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Borealis Beat

A glimpse into the mind of our Artistic Director as she shares her knowledge and expertise on our music selections, the composers, artists, concerts, and more

2022-04-12 Penderecki String Quartet

Penderecki String Quartet

Consortium Aurora Borealis joyously welcomes you to our very first in-person concert since the start of the pandemic! It has been a strange two years, but we were happy to be able to offer you a number of streamed, virtual concerts of chamber music in the interim.

We are thrilled to present the distinguished Penderecki String Quartet (PSQ), with their “remarkable technical excellence and emotional sweep”, to perform exquisite works by Haydn, Mozetich and Dvořák in Thunder Bay’s Trinity United Church, with livestreaming of their appearance offered as well. This will be the Penderecki String Quartet’s fourth appearance in Thunder Bay under the auspices of Consortium Aurora Borealis. Returning violinists Jeremy Bell and Jerzy Kapłanek, violist Christine Vlajk, and relative newcomer, cellist Katie Schlaikjer, will once again delight our audience with their wonderful renditions of significant works of the string quartet repertoire.

Although historically we have concentrated on earlier music throughout our 43-year history, especially on that of the Baroque period, we have on occasion branched out to Classicism and Romanticism and even beyond, during the past twenty years. It is to the latter that we now turn.

It has become our custom since 2005 to engage an outstanding guest ensemble or visiting artist annually. Our present concert is of very special significance, since the Penderecki String Quartet was the very first such group we invited to appear in our series! We enjoyed their performances three times between 2005 and 2010! The PSQ delighted our audience on November 5, 2005 with a Mozart Quartet, Beethoven’s Op. 131, and Schubert’s gorgeous String Quintet in C, with the TBSO’s Cathy Anderson as the second cellist. They were back in January 2008 with Schubert, Beethoven’s “Harp” Quartet, and the Brahms Clarinet Quintet, with TBSO’s Peter Shackleton as soloist. In 2010, they brought us Haydn, more Beethoven, and Ravel’s luminous String Quartet.

Violinist Jeremy Bell had already performed three concerts of virtuosic Baroque music for us before the PSQ’s first Thunder Bay appearance. It was thanks to him that we forged our connection with the Quartet. As many of you know, Jeremy has become a well-loved fixture of our concert series, appearing regularly with us since 2002. He will be heard here three times in live concert in 2022 at Trinity United: with the Penderecki Quartet on Saturday, April 12, in Romantic Piano Trios by Schumann and Arensky with two local players on Saturday, May 14, and in Violin Sonatas by Grieg and Respighi this autumn, as he makes his 15th Consortium appearance!

I trust you will enjoy this concert by the PSQ, and that you’ll also join us for our Saturday, May 14 and Thursday, May 26, 2022 Consortium concerts! I have invited Jeremy to share his thoughts on the presentation by our honoured guest ensemble.

Here is his promotional blurb on the event:

The Penderecki String Quartet is delighted that our fourth Thunder Bay appearance coincides with Consortium’s much-anticipated return to live, in-person concerts! We are honoured to accept the invitation to perform here once again! We have crafted a special programme for you that stretches over two hundred and twenty years, from 1772 to 1992, representing the Classic, Romantic, and present-day periods.

Franz Joseph Haydn is often regarded as the ‘inventor’ of the string quartet genre. An early work of his is presented here – the fifth quartet in his ground-breaking set of six Op. 20 “Sun” quartets from 1772. Though cast in F minor, dark and intense at times, this operatic work of Haydn is also full of warmth and delectable charm in its sunnier, major moments. It includes a minuetto, an aria-like siciliana adagio, and concludes with a dramatic double fugue, partly based on “And with his stripes” from Handel’s Messiah. As of Op. 20, the string voices are now equal.

Kingston composer Marjan Mozetich’s “Lament in a Trampled Garden” is a lush and deeply felt work with a wide palette of colour. It is a work the Penderecki Quartet has performed all over the world to great reception, and their recording of the “Lament” won the 2010 JUNO award for Composition of the Year.

The PSQ concert ends with a late work of Antonín Dvořák, his good-natured String Quartet in A-flat major, Op.105. This work was composed in 1895, while Dvořák was living in New York City working as director of the National Conservatory of Music. Dvořák’s son describes this quartet as representing his father’s successful trip to America and his happy return to his home in Prague. Though the audience will recognize an American hue in this music, there are many zesty moments of Czech folk music and dance idiom. This is Dvořák delivering a high-spirited romp which the PSQ intends to relish with joyful abandon!

As Jeremy Bell goes on to exclaim:

This is the kind of program that represents all our loves in one concert. The PSQ is a quartet that has always thrived on the full gamut of the string quartet canon. Our reverence for Haydn is deep, and we love finding his subtleties of phrasing and nuance. The conversational aspect of his music is where it gets really fun and involves acute listening and yielding to your colleagues. It’s like a musical game that we get to play in the moment!

Then there is the wide pallet of Dvorak’s Op.105, with big sweeps of intense playing and physically demanding territory. This appeals to our athletic reserves – submitting to the kinetic energy the music demands of us is invigorating! And of course, performing works by living composers is one of the most important and meaningful aspects of our quartet life. To be able to bring our friend Marjan Mozetich’s music forward to audiences is a big honour and opportunity for creating a future for Canadian voices in chamber music.

It goes without saying that the pandemic has brought a new urgency and desire for us to perform and share great music. We are thrilled to be a part of the Great Return of Live Music for Consortium Aurora Borealis. We also dedicate ourselves as educators for the next generation of musicians at Laurier University in Waterloo and are thrilled to hear we will be giving a workshop at Lakehead University when we are in town.

Some of you may not know our new cellist Katie Schlaikjer. She joined us in 2013 – it has been nearly a decade! Katie is a thorough-bred quartet player with top training from her days in Boston and New York. Katie has brought a high level of artistry to the quartet and may I say we are at the ideal ‘ripe’ stage of our integration as a quartet!

We have so many fond memories of our warm and friendly reception in Thunder Bay – a city I am sure you would agree has become one of the meccas of chamber music in Canada, thanks to Consortium Aurora Borealis!

I warmly thank Penderecki violinist Jeremy Bell for his interesting and enlightening remarks above!

Moving on to the contemporary piece on the programme, Consortium has stepped outside our usual historical confines in order to bring you a stunningly gorgeous, award-winning work by a “living composer”, a Canadian at that, and one who is regarded with the utmost esteem. Because this is not our accustomed repertoire, and it is the first appearance of this very worthy composer in our programming, I am devoting extra space so as to introduce the man and his music to you.

Marjan Mozetich has risen to a position of significant stature in today’s musical sphere. The Kingston Whig-Standard has called him “one of the most important composers of our time”. His website proclaims that he is Canada’s most broadcast classical composer! His music is very accessible, widely performed, and enthusiastically received. Be sure to read his own words near the end of this blog.

Mozetich, born of Slovenian parents in Gorizia, Italy adjacent to the border with Slovenia, arrived in Canada in 1952. He credits CBC Radio for introducing him to classical music, including Chopin, Tchaikovsky, and Rachmaninoff. For a while, he studied psychology at the University of Waterloo, having given up his dream of becoming a concert pianist. He subsequently pursued musical studies in composition and piano at the University of Toronto. Further private studies later on took him to Rome, Siena, and London.

He worked for some time at the University of Toronto Music Library. Interestingly enough, that is where I first met him, since I would spend countless hours amongst great stacks of books, engaged in historical research. His was the friendly face at the checkout counter! Our years of studies also overlapped, though I must say I knew neither his name at the time, nor that he was a composer.

After many years, we happily met again in a most serendipitous manner, at a Music Toronto chamber music concert performed by the Gryphon Trio at the Jane Mallett Theatre downtown. I attended because in addition to being a subscriber, I specifically wanted to hear the Gryphons, having already engaged them to perform a concert for Consortium in Thunder Bay the following September, 2018, on the occasion of their 25th anniversary and our 40th.

The Gryphon Trio had commissioned and premiered the middle work on the programme back in 2007, but included it sandwiched in between Haydn and Brahms. It was Marjan Mozetich’s Scales of Joy and Sorrow for violin, cello, and piano, and it utterly mesmerized me. It was my first encounter with his music. I requested that the Gryphons perform it at our Thunder Bay concert, but unfortunately another commissioned Canadian work had to take its place. The Gryphon Trio is booked to return to Consortium in Fall 2024, however; perhaps we could hear it then!

To explain the serendipity of our encounter, I was seated by myself on a bench in the lobby following the performance, as people milled about. What I love about attending concerts in Thunder Bay is that I am never alone, I know so many people in the audience, and most know me, or at least recognize me. One is greeted right and left. Not so in Toronto, where I know only a handful to speak to, if that.

To my surprise, a very nice gentleman approached me at Jane Mallett and struck up a conversation, saying that he remembered me from U of T. Recognition dawned on me when I saw him, but I still did not know exactly who he was, and was quite stunned to learn that he was the composer of that beautiful work which I had so admired! We spoke of the possibility of it being performed in Thunder Bay; Mozetich even thought he might fly up for it if he were free.

But upon engaging the PSQ for our April 2022 concert, I requested that they perform the Mozetich work they had commissioned and recorded, Lament in the Tangled Garden, composed for string quartet. They unanimously agreed to do so, to my great joy! I know you will enjoy it!

Marjan Mozetich’s “compellingly beautiful music has found favour with outstanding artists, critics and audiences around the world. His aim is to write music that expresses beauty, sensuousness and emotion – things that give him and his audiences pleasure.”

I love his many evocative, imaginative titles, such as: Affairs of the Heart ; Angels in Flight; A Veiled Dream; The Passion of Angels; Postcards from the Sky; A Dance toward Heaven; Steps to Ecstasy (for Baroque orchestra). He has received numerous awards and honours. Three of his works were nominated for Juno awards (as Classical Composition of the Year), with one win (tonight’s piece). Mozetich has composed music for theatre and film, and several major contemporary dance companies have performed his works. His output includes symphonic, chamber, solo, and compulsory competition pieces.

His compositions enjoy wide audience appeal, and have been heard around the world, even in the skies, as part of Canadian Airlines’ in-flight programming. He taught composition at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario from 1991 to 2018. Although he started out as an avant-garde composer, he later abandoned this, moving instead to a post-modern romanticism. From the 1980’s and beyond, his music is marked by melodic lyricism, sensuous scoring, romantic harmonies, and at times spiritual sensibilities.

A wonderful documentary on Canadian composer Marjan Mozetich may be found at:

I have asked him to offer up a few words of his own here on his strikingly beautiful, Juno-winning work, which we are fortunate to hear in this concert, as performed by our guest ensemble, the Penderecki String Quartet:

Lament in The Trampled Garden was commissioned by CBC Radio for the 1992 Banff International String Quartet Competition. The winner for the best interpretation of the piece was the St. Lawrence String Quartet, a brilliant young Canadian ensemble, which was subsequently catapulted into international fame. Since then, this composition has been performed by numerous international quartets, most notably, by the Penderecki String Quartet, the greatest champion of the work, who recorded it and continues to perform it throughout the world, having also taken it on an extensive tour throughout China.

The initial goal of the composer, in writing this work as the set contemporary Canadian piece for the competition, was twofold. His intent was not only to offer to the competitors the challenge of technical difficulties, but also to provide them with a poetic and dramatically lyrical piece which would put an accent on the performers’ interpretive skills.

Lament in the Trampled Garden begins simply, with a slow and expressive theme and an arpeggiated accompaniment. This gradually unfolds into a series of variations, reflecting on what the title of the work implies. There is ample room for interpretation of this music, which moves from sweet sorrow, to anger and aggression, to despair, to an upbeat frenzied swing, and finally to a sense of resignation and longing for a lost beauty.

Its implication is most timely at present; one could say that it is a lamentation on the metaphorical garden of a trampled and abused world at large.

As a happy footnote, I am pleased to inform you that tonight’s concert programme will be repeated by the Penderecki String Quartet as an in-person-only performance in Toronto on Thursday, April 28, 8 p.m., at the Jane Mallett Theatre, as part of the distinguished Music Toronto String Quartet Series. I have already purchased my ticket, but I will also watch the Consortium livestream.

Then, on Thursday, July 21, the Penderecki String Quartet will perform a varied programme which will include Mozetich’s Lament in the Tangled Garden, under the auspices of Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre’s “Summer Music in the Garden”. Appropriately, this concert will be performed out of doors in the enchanting Toronto Music Garden, its design inspired by J.S. Bach’s First Suite for unaccompanied cello, with the collaboration of renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

Finally, if you have not yet purchased your ticket for our Thunder Bay April PSQ concert, virtual or otherwise, now is the time to do so! Tickets, venue information, and COVID protocols can be found on our website:


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