centenary was to commission settings of her poems by Canadian composers, which would be premiered by SNS. I hoped this idea could become a reality, but I did not really think it was possible. A series of convergences occurred to bring Suzie and me together, both of us holding the same idea, she with the capacity to make it happen. The Bishop realm is like this — serendipity and synchronicity everywhere.

I am thrilled to say that on 12 March 2010, such a premiere concert of settings of Bishop’s poems to mark her centenary was announced as part of SNS’s 2010-2011 season. Before you read any further, mark THURSDAY, 10 FEBRUARY 2011, in your calendars and join us for “Elizabeth Bishop in Words and Music,” featuring our own Suzie LeBlanc. This concert will mark the official start of our EB100 celebrations — and what a kick-off it will be!!

In the days to come, Suzie herself will write more about the commissions, the concert and her collaboration with SNS. We will even have some of the composers and members of the orchestra of SNS contribute to the blog. For now, however, I wanted to be the first to announce this exciting project to the Elizabeth Bishop world.

For me, personally, this concert is a dream come true. Bishop’s poems have been set by a number of American and Brazilian composers: Elliott Carter, Ned Rorem, John Harbison, Luciana Sousa, and others. Bishop herself heard some of the settings: she attended the premiere of the Carter suite, “A Mirror on Which to Dwell,” and knew Ned Rorem and heard some of his settings. But, as far as I know, until now, no settings have ever been done by any Canadian composer.

Bishop herself was so passionate about music — her taste was eclectic, ranging from traditional hymns to Brazilian samba, from early (indeed sixteenth and seventeenth century) music to opera and jazz; from Purcell to Webern. She studied music at Vassar. Her instrument was the clavichord. She owned one made by the Dolmetsch company and carted it around with her for decades. She said more than once that she always wanted to write song lyrics. Her “Songs for a Colored Singer” were written with Billie Holiday in mind (she knew Holiday in New York in the 1930s).

The EB100 celebrations include a number of music projects (from concerts to kitchen parties) throughout the year — stay tuned to learn more about them; but the Symphony Nova Scotia/Suzie LeBlanc collaboration is a special one for me. I want to thank Suzie and the composers (I will let Suzie tell you who they are – and they are fabulous!) for their commitment to this idea. I also want to thank the Music Director of SNS, Bernhard Gueller for being open to this idea from the start and working to make it happen.

Besides the wonderful EB songs being offered on 10 February 2011, Maestro Gueller’s own birthday gift to Elizabeth Bishop is Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. I have had the privilege of seeing Maestro Gueller conduct a number of major Beethoven works, and when I learned that his choice for the second half of the concert was this piece, I was thrilled. He is a passionate Beethoven interpreter. One of the principal philosophies of our EB100 celebrations is that artists of all disciplines pay tribute to Bishop in their own way — through their own creative process and medium. There is no better way for Maestro Gueller to honour Elizabeth Bishop’s 100th birthday than to conduct one of the greatest symphonies of all time, to conduct the music of a composer with whom he has a long-standing and profound connection. I think EB would appreciate the range of music which will be offered by SNS on 10 February 2011. It will be another magical convergence.

I also want to thank Erika Beatty, the CEO of SNS, and Adrian Hoffman, Chair of SNS’s programming committee. Both have been enthusiastic supporters of this idea from the beginning. I also want to thank, again, Peggy and Shimon Walt for their pivotal role in facilitating the convergence which lead to these new works and this exciting concert.

Well, you can imagine, I will be at the Rebecca Cohn on Thursday, 10 February 2011 — with bells on!!!

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