||Edmonton Symphony Orchestra
Ah, for just one time, I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage
And make a Northwest Passage to the sea.
—Stan Rogers (1949-83), "Northwest Passage" [chorus]
In planning the third year of my residency with the ESO I told Rob McAlear, Artistic Administrator, that I wanted to write some orchestral variations. "How about using a popular tune?" he casually suggested. "How about a Canadian one?" Instantly folk legend Stan Rogers' "Northwest Passage" came to mind, a 1981 classic that still makes me weep—something about his rich baritone, the melody's sweep and craggy rhythms, the expansive a cappella harmonies—and, of course, the poetry. Instinct told me that the tune, stripped of its words, had the stuff to withstand the rigours of variation form: simplicity and modularity of phrase and harmonic structure; a melodic and rhythmic profile with character. Solidity of design on several levels assures that the theme's identity persists in the face of the inevitable and manifold contortion. And even as Rogers' words are muted, their images, emotions and ideas invisibly guide the shape of the variations. Variation form, by definition, invites a purely musical exploration: a search for the essence of the subject being transformed, adorned. Rogers meditates on explorers of the past. I, in turn, reflect lovingly upon his song—and legacy. I gratefully acknowledge Rogers' widow, Ariel Rogers, and Fogarty's Cove & Cole Harbour Music, for granting permission to undertake this project.—R.R.
- Apr 16, 2016—Sudbury Symphony Orchestra, cond. Martin MacDonald
- May 11, 2014—Edmonton Symphony Orchestra, cond. William Eddins
Winspear Centre (Edmonton, AB)
"...stirring and dramatic..."
—Brendan Shand, sudbury.com, Apr 20, 2016
"Rival chose to follow the tradition of folk-songs variations pioneered by such English composers as Vaughan Williams. The equivalent of a brass band gave us the tune, and thereafter the ghost of the sea-shanty underpinned the variations. Undulations of the sea were effectively evoked by rising and falling strings. A solo violin variation was played with feeling by Robert Uchida, and the variations ended with a hymn-like rendition of the tune."
—Mark Morris, Edmonton Journal, May 12, 2014
For score perusal and parts rental information,
contact Robert Rival.