Desiree Abbey is among the most constant virtuosos on the MCO’s stage
Beaming with rare talent and a warm presence Desiree Abbey has regularly appeared as our principal cellist for many years. Despite her approachability, she’s a player with an impressive pedigree: she holds a Master of Music from the New School, has performed at Carnegie Hall, toured Europe, and appeared as a soloist across North America.
It’s in that role that the indispensable Desi appears at this concert under the baton of Jean-Marie Zeitouni one of Canada’s brightest conducting talents. Desi will premiere a cello concerto written for her by the Jamaican Canadian composer Ted Runcie. The impressive McGill grad has a growing, eclectic body of work.
It’s about time we perform Schubert again! At this concert we play his final — and arguably best — work, the Quintet in C Major. That Schubert died at just 31, before he was even able to enjoy
a public performance of the quintet, gives the work a certain unintended melancholy. But it’s not enough to overshadow the joy radiating from almost any fibre of this work.
The Quintet in C Major is rightfully regarded as one of chamber music’s greatest works. Desi and the band’s incredible performance will show you why.
The concert begins at 7.30pm on Wednesday, April 17th, in Crescent Arts Centre, 525 Wardlaw Avenue. Casual tickets will be available 7 July 2023 here and on MCO’s Ticketline at 204-783-7377.
Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Crescent Arts Centre, 525 Wardlaw Avenue
7.30pm, Wednesday, 17 April 2024
Jean-Marie Zeitouni, conductor
Desiree Abbey, cello
Commissioned by the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra; world premiere performance.
String quintet in C major, d 956
—arr. for string orchestra by Jean-Marie Zeitouni
Jean-Marie Zeitouni is one of the brightest conductors of his generation, renowned for his expressive and eloquent style, in a repertoire that ranges from baroque to contemporary music. He studied at the Conservatoire de musique de Montréal, most notably under Maestro Raffi Armenian, and graduated in conducting, percussion, and music theory.
Over the years, Jean-Marie Zeitouni has been Artistic Director of the I Musici de Montréal Chamber Orchestra (2011-2021), Musical Director of the Colorado Music Festival (2014-2019), the Columbus Symphony (2010-2015) and the opera program at the Banff Center (2005-2007), Artistic Partner of the Edmonton Symphony, Assistant Conductor and Chorus Director at the Opéra de Montréal as well as Musical Director of their Atelier lyrique, Chorus Director at the Orchestre symphonique de Québec and at the Opéra de Québec and Musical Director of the orchestra and of the opera workshop at Laval University.
In his 12 years of a fruitful collaboration with Les Violons du Roy, he alternately held the positions of conductor in residence, assistant conductor and principal guest conductor. Since 2022, he has been conducting the Orchestre symphonique du Conservatoire de musique de Montréal as well as the orchestra conducting class.
Desiree Abbey is a freelance cellist who performs regularly with the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra as principal cellist and as an extra musician with the National Arts Centre Orchestra. Childhood summers were spent attending various Suzuki Institutes including Southern Ontario, Montreal, Orford, Edmonton, Ithaca and Chicago Suzuki Institutes. Later, she attended Gilda Barston’s Advanced Cello Program at Ithaca and Chicago Suzuki Institutes where she was inspired by teachers and peers to pursue music as a career. She continued her studies with Mary Fisher at the Toronto School for Music, and graduated from the Glenn Gould School’s Young Artists Program, and received a Bachelor of Music with Honours at the Cleveland Institute of Music.
Following her undergraduate work, Desiree moved to New York City to study with Timothy Eddy, earning both Master of Music and Professional Studies Diploma from Mannes The New School for Music. While in NYC, she taught at Brooklyn College Preparatory Music School and at the Brooklyn Conservatory of Music. She served as Assistant Principal Cello with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra in their 2011- 2012 season and has taught at Brandon University and University of Manitoba.
Desiree has appeared as soloist with the Guelph Symphony and the National Repertory Orchestra, has played in Carnegie Hall and toured Europe as part of prestigious festival orchestras.
Peteris Vasks is one of the most famous Latvian composers in the world. He began as a young, angry, avant-garde author who spoke the language of modernist music. He developed into a remarkable artist who illustrates the eternal duel between good and evil, with universally understandable sound expression. The spiritual relatives of Vasks in music are Arvo Pärt, Henryk Mikołaj Górecki, Gia Qantscheli, Valentin Silvestrov, Avet Terterian and other composers with a similar style.
In his music, Vasks meditates on the basic things—the battle between the darkness and light, the reflections of nature in the art of sound, echoes of bird songs beloved by the composer, moments of catharsis, the fate of the Latvian nation and all humankind with a stamp of the past, the chaos of the present and hope of the future.
A crucial part of Peteris Vasks’ music is the motif and the themes typical for Latvian folk music—these are not quotes, but sound combinations found in some gene sources, which immediately create a sense of belonging for Latvian music connoisseurs.
Nowadays, perhaps it’s not easy to visualise the huge momentum that Peteris Vasks’ music provided for Latvia’s (then Soviet time) culture in the 80s. It was a clear, thrilling and painful cry at a time when Soviet Latvia, as a part of the Soviet Union, reached the peak of Brezhnev stagnation, experienced the funerals of three national leaders in the past couple of years and accepted Gorbachev and perestroika. This inevitably led to Latvian national awakening and, eventually, also to Latvia’s secession from the USSR.
Born in Mandeville, Jamaica in November 1970, Ted Runcie spent his early years between his grandparents’ home in rural St. Elizabeth and his parents’ home in Kingston. His early musical influences included Jamaican folk songs, ska, and early reggae as well as the organ music and hymns of the Moravian church where his maternal grandmother was lead vocalist and accordionist.
During the turmoil of the 1970s, when he was seven, the Runcie family moved to Toronto, Canada and Ted became a Canadian citizen. During high school Runcie sang in the Scarborough Schools Youth Choir and played violin in the Scarborough Schools Youth Symphony. At McGill University, Runcie studied voice with both Metropolitan Opera Tenor Bill Neill and Winston Purdy, conducting with Timothy Vernon and composition with John Rea and Denys Bouliane, graduating with a bachelor’s degree. He continued further private lessons in composition with Christian Wolff in the U.S, and in conducting with Jorma Panula in Finland.
Runcie’s String Quartet No.1 was premiered in Taiwan in the Taipei Philharmonic Recital Hall in February 2010. String Quartet no. 2 was given its premiere in Hull, Quebec by the Quatuor Despax in November 2021. Both quartets have been recorded by Toronto’s Odin Quartet. Runcie’s choral piece December 1919 was premiered at the University of Oklahoma in May 2011, and his orchestral piece Sinfonietta Xaymaca:1494 was premiered by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Jamaica (POJ) in November 2015.
For the 2023-24 season, Runcie has been named Composer in Residence of the Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra in Toronto. As a composer in residence, Runcie will compose a symphonic overture on a Canadian theme and two chamber works for the orchestra. All these works will be given their world premieres in the 2023-2024 season.
In 2009 Runcie was Musical Director for the ground-breaking Taiwan premiere of the Broadway Review Smokey Joe’s Cafe. This production transformed the landscape for musicals in Taiwan. In 2010 Runcie conducted the Taiwan premiere of Cole Porter’s Anything Goes playing to sold out houses in Taiwan’s National Concert Hall.
Runcie has conducted orchestras, choirs, and other ensembles in the United States, Taiwan, and Europe. In 2011, he was appointed Music Director of the Hsinchu Philharmonic Orchestra in Taiwan.
Viatore (The Traveler)
Vasks’ early style owed much to the aleatoric (chance) experiments of Witold Lutosławski, Krzysztof Penderecki and George Crumb. Later works marked a considerable shift in style, one that has brought him international success. It contains elements drawn from Latvian folk music, such as the gentle and pastoral English Horn Concerto (1989). His works are generally extremely clear and communicative, with a solid and muscular sense of harmony. Lyrical passages may be followed by agitated dissonances, or interrupted by sombre sections with a march-like feel. He has made extensive use of minimalist techniques as well, but never became attached to any particular method.
He was born in Aizpute, Latvia, into the family of a Baptist pastor. He trained as a violinist and a double-bass player at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theatre. He played in several Latvian orchestras before entering the State Conservatory in Vilnius in the neighbouring Lithuania to study composition, as he was prevented from doing this in Latvia due to Soviet repressive policy toward Baptists. He started to become known outside Latvia in the 1990s, when violinist Gidon Kremer started championing his works.
He feels strongly about environmental issues, and a sense of nature both pristine and destroyed can be found in many of his works, such as the String Quartet No. 2 (1984). Other important works include Cantabile (1979), Musica dolorosa (1984) and Bass Trip (2003) for solo double bass. He has composed six string quartets, the fourth (1999) and fifth (2004]) of which were written for the world-renowned Kronos Quartet. His large catalogue of music includes numerous choral works and concertos (for oboe, viola and more). Among his recent creations are Sonata Estiva for violin, and Veni Domine for choir and organ.
He composed Viatore, subtitled Hommage à Arvo Pärt, in 2001. “It tells the story of a wanderer who arrives in this world, grows up in it, develops, falls in love, fills himself up and then departs,” he has written. “The journey is illuminated by the endless and starry universe. This composition is in one movement but is made up of two sound images. The theme of the traveler is subject to growth and development. The theme of eternity, however, does not change and it played pianissimo. Viatore is dedicated to Arvo Pärt, who has been my guiding light for many decades.”
String Quintet in C Major, D. 956
Transcribed for strings by Jean-Marie Zeitouni
- Allegro ma non troppo
- Scherzo – Presto
Schubert continued to compose masterpieces until the very end of his woefully brief life. Every one of his final works glows with a sometimes disturbing amalgam of warmth and despair that reflected his troubled physical and emotional health. Among the works of his final year, 1827/28, are three substantial piano sonatas; Piano Trio No. 2; the piano Impromptus; the heart-rending song-cycle The Winter’s Journey; a marvellous Fantasy for piano duet; numerous songs, and the piece you will hear at this concert, the one hailed by many musicians and authors alike as the greatest of his chamber works: the String Quintet in C Major.
By the time he composed it had he created the last two of his string quartets: No. 14 in D Minor (nick-named ‘Death and the Maiden’) and No. 15 in G Major, in 1824 and 1826, respectively. Perhaps he felt that with them he had exhausted his interest in the medium. The substantial dimensions and profound emotional depth of those two pieces lend some credence to this theory.
Whatever the reasons, in the autumn of 1828, just two months before his death, he added a second cello to the most commonly used string-quintet lineup—two violins and one each of violas and cellos—to produce his only example of a string quintet. A few other composers, such as Luigi Boccherini, regularly used that same lineup in their quintets (more than 100 times, in Boccherini’s case), but they far more often followed the practice that Mozart had used in his five string quintets by adding a second viola. The distinguished musicologist Alfred Einstein proposed a possible explanation for Schubert’s decision: that he had taken the example of French composer George Onslow (1784-1853), who had even called for a double bass, instead of a second viola or cello, in some of his thirty-plus string quintets. Among the ranks of significant other, later ‘viola’ quintets are works by Mendelssohn, Brahms and Bruch. Shubert tried to place his String Quintet with a publisher, but it was rejected as too long and too challenging. It remained unperformed and unpublished for more than two decades after his death.
In the wake of a pensive introduction, the opening movement’s main theme propels the music forward strongly. The melting second theme—introduced with rich sonority by the two cellos—is one Schubert’s most beautiful inventions, remarkably affecting for all its outward simplicity. Musicologist Mark Steinberg calls it “The apotheosis of tenderness … This is among the most beloved themes in the literature, and for good reason, as it seems to express a perfection of balance and contentment.” It is a successful match for the unforgettable melody that occupies the identical location in Schubert’s Symphony in B Minor, the ‘Unfinished,’ of 1822. Schubert develops the materials of the Quintet’s first movement with full dramatic intensity.
The second movement is especially slow and dark, almost a prayer, with Schubert making most effective use of pizzicato in the opening and closing sections. The ferocious centre panel abruptly shatters the initial sense of tranquility. The recovery from this emotional tempest is a slow and painful one.
The bookends of the following scherzo are as robust as any such work that Schubert created. Mirroring the layout of the slow movement, the middle panel is quite different from its surroundings – in this case, grieving and heartbroken. The robust and jovial finale bends the knee to the exotic folk and Gypsy/Romani/Turkish/Hungarian music that had been all the rage in central Europe for decades. Two works by Mozart typified that catchy style: the finale of Violin Concerto No. 5, and the familiar rondo ‘Alla turca’ (in Turkish Style) that concludes the Piano Sonata in A Major. You may add to the list the Turkish March from Beethoven’s Incidental music for the stage play The Ruins of Athens, and Haydn’s Keyboard Concerto in D Major.