Donor Open Rehearsal: Inside the Creation of a New Composition

(left to right) Composer Barbara Croall, mezzo soprano Marion Newman, NAC Orchestra Music Director Alexander Shelley, soprano Melody Courage, and composer Ian Cusson.

Attending open rehearsals is one of the many benefits donors receive when they support performance, creation and learning across Canada through the National Arts Centre Foundation.

NAC Foundation supporters spent a wonderful September morning at a rehearsal of NAC Indigenous Theatre and the NAC Orchestra’s shared program, “Croall’s Zasakwaa (There is a Heavy Frost)”.

Under the baton of Alexander Shelley, the dynamic rehearsal featured three contemporary pieces by noted Indigenous composers: Barbara Croall’s Zasakwaa (There is a Heavy Frost), Andrew Balfour’s Ambe, and Ian Cusson’s Dodo, mon tout petit. Grieg’s Peer Gynt rounded out the morning.

As you might already know, Ian was the Carrefour composer-in-residence with the NAC Orchestra when he accepted a commission from the Orchestra and the Canadian Opera Company. He was to write a new aria for Harry Somers and Mavor Moore’s opera, Louis Riel. It was to replace one that was part of the original production—a song that was sacred to the Nisga’a people of British Columbia and used without permission. The beautiful result was Dodo, mon tout petit for soprano and orchestra.

During the break, Ian spoke to NAC Foundation supporters about his composition, a lullaby which soprano Melody Courage had sung moments before. Donors were delighted to learn that they were the first to hear the new orchestral work, which would receive its world premiere later that evening.

Ian enthusiastically thanked donors for their critical support of new music in Canada. He then spoke about the unique challenges he faced writing a new work to replace another in an established opera. Ian consulted the families of composer Harry Somers and librettist Mavor Moore, who felt strongly that with a better understanding of Indigenous cultures, the original aria would have been approached differently. Still, he needed to decide to either stay true to the vision of its creators, or create the music based on the scene. Ian chose to be loyal to the scene, which was of a mother singing a lullaby to her child in the cradle.

Ian revealed that there are nods to Somers throughout his aria, such as the use of grace notes, and references to other motifs used throughout the opera. Ian's own Métis ancestry guided him as well, he confided. He imagined hearing grandmothers singing the lullaby through the generations to him and his children.

For more information, read the program notes for Croall’s Zasakwaa (There is a Heavy Frost).

A special thank you to our Open Rehearsal and Preview Sponsor, Royal LePage Performance Marland Realty, who makes these sessions possible for NAC Foundation donors.

Join more than 6,500 champions of performance, creation and learning by supporting Canadian artists, educators and students through the NAC Foundation.

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