In her own words: A Canadian in Paris

Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte

Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte

On Saturday, April 26, we’re pleased to present the world premiere of A Canadian in Paris by our very own composer-in-residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte.  You might recall Abigail’s works like Downstream, inspired by Cootes Paradise and performed at the 2013 What Next Festival of New Music, as well as City Synesthesia, which premiered last spring and was based on Hamilton as depicted by four local visual artists. 

A Canadian in Paris is particularly special because it is inspired by the work of visual artist William Blair Bruce and dedicated to the Art Gallery of Hamilton as it celebrates its Centennial this year.  Here’s what Abigail had to say about her piece…

About the commission…

Anonymous donors to the HPO have generously commissioned me to write a piece celebrating the AGH’s 100th anniversary. I decided to look at the founding work of the gallery: the artworks of Hamilton painter William Blair Bruce. I have chosen to set three subjects in his output, each to a movement of music: variations on the Baltic Seascape paintings, The Phantom Hunter (with narrator), and several Six Nations portraits.

Inspiration for the piece…

W.B. Bruce moved from Hamilton to Paris, France, in the 1880s. He is considered to be the first Canadian to live in a French artist colony. This was a rich cultural time in history, especially for the cross-pollination between music and art. Debussy was, by his own account, more influenced through the painters of his day than the composers. Creators and enthusiasts across the arts influenced each other in the cafés of Paris. Such moments in history always excited my imagination. In tribute to Bruce, my piece will be titled A Canadian in Paris. Even though W.B. Bruce lived in France, and later Sweden, the artworks I chose are connected to Canada. He wrote that his most painted subject, the view of the Baltic Sea from his home in Brucebo, Sweden, always brought to mind for him, the shores of Lake Ontario. His best known work, the chilling Phantom Hunter, is based on a poem by Canadian poet Charles Shanly. Of course Bruce did his Six Nations portraits upon meetings during a trip home. I feel like he took pieces of Canada to Europe and, over a century later, I am reintroducing them to Hamilton.

On introducing interpreting William Blair Bruce through contemporary music…

I want the audience to have an opportunity to get inside a piece of artwork through a different medium and, most of all, I want them to feel an emotional connection. Too often people think they cannot connect with contemporary music but that just isn’t true. Contemporary music isn’t what it was some years ago. Composers now look to have more of a direct and visceral connection with the listener. I intend to take the listener on a journey, led by the musicians of the orchestra. I want the listener to get inside these paintings just as I had done when letting them inspire this music.

On living and working in Hamilton…

I feel very lucky to live in beautiful Dundas and to be Composer-in-Residence with the HPO. Aside from writing music, I am able to introduce many people to contemporary music through my education programs and the HPO’s What Next Festival. I feel like an ambassador of new music in my own community. It’s fun to be recognized as the HPO composer in places like the Farmer’s Market. It’s good to hear people say, “I didn’t think I liked new music but I loved your piece about Hamilton!” or, “I heard those amazing student compositions!”, or often, “What are you writing this year?” That for me, is the ultimate reward.

On the relevance for our community…

The works of W.B. Bruce are the reason the Art Gallery of Hamilton even came into existence, and they are being brought back to the forefront in the upcoming Bruce exhibition with the AGH Centennial Celebration in 2014. This is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the cultural cross-pollination and spirit of late 19th century Paris in modern day Hamilton, a city with its own artistic spirit.

A Canadian in Paris, by Composer-in-Residence Abigail Richardson-Schulte and conducted by Gemma New, will make its world premiere on April 26 at Hamilton Place.




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