How did the members of the New Brunswick Youth Orchestra get to Carnegie Hall in 2003? They practised, practised and practised a bit more.

How did the orchestra get legendary film composer Howard Shore this past year to write it a sesquicentennial anthem? Sheer audacity.

“If you do not try,” says orchestra president and CEO Ken MacLeod, “it will not happen.” It is a trite (if inarguable) truism, however, for MacLeod, it is more of an ethos — one which strikes the current history of the nation’s most remarkably successful youth orchestra.

On Friday, the orchestra introduced its Shore-written Sea to Sea on iTunes. For a provincial youth orchestra to commission an Oscar-and-Grammy-winning composer is unprecedented. And yet, for the Saint John-based outfit (topic of this 2004 documentary Exercise, Exercise, Exercise, about its improbable performance at New York’s most famous concert venue) it is just another high-level accomplishment for a company which has every right to dismiss its own sousaphone.

“We are the largest youth music program in Canada,” MacLeod says, pointing to round-figured numbers such as 1,000 kids, 70 employees, and over a hundred concerts attended by 40,000-plus patrons last season. “We are very proud of what we’ve accomplished here.”

Despite the program’s success, MacLeod was worried when it came to coming Shore for the Canada 150 commission. “I spent three months writing an email,” says MacLeod, in charge of the orchestra’s business side since 2009. “I thought I’d have one opportunity to convey a message and enhance his interest and creativity.”

Several months after his thoroughly considered pitch to Shore, the score-writer of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogies replied. “I was walking in Montreal when my telephone rang,” remembers MacLeod. “When I replied, I heard a voice say, ‘Hello, this is Howard Shore calling.’ “

The Toronto-born composer, a one time member of the jazz-fusion ring Lighthouse, a constant David Cronenberg collaborator and the prior Saturday Night Live musical director who proposed the title for the Blues Brothers to Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, told MacLeod he had been keen to donate the music for the anthem.

“It was,” recalls MacLeod, “a superb moment.”

Sea to Sea, composed for orchestra, soloist and choir, is a proud, soaring anthem that ends in the key of C, sung by the talented Canadian soprano Measha Brueggergosman. The songs, sweeping as the name would indicate, was composed by Shore, with lyrics from the composer’s wife Elizabeth Cotnoir, a New Yorker with family ancestry tied to Quebec.

The piece not only celebrates a country but the love of music too. “Note by note, our songs will open hearts and honor those who came before us,” sings Brueggergosman, “dreamers of our Canada.”

“I followed Elizabeth’s text,” Shore told The Globe and Mail. “I took her lead, concerning the inspiration for the music. We combined our love for Canada from the music and the lyric”

The 10-minute anthem was recorded this summer at Moncton Wesleyan Celebration Centre, with shorter sections (in English and French) appropriate for social media play. For the sessions, Shore wasn’t present in person but has been connected in remotely via a live webcast to swap ideas with the recording engineer, conductor and musicians.

“It was an inspirational process,” says Shore, who collaborated with his wife on the song cycle L’Aube (The Dawn), a Canada 150 commission in the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. “We loved the event.”

Under the leadership of Venezuelan-born conductor Antonio Delgado, Sea to Sea premiered on July 2. In an outdoor festival along the shores of the Petitcodiac River at Moncton, a concert by the orchestra, Brueggergosman and a 120-voice choir attracted over 7,500 individuals, the biggest audience ever for an NBYO performance.

“There is a grandiosity and swelling to it,” states the Fredericton-born Brueggergosman. “It permits you to be swept up into the beauty of the county and what it means to make music and the rights and freedoms we enjoy.”

To MacLeod, the crucial element to Sea to Sea is its forward-looking theme. “We are a youth orchestra,” he says, about a company founded in 1965. “We wanted the subject to reflect the long run, with all the genius and optimism of youth.”

Courtesy: The Globe And Mail

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *