University of Calgary professor Allan Bell, acting director of the School of Creative and Performing Arts won a Juno award for Classical Composition of the Year on Sunday, March 30, for his composition “Field Notes” with the Land’s End Chamber Ensemble.
Bell was up against Montreal composer James O’Callaghan for “Isomorphia for Orchestra and Electronics,” internationally acclaimed composer R. Murray Schafer for “Quatuors à corder No. 12,” University of British Columbia professor Stephen Chatman for “Magnificat” and composer and guitarist Tim Brady for “Atacama: Symphonie No. 3.”
Bell says winning the award came as a complete surprise, having expected one of two other composers to win.
“I’ve been listening to Murray Schafer’s music ever since I was in graduate school. He’s a friend as well and so is Stephen Chatman,” Bell says. “These people are just exceptionally fine composers.”
Schafer’s composition, “Trio For Violin, Viola and Cello,” with the Land’s End Chamber Ensemble was nominated for Classical Composition of the Year in 2013.
Bell hopes winning the award will bring more attention to the U of C’s School of Creative and Performing Arts and the talented faculty members and up and coming undergraduate and graduate students.
“No person is an island,” Bell says, “and the reason that I was able to achieve what I was was through the support of this institution and my colleagues.”
Bell says being nominated for a Juno in the first place was largely thanks to the Land’s End Chamber Ensemble which commissioned the composition. The ensemble is composed of James Campbell (clarinet), John Lowry (violin), Beth Root-Sandvoss (cello) and Susanne Ruberg-Gordon (piano).
“If they hadn’t done what they did on the recording project for the album Gravity and Grace, there’s no way I would have gotten any consideration,” Bell says. “I have to share this with them.”
The composition “Field Notes” is based on Bell’s own experiences and is a musical representation of the Western Canadian landscape.
“I’m always outdoors,” Bell says. “Everyday I go for walks. I live outside of Calgary — I’m out in nature all the time.”
“For me this is how I do my research. I go for walk abouts and listen, listen carefully and think and listen some more.”
The composition is divided into four movements: “Confluence,” “Medicine Wheel,” “Fugitive Colours” and “Sunset Chorus.”
The confluence movement comes from a long hike Bell did where the South Saskatchewan River and Red Deer River meet.
“If you stand by it, you can see the two rivers come together,” Bell says. “But their water is completely different for a while and then eventually it comes together. It got me thinking about the notion of convergence.”
The second movement, “Medicine Wheel,” is based around the First Nations symbol, the four cardinal points and the circularity of the wheel and the psychological significance of each of them.
Fugitive colours is a term that describes the effect of light on water colour paints that causes certain pigments to disappear.
“The image of fugitive colours, colours that come and go was what struck me,” Bell says. “If you look at the sky on a given night when there’s a sunset, or in the morning with a sunrise, you notice the way in which colour emerges, disappears and another colour happens.”
The final movement, “Sunset Chorus” begins and ends with a musical transcription of the song of coyotes.
“There’s yipping and there’s howling that was woven into the material,” Bell says. “Then the rest is drawn from that material, but it’s a lot of dance-like energy, a lot of fun, a lot of motion.”
The album, Gravity and Grace, is available at the Canadian Music Centre office in the Taylor Family Digital Library at the U of C.
Watch a performance of "Field Notes" by the Land’s End Chamber Ensemble here.