“The Seer”: A jubilant concert of hope and light in the Halifax winter

Dalhousie Wind Ensemble performance March 2 at St. Matt's Church

- March 1, 2019

File photo of the Dalhousie Wind Ensemble in concert. (Nick Pearce photo)
File photo of the Dalhousie Wind Ensemble in concert. (Nick Pearce photo)

What if you had the power to see the future? If, much like the Oracle of Delphi, you had visions of that which had yet to pass?

Luke Ellard’s concerto for bassoon and wind ensemble, “The Seer,” poses and explores that question. The Seer (who is given voice by the bassoonist) uses hope to grapple with the sometimes-horrifying visions they are faced with. And while the Seer experiences moments of doubt and defeat, ultimately, after a tumultuous journey, the Seer chooses hope and light over fear at the concerto’s conclusion.

It’s a piece well-suited to the Dalhousie Wind Ensemble, which strives to be unusual and diverse in nearly everything it does. The musicians performing with the ensemble are not just music majors at Dalhousie: membership is open to all members of the Halifax community by audition. The Wind Ensemble not only performs esoteric pieces, but often performs them in unusual ways by incorporating dance, theatre, or visual media—and although it may not be initially obvious, this concert is no exception.

The Wind Ensemble will perform “The Seer” this Saturday night (March 2) at St. Matthew’s United Church in Halifax.

Challenging perceptions

Student Jessica MacIsaac (whose original composition “No (Man’s) Lan(d)” was recently featured at Concerto Night) describes “The Seer” as “a very engaging piece” which “creates many different moods and atmospheres and highlights different textures of the wind ensemble.”

She says that conductor Jacob Caines “is challenging the audience’s perception with his programming” by having the Wind Ensemble play not only orchestral excerpts, but a concerto as well. “Concertos are typically seen as orchestral repertoire,” she adds.

A traditional wind ensemble is made up of brass instruments, percussion instruments, and woodwind instruments, while an orchestra includes all of the aforementioned with the addition of strings. By performing a concerto with a wind ensemble, Caines and the Dalhousie Wind Ensemble invite the audience to consider how non-traditional instrumentation affects how the listener hears a piece of music.

“Ellard's concerto is a really stunning addition to the repertoire,” says Caines. “It is set up in five short movements and is an exploration of colour and timbre. The ensemble is constantly shifting colours and styles to help bring the solo line of the bassoon to the fore,” he adds.

A collaborative effort

The Dalhousie Wind Ensemble are joined by Dalhousie University alumnus Ian Hopkin, who is the principal bassoonist for the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony Orchestra, to bring Ellard’s emotional odyssey to life. According to Caines, “the solo bassoon part is virtuosic and requires an intense understanding of technique on the instrument to shine.” Hopkin graduated from Dalhousie University with a degree in Neuroscience, before choosing to pursue music in his graduate studies.

“Working with Ian has been a lot of fun,” says Caines. “We have known each other for a decade, but have never worked together professionally. We met in Ottawa while we were both doing our masters degrees. I've always been impressed by Ian's musicality and understanding of the bassoon and I'm thrilled that I get to introduce his skill to the wind ensemble.”

Caines has also programmed works by Edvard Grieg, Anton Bruckner and Georges Enescu, all meant to complement "The Seer.” Enescu’s decet for winds is, in Caines’ words, “a very complex and beautiful work that asks the musicians to play very difficult and interwoven lines while keeping a light and floating feel.” It’s a work which evokes a sense of serenity and peace in the listener, and beautifully contrasts the high drama of “The Seer.”

The fight for hope

Ellard’s website states the following in regard to “The Seer”: “At the heart of this work is experiences many of us go through. From crumbling relationships to sudden violent illness, circumstances suddenly arise that test our limits. However, it is through these trials that we learn that there is light and that hope is worth fighting for.”

In the dead of Halifax winter, when shades of grey and darkness overwhelm our daily lives, hope for a reprieve from not only the season, but the tumultuous political climate at home and abroad seems impossible. Ellard’s “The Seer” is a reminder that hope is not something which is given to us — hope is something we choose to fight for.

The Dalhousie Wind Ensemble’s performance of “The Seer” takes place Saturday, March 2 at St. Matthew’s United Church in Halifax at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available from the Dalhousie Arts Centre box office.


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