Rebecca Thomas, spoken word artist
Symphony Nova Scotia
Mozart: Symphony No. 34
Laura Sgroi: We’re Not Done Drumming *
Brahms: Symphony No. 2
Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaw poet and activist whose poetry is “as melodic and witty as it is damning” (The Coast). Once Halifax’s Poet Laureate, now a speaker and author whose voice is heard from coast to coast, Rebecca brings her generous, powerful storytelling to Symphony Nova Scotia to deliver a captivating and challenging new work created in collaboration with Toronto composer Laura Sgroi. Plus: our orchestra performs Mozart’s vivid, energetic Symphony No. 34, and Brahms’ warm, lush, and radiant Second Symphony.
* Commissioned by Symphony Nova Scotia and the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.
About the Music
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 34 in C major
Premiered: Salzburg, 1780
Duration: 19 minutes
The symphony is a bright, festive piece including trumpets and timpani, in three movements in the manner of an overture to an Italian opera. An opportunity to perform it again came in 1782 in Vienna, where he was by then working as a freelance pianist and composer. For this occasion, Mozart composed a minuet and added flutes to the orchestration, converting it into a full-fledged symphony in the Classical style.
Laura Sgroi (b. 1986) & Rebecca Thomas (b. 1986)
We’re Not Done Drumming
Premiered: 2019, Kitchener-Waterloo
Duration: 15 minutes
Rebecca Thomas writes: “Canada has tricked us into believing it was right. It has spun a narrative that places Indigenous peoples as primitive, in need of oversight and guardians. We are taught that colonization brought Indigenous-Settler relations.
“The first movement signifies pre-contact. This movement is meant to convey confidence, safety, and assurance. Furthermore, it’s to show that there was a thriving civilization prior to Europeans invading what is currently known as Canada.
“The second movement is more aggressive and militant. It’s systematic, almost mechanical in its approach and sound. The violence that Indigenous peoples faced is often erased or downplayed as a product of its time. This movement is supposed to make the audience uncomfortable with this history. When creating it, both the writer and composer wanted to capture the perception that European settlers had to justify the subjugation and oppression of Indigenous people, while masking it as benevolence. Here, the first peoples are clearly suffering with little to no regard given to them.
“Finally, the third movement is the reclamation of sovereignty and self-governance of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous people are still here. In addition to the survival of Indigenous peoples, the culture and languages of many continue to thrive. Though it can never be what it was in the first movement, there is hope that we can move forward.”
We’re Not Done Drumming is a collaboration between composer Laura Sgroi and poet Rebecca Thomas. It is a Symphony Nova Scotia co-commission with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 2
Premiered: 1877, Vienna
Duration: 42 minutes
Like many of Brahms’ works, his Second Symphony is the product of a summer holiday. He sketched it during the summer of 1877, while on a lakeside vacation at Pörtschach in Carinthia. Brahms wrote of this idyllic spot, “So many melodies fly about, one must be careful not to tread on them.” For all the cunning and complexity of its construction, the Second Symphony reflects the tranquil, relaxed, sunny atmosphere of rural Austria before the motor-car and the tourist. Some of its tunes recall Austrian folk-songs, with their three-quarter rhythms and sweet major tonalities. Clara Schumann, Brahms’ closest friend and most perceptive admirer and critic, described it as “merry and tender.”
About the Artists
Holly Mathieson, conductor
New Zealand-born Holly Mathieson was, until recently, Assistant Conductor at the Royal Scottish National Orchestra and Resident Conductor within the National Youth Orchestra of Scotland Orchestras. She also holds positions as Artistic Director of Rata Music Collective and Co-Artistic Director of the Nevis Ensemble.
A passionate communicator combined with crystalline technique and a collaborative approach, she has won plaudits in all forms of music direction from opera, ballet, and family concerts to full-scale symphonic programmes.
Toward the beginning of her conducting career, she was chosen as one of only four young conductors from around the world to participate in the Interaktion Dirigentenwerkstatt des Kritischen Orchesters with players from the Berlin Philharmonic and other top-tiered German orchestras. She has worked with, and learned at the side of, many esteemed conductors, and counts the following among her mentors: Marin Alsop, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Christoph von Dohnányi, Peter Oundjian, Donald Runnicles, Thomas Søndergård, and Garry Walker.
Holly is based in Glasgow, where she previously held the prestigious Leverhulme Fellowship at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. She holds a PhD in Music Iconography, and in 2016, she was named one of New Zealand’s Top 50 Women of Achievement.
Rebecca Thomas, spoken word artist
Rebecca Thomas is a Mi’kmaw poet and activist who does not want to be a poet or activist. She just happens to be good enough at poetry and persuasion to get people to listen, but her ultimate goal is to make Canada a better place for her Indigenous community because so many people tend to forget they were here first. She has captained the Halifax Slam Poetry team three years in a row, taking HaliSlam to the semifinals in 2016. She has accidentally found herself as the former Poet Laureate of Halifax. She has performed with A Tribe Called Red, and has spoken and lectured at conferences and coffee houses from coast to coast.
Rebecca writes kids’ books about growing up the child of a residential school survivor. She has written for the CBC and Washington Post, but has yet to make a chapbook. She pays her bills by working as a Senior Consultant for Diversity and Inclusion with the provincial government.
She’s excited to do some cool symphony stuff with Symphony Nova Scotia, but does not play a musical instrument, so we’ll see how it goes! She also feels real uncomfortable writing bios about herself. She’s done some other things here and there, but has reached her tolerance for hearing all her accomplishments listed off.
Laura Sgroi, composer
Laura Sgroi is a composer, improviser, pianist, and DJ in Toronto, and holds a Doctorate of Music Composition from the University of Toronto. A classically trained musician with a passion for popular and electronic music, Laura’s unique style explores popular music idioms adapted to the sonic and structural complexity of traditional classical ensembles. She strives to create contemporary classical music that is accessible to a diverse and intergenerational audience by blending classical and electronica genres.
Laura composed for the 2016 JUNO-nominated album Spin Cycle in collaboration with DJ Skratch Bastid. From this album, her piece entitled Dirty Laundry – Heavy Load was the featured music for the National Ballet’s Sharing Dance 2017 – a signature Canada 150 project. Laura has also collaborated with percussionist Beverly Johnston on the album Woman Runs with Wolves and in 2015 was featured in CBC’s list of 30 Hottest Classical Musicians under 30.
Presently, Laura is on faculty teaching composition at the Royal Conservatory of Music’s Taylor Academy for Young Artists, and is the composer-in-residence for the Cantabile Chamber Singers. She was recently awarded her third Ontario Arts Council Grant for a new composition for two cellos and piano, to be premiered in November 2020.
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