The goal of any composer is to have their work performed, but as the conductor of the Sidney Classical Orchestra, composer Stephen Brown has an advantage. The orchestra, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary, is kicking off its season with Music with a Twist, featuring two symphonies by Haydn, one by Leopold Mozart (father of Wolfgang) featuring toy instruments and a new composition by Brown based on a Newfoundland folk song.
One of the two Haydn symphonies, the “Farewell,” has a special place in classical lore. When each player finishes their part of the piece, they snuff out their candle and walk off the stage. Brown said it was a hint to Haydn’s employer, Prince Esterházy, that his extended summer vacation was keeping his court musicians away from their families. He took the hint and returned to Vienna that same week.
Another Haydn symphony, the “Philosopher,” requires two French horns and two English horns (basically a big oboe), which gave Brown an idea.
“And I thought, wait a minute, we’re going to have two English horns, so I’m going to write a piece for it!” That explains the new piece on the program, Fancy on She’s Like a Swallow, inspired by the Newfoundland folk song. He’s set the tune to music once before, so he thought to himself: “I’ve got to get some more use out of this.”
It’s been a productive year for Brown, who recently concluded 25 years as head of theory and composition at the Victoria Conservatory of Music. This year he’s completed a song cycle for baritone voice and piano, a concerto for two cellos and orchestra, and a violin concerto which he said is “about three-fifths done.” There’s also another work, but “I can’t remember what it is,” he laughed.
The group’s Jan. 14 concert will feature another piece by Brown, The Big Twin, a double cello concerto written for and performed by longtime Sidney Classical Orchestra cellists Joyce Ellwood and Laura Backstrom. He said his familiarity with their style allowed him to tailor the piece to the players, which the community environment allows.
Unlike larger concert halls like the Royal Theatre in Victoria, the audience is pulled into a horseshoe around the orchestra, which makes for a more involving experience.
“This concert is going to offer people something that they just can’t access at home,” said Brown.
Music with a Twist is at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday Nov. 12 at St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church.