Classical Music: Hermann’s hosts symphony performance of Stravinsky

What: Histoire du soldat and A Fiddler’s Tale.
When/where: Monday, 8 p.m., Hermann’s Jazz Club (753 View St.).
Tickets: $25. Online at
What: La riche canadienne: The Music of Elinor Dunsmuir.
When/where: Wednesday, Sept. 12, 7 p.m., Craigdarroch Castle (1050 Joan Cr.).
Tickets: Castle members and a guest, free; non-members $15. Call 250-592-5323; e-mail

The year 2018 marks the centenary of Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat (Soldier’s Tale), a modestly scaled, accessible work that was nonetheless a groundbreaking and influential specimen of early musical modernism.

article continues below

This quirky theatrical piece, based on a Russian folk tale, tells of a fiddle-playing soldier who sells his soul to the Devil in exchange for riches, only to lose everything (including the princess he has wed) when the Devil calls in the debt. The story is part Faust legend and part Orpheus myth, part fairy tale and part morality play, with some vaguely topical allusions.

We usually hear only the instrumental suite from it, but David Michaux, a trumpeter in the Victoria Symphony, has organized a production of the complete hour-long work, to be presented on Monday.

The three speaking parts will be taken by pianist Robert Holliston (as the Narrator), mezzo-soprano Rebecca Hass (Soldier) and conductor Timothy Vernon (Devil), and the instrumental septet will comprise Michaux, on cornet, and colleagues from the Victoria Symphony (clarinet, bassoon, trombone, violin, bass, percussion), led by the orchestra’s associate conductor, Giuseppe Pietraroia.

The concert will be held in Hermann’s Jazz Club — a first for members of the Victoria Symphony, according to Michaux, who turned to Hermann’s for its “intimate and casual atmosphere” (it seats just 137). Stravinsky did stress the jazz credentials of Soldier’s Tale, it’s true, though there are actually influences galore in this eclectic piece — Gypsy fiddling, Russian folk music, klezmer, military marches and fanfares, pasodoble, tango, waltz, ragtime, chorale — all passed through the prism of Stravinsky’s distinctive style. The result is a score that still seems fresh even a century later.

Monday’s program will also include A Fiddler’s Tale, by American trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, who has always straddled the jazz and classical worlds. Composed in 1998, it is a clever, intriguing companion piece and “response” to Soldier’s Tale; it calls for the same performing forces, and reinterprets and updates the story and music.

Michaux believes that his performance of A Fiddler’s Tale will probably count as the Canadian première.

•  •  •

Elinor Dunsmuir (1887-1938) was born into one of Victoria’s wealthiest and most influential families. She was the granddaughter of Robert Dunsmuir, the Scottish-born industrialist and MLA who built Craigdarroch Castle, and was the daughter of James Dunsmuir, who in addition to continuing the family business served as premier and lieutenant governor of B.C. and built Hatley Park (home to Royal Roads University).

Elinor was a rebel — she smoked and wore masculine clothing — and as an adult she lived mostly in Europe, where her gambling exploits earned her the nickname “La riche canadienne,” though she spent her last years back on Vancouver Island.

Gifted, avid and curious both intellectually and artistically, she sang and played the piano, studied music in Germany and was an accomplished composer whose works included a piano concerto and two ballets, though the public probably heard very little of her music.

Craigdarroch Castle’s curator, Bruce Davies, discovered a boxful of her compositions in England, and the castle acquired the rights to the music from her family. Recently, two young local musicians, soprano Elizabeth Gerow and pianist and composer Nicholas VanGiesen, have been studying Dunsmuir’s life and work, transcribing her music and undertaking a recording and publishing project under Craigdarroch’s auspices.

The result is a CD, La riche canadienne: The Music of Elinor Dunsmuir, comprising 21 songs and nine piano and chamber pieces, as well as two volumes of sheet music, one vocal, the other instrumental. (The piano used in the recordings is the 1901 Steinway baby grand in the castle’s drawing room.)

According to Gerow, who has performed the songs and given lecture-recitals about Dunsmuir around town since 2014, this “hauntingly beautiful music” offers a “tasteful and refreshing” blend of “classical, impressionist, jazz and music-theatre genres of the 1920s.”

Next Wednesday, Sept. 12, the CD and music books will be launched (and can be purchased) at a public event at Craigdarroch Castle, which will include performances of vocal and instrumental pieces by Dunsmuir in various locations within the building.

Meanwhile, Craigdarroch is discussing with Ballet Victoria the possibility of mounting Dunsmuir’s ballets. Stay tuned.

Read Related Topics

© Copyright Times Colonist

Most Popular