Croall’s Zasakwaa: There Is a Heavy Frost

2019-09-19 19:00 2019-09-19 21:00 60 Canada/Eastern 🎟 NAC: Croall’s Zasakwaa: There Is a Heavy Frost

Ambe Ambe Anishinaabeg biindigeg Anishinaabeg Mino-bimaadiziwin omaa Ambe   Come in Come in, two-legged beings come in all people There is good life here Come in!   Celebrate the works of Canada’s Indigenous composers, with music by Andrew Balfour, Ian Cusson and Barbara Croall. Métis composer and long-time friend of the NAC Ian Cusson offers a moving new lullaby, and Odawa First Nations composer Barbara Croall greets the coming winter with Zasakwaa (There is a...

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Southam Hall,1 Elgin Street,Ottawa,Canada
Thursday, September 19, 2019

≈ 2 hours · With intermission

Last updated: September 16, 2019

Tonight’s soloists for Peer Gynt – Carmen Harris, Lynlee Wolstencroft and Ryan Hofman – are all graduates of the Master of Music vocal performance program at the University of Ottawa.


Choristers from:
Ewashko Singers (ES)
Ensemble Calixa-Lavallée (CL)

Rehearsal Pianist: Claire Stevens

Michelle Bawden CL
Ashley Bedard ES
Anastasiya Gorodnicha CL
Alison Kennedy ES
Ilene McKenna ES
Rosemary Cairns Way ES

Barb Ackison ES
Donna Ager ES
Wanda Allard ES
Shelly Arturo ES
Elizabeth Burbidge ES
Rachel Hotte ES
Caroline Johnston ES
Chloe Monette CL
Rebecca Taves ES

Johnathan Bentley ES
David Lafranchise ES
Bryan Parker ES
Robert Ryan ES
Ryan Tonelli CL

Grant Cameron ES
Alain Franchomme ES
Braeden Kloke ES
James Kubina ES
Kevin Marimbu CL
Mathieu Jean Roy CL
Kyle Simpson CL
Stephen Slessor ES
Christopher Yordy ES


Andrew Balfour


Now living in Winnipeg, Manitoba

Of Cree descent, Andrew Balfour is an innovative composer/conductor/singer/sound designer with a large body of choral, instrumental, electro-acoustic and orchestral works, including Take the Indian (a vocal reflection on missing children), Empire Étrange: The Death of Louis Riel, Bawajigaywin (Vision Quest) and Manitou Sky, an orchestral tone poem. His new Indigenous opera, Mishabooz’s Realm, was commissioned by the Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal and Highlands Opera Workshop.

The founder and Artistic Director of the vocal group Camerata Nova, now in its 22nd year of offering a concert series in Winnipeg, Balfour specializes in creating “concept concerts,” many with Indigenous subject matter. These innovative offerings explore a theme through an eclectic array of music, including new works, arrangements and innovative inter-genre and interdisciplinary collaborations.

He has become increasingly passionate about music education and outreach, par-ticularly on northern reserves and in inner-city Winnipeg schools where he has worked on behalf of the National Arts Centre, Camerata Nova, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and various Winnipeg school divisions.

In 2007, Andrew Balfour received the Mayor of Winnipeg’s “Making a Mark” Award, sponsored by the Winnipeg Arts Council to recognize the most promising midcareer artist in the city.


This piece, Ambe, is based on an original song in Ojibway that was gifted by traditional drummer and singer Cory Campbell to Andrew Balfour and the University of Man-itoba Concert Choir. Campbell describes the song as “a call to the people to the ceremonial way of life or to the red road or, quite frankly, to whatever we have going on, because everything happens with spirit and in spirit.”

Inspired by Campbell’s song, Balfour created an original composition which uses the same text and echoes the steady rhythm of the drum, unifying the piece. The melodies are all original but hints of Campbell’s song remain. For Balfour, the steady beat throughout represents the heartbeat of Mother Earth, and the lyrical first soprano melody that emerges from this rhythmic texture at measure seven conveys the power-ful totem of the eagle which represents the teaching of love, wisdom and strength.

– Program note by Andrew Balfour

Ian Cusson

Dodo, mon tout petit*

Commissioned by the National Arts Centre and the Canadian Opera Company

Born in Midland, Ontario, August 24, 1981
Now living in Oakville, Ontario

Ian Cusson is a composer of art song, opera and orchestral work. Of Métis and French-Canadian descent, his work explores Canadian Indigenous experience including the history of the Métis people, the hybridity of mixed-racial identity, and the intersection of Western and Indigenous cultures. He studied composition with Jake Heggie (San Francisco) and Samuel Dolin, and piano with James Anagnoson at the Glenn Gould School. He was also mentored by Johannes Debus.

Cusson is the recipient of the Chalmers Professional Development Grant, the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation Award, and grants through the Canada Council, Ontario Arts Council and Toronto Arts Council. He was an inaugural Carrefour Composer with the National Arts Centre Orchestra from 2017–2019 and is Composer-in-Residence with the Canadian Opera Company for 2019–2021. He is an Associate Composer of the Canadian Music Centre and a member of the Canadian League of Composers. He lives in Oakville with his wife and four children.


The NAC and Canadian Opera Company commissioned this new aria to replace the Kuyas aria that opens Act III of Harry Somers and Mavor Moore’s 1967 opera Louis Riel. The music for the original scene used a song from the Nisga’a people without permission. This new aria will have a permanent place in all future productions of the opera.

Participating in the composition of new music for this opera is about more than the composition itself. It is an opportunity to be part of the righting of an historic wrong, where an appropriated song is returned to its people. It is a tangible step in the direction of reconciliation.

The task of writing new music for a work like Louis Riel, often described as Canada’s most important opera, is not as straightforward as it might seem. It requires sober awareness of the expectations and criticism surrounding such a task. How does a person go about creating new music for an opera that has a history of divided public opinion and more than half a century of scholarly commentary?

I turned to the drama itself in order to dis-cover the path forward by considering the function of the scene in which the aria is found to the opera as a whole. The goal I set for myself was to capture the tone that this moment required.

Act III opens with Marguerite, the young wife of Louis Riel, singing their child to sleep. She sings of her hopes and dreams for the child – that he would have the legs of a deer to carry him across the prairies, the wings of an eagle, the heart of a man, the wisdom of the stars… This most intimate and personal moment is the heart of the opera. Its musical setting required a degree of simplicity and musical clarity, a pause before the opera’s climax where Riel returns to Canada to lead his people in a rebellion, ending in his execution by the Canadian state.

Giving voice to an historic person from my own community is a special thing. It is a looking back across time and generations. But it is also a looking forward to future generations of Indigenous people of this land. I write this work for all my relations.

– Program note by Ian Cusson

Barbara Croall

Zasakwaa (There is a Heavy Frost)

Born in Mnidoo Mnissing, 1966, Giniw dodem (golden eagle clan)
Now living in Mnidoo Mnissing and Halton, Ontario

Active internationally since 1995, Odawa First Nation composer Barbara Croall has had commissions and performances from leading orchestras, ensembles and soloists across Canada, the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Latin America and Asia. As a musician, she plays, performs and composes on the pipigwan and for voice in the traditional Anishinaabe way. Classically-trained, she holds music degrees and diplomas from Centre Acanthes (France), the Musikhochschule in Munich (Germany), the Royal Conservatory of Music (Toronto) and the University of Toronto. The child of a residential school survivor, Croall is also a direct descendant of hereditary chiefs who signed the major treaties in Ontario and who fought in major battles of the Indian Wars and War of 1812.

Recording credits of her music and per-formances include: CBC Radio One, CBC Radio Two, Bayerische Rundfunk-Bayern 3, Deutsche Radio Swiss (DRS-II), Radio France, Italian National Television, APTN (Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Canada) and Kennedy Center Live Broadcasts (Washington, D.C.).

Awards include the Glenn Gould Award in Composition (1989), numerous scholarships at the Royal Conservatory of Music/Glenn Gould School (1992–1996), awards from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation (1993–1998), three nominations for the K.M. Hunter Award (2003, 2007, 2012), a Visual and Expressive Arts Program Award (National Museum of the American Indian, 2009) and a Dora Mavor Award nomination (2012).

Croall is also the Founder and Director of Women of the Four Directions (WFD), promoting Indigenous women’s artistic and cultural activities. She has also served as an Advisory Board Member of the First Nations Composers’ Initiative (FNCI). She is currently Artist-in-Residence and Cultural Consultant with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra.


This work for chamber string orchestra and mezzo-soprano, with flute soloist, greets the coming of winter from a female earth spirit perspective. In Nishnaabe (Odawa) cosmology we have Mindemoyenh (Old Woman) who is featured in our oral stories as an earth-rooted figure representing ancient feminine knowledge and guidance. On Mnidoo Mnissing (Manitoulin Island) as a child I swam so many countless times in the beautiful Lake Mindemoya, which is noted for its extended shallows and rippled sands on the eastern side and which has a large island that the Nishnaabeg have called Mindemoyenh – appearing like an old woman lying on her back surrounded by calm water. (Settlers renamed this island Treasure Island.) Many feel that she was the first ancient woman emerging out of the earth and rock as a guardian spirit when Mnidoo Mnissing was first formed. In fall, as the first heavy frosts arrive just before winter, a tranquil sense of calm is felt when this female island becomes immobilized by the ice and blanketed by snow drifts as many earth creatures enter their deep sleep for biboon (winter).

The mezzo-soprano soloist is this ancient female island spirit, also recalling her own grandmother, Nookomis, the moon, who watches over all girls and women who celebrate and honour her in our Full Moon ceremonies. The flute soloist is a transformational figure – often depicting the cold winds and elemental spirit breath of life, as well as Bineshiinh (Small bird) who stays to keep Mindemoyenh company through the fall and winter – singing to her cheerfully to provide comfort and hope during her times of winter loneliness. The calls of Gookooko’oo (Owl) heard as Mindemoyenh finally slips into winter slumber are also a reminder of another protective guardian spirit, the owl, who watches over those who sleep and hunts with silent wings under the cloak of night and illumination of moonlight.

– Program note by Barbara Croall

Edvard Grieg

Peer Gynt

Born in Bergen, June 15, 1843
Died in Bergen, September 4, 1907

The sights, sounds and folklore of Norway are deeply embedded in Grieg’s music, nowhere more so than in the incidental music he wrote for Henrik Ibsen’s poetic drama Peer Gynt (1867). Ibsen (1828–1906),  Norway’s most famous playwright, initially had no intention of producing his huge play, more suitable for reading than for acting, with its elements of Norwegian fairy-tale, fantasy, satire and allegory. Eventually he changed his mind and asked Grieg to provide music for the production, which was first given on February 24, 1876 in Christiania (present-day Oslo). For revivals in Copenhagen (1885, 1892) and Christiania (1902), Grieg composed additional numbers.

What we hear tonight constitutes a generous, one-hour sequence of about two-thirds of the complete incidental music to Peer Gynt, including all eight numbers of the two popular suites plus assorted other material that involves chorus, narration and vocal soloists. Listeners familiar with the two suites will note that some of these numbers too involve vocal elements in their original form. Ibsen’s play relates the adventures of an egotist and all-around irresponsible, unpleasant character who leaves his home-land to roam the world in a restless search for happiness, his churlish behaviour earning him the contempt of everyone he encounters.

The story begins at a wedding party. Peer shows his true colours almost from the start, as he abducts the bride but soon abandons her. Soon afterwards we meet the herd girls, an unruly lot clamouring for their lost lovers (trolls), whereupon Peer offers his services as a lover to all of them. Peer next appears in the hall of the Mountain King, where hideous little trolls, representing man’s more undesirable qualities, chase and torment Peer. The Mountain King’s daughter is no beauty, and her ungainly dance drives Peer to mirth. In anger, the Mountain King sets his army of trolls upon Peer, a truly frightening scene.

After years of wandering, Peer returns home for the death of his loving mother Åse, who dies in his arms. This sorrowful scene, scored for strings alone, is built on the barest of musical materials, a rising three-note motif. Further travels take Peer to North Africa. “Morning Mood” depicts the idyllic beauty and stillness of sunrise over the desert. Peer is entertained by a bevy of beauties in the “Arabian Dance,” and later by Anitra alone, the chieftain's daughter. Peer woos Anitra in his serenade, the sole occasion in the play where the actor taking this role must sing. Solveig, Peer’s only true love, sings of her confidence that Peer will one day return to her waiting arms.

Eventually he returns to Norway for the last time, amidst stormy weather that is surely a metaphor for his troubled soul. He finds solace and forgiveness in Solveig’s arms as she sings the last music in the score, the infinitely tender and consoling “Cradle Song.”

– Program notes by Robert Markow