Sunday, April 21, 2024

The Ezra Duo Brings The Work of Pioneering Women Composers To Meaford

Bill Monahan

On Sunday, May 20, Meaford will be treated to a recital of classical music by The Ezra Duo, starting at 4 p.m. at Christ Church Anglican on Boucher St. This is the second in a series of concerts held at the church to help raise funds for the maintenance of their pipe organ.

The first concert in May, featuring the jazz stylings of the Patricia Wheeler Quartet, was a great success with a full house and standing ovations.

The Ezra Duo is a young pair of classical musicians who came together at the Glenn Gould School in 2016, and have since performed at Carnegie Hall in New York and won several awards including the Golden Classical Music Awards. Jacob Clewell plays viola and Sasha Bult-Ito is on the piano. The recital on Sunday will include sonatas by Brahms and Schubert, and in addition they will be performing works by two pioneering 20th century female composers, Rebecca Clarke and Jean Coulthard.

British-born composer Rebecca Clarke’s Sonata for Viola and Piano has been called one of the greatest works of the 20th century. It is the highlight of a frustratingly small body of work by the composer, who faced a lifelong upstream struggle for recognition primarily because she was a woman. While it caused a sensation when it appeared in 1919, the Sonata gradually faded from public knowledge as the composer lived out her life as a housewife, but has enjoyed acclaim since its rediscovery in 1976 and has since become one of the most frequently performed large works for viola and piano.

Violist Jennifer Strumm, who performed the piece on International Women’s Day last year, explained why.

Rebecca Clarke re-established the instrument as something that could be soft and feminine and wild and powerful and much more like a jazz singer,” she said. “Every time I go on stage and play this sonata, I know in a way that I’ve got this, because it’s got this incredibly powerful opening and you just own the stage. It’s so not what people expect from a viola sonata and I love that. For the viola it’s a hugely important piece. She envisioned a different kind of viola, one that wasn’t pigeon-holed into any one idea. She was writing with this incredible fascination for colour and every possibility of the instrument.”

Jean Coulthard, born in Vancouver in 1908, was able to enjoy much more extended success as a composer as well as a respected educator. Her musical ambitions were encouraged by her family, and she attended London’s Royal College of Music in the late 1920s to study for a year with Ralph Vaughan Williams. During the depression years, she associated with the likes of Aaron Copland, Arnold Schoenberg, and Béla Bartók. In 1947, she began a 26-year-long career teaching theory and composition in the Department of Music at the University of British Columbia.

While she too was often marginalized by male American and Canadian colleagues, and was at one point considered out of touch by the new music establishment, by the end of the century her work was recognized for its integrity, purity of expression, and deeply emotional language. Part of her legacy includes generations of students who have helped to shape the national musical arts in Canada from the late 1960s onward. In 1978 she was awarded the Order of Canada. In 1990, Maclean’s magazine named her to its Honour Roll, and quoted Mavor Moore, former chair of the Canada Council, who praised Coulthard as “an extraordinarily original composer, with a voice very much her own.”

The Ezra Duo will perform her Sonata Rhapsody, for viola and piano, composed in 1962.

While the historic Leith Church, ostensibly the centre of live classical music in our area, is by definition within the Municipality of Meaford, this concert is a rare opportunity to hear a classical recital in downtown Meaford. That combined with the opportunity to hear sonatas performed by women composers makes this a rare treat for fans of romantic classical music.

The concert at Christ Church Anglican starts at 4 p.m. and will include an intermission. Tickets are $20 for adults, $10 for students.

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