The premiere of a new piece is always an exciting event, but let me tell you, for a “modern” composer, it’s actually more thrilling when your work gets a second performance. It means you were not totally off base when you wrote the thing, and some courageous conductor will risk performing an unknown piece that the audience has never heard of. Mark Vuorinen is the brave conductor who undertakes this task in Kitchener-Waterloo this Sunday afternoon, with the Grand Philharmonic Choir and orchestra, and my old friend Michael Colvin as the tenor soloist.
Winter Nights is a four movement cantata for chorus, tenor soloist, strings, piano four hands, organ and percussion. If that sound familiar, it is exactly the same orchestration as Britten’s Saint Nicolas (except there is no girl’s chorus, and no pickled boys.) Here’s what the piece is like:
The first movement is an a cappella setting of wise “old wives tales” about the season. “Cold is the night when stars shine bright” is a saying that the CBC weather centre would probably agree holds a bit of truth – if there are no clouds, it’s more likely to get really cold, especially in Southwestern Ontario.
The second movement sets a poem by James Thompson, “Loud rings the frozen earth.” I used wood blocks and percussion to imitate dripping icicles, and the strings play scales with changing accents to imitate the whirling of wind. What I like about the poem is the evocation of the hard sounds of winter, and I’ve used fourths and fifths to imitate that feeling – no sweet thirds to warm up the sound. I also love the personification of Winter himself, and when he steps forth, ceremoniously unveiled by a gong, he is accompanied by Valhalla-like music, he being the god of the season.
My sister wrote the poetry for the third movement which is a story about children who decide to test Thomas Hardy’s suggestion that cattle kneel to Bethlehem at midnight on Christmas Eve. The music here is mostly nostalgic and somewhat mischievous, with plucked strings counting down the minutes before the magic hour. What do the children actually see? You’ll have to listen and find out.
Finally, I chose Thomas Campion’s poem “Now winter nights enlarge the number of their hours” which describes a good old fashioned winter party with dancing and drinking and telling of riddles. The atmosphere of this poem is all glowing and warm, while outside is dark and cold. I put in what I hope is a memorable tune right in the middle of this movement, and surrounded it with 7/8 rhythms to evoke a bit of a tipsy party dance.
Sunday’s performance is at 3:00pm at St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in Kitchener-Waterloo, and I would not miss it for the world. Thanks to Mark and the Grand Phil for all your efforts.
(As always I welcome your comments.)

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2 Responses to Winter Nights II

  1. Libby says:

    Stephanie, as a singer with the Grand Phil Choir, I’m very much looking forward to the performance of this extremely warm and wonderful piece of winter music! So happy to be a part of this day. May you enjoy immensely!

    • Stephanie Martin says:

      I did enjoy your performance immensely Libby. The choir sounded wonderful and the orchestra played so very beautifully. It was inspiring to see all those young singers, and a packed house. Choral music is obviously alive and well in Kitchener-Waterloo. Bravo to all the Grand Philharmonic!

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