Nanaimo Chamber Orchestra to debut new Canadian composition at next concert

The ensemble will perform with guest pianist Sarah Hagen from Courtenay

At its next concert, the Nanaimo Chamber Orchestra will be premiering a new piece by a composer from the other side of the country.

The composition is named Esplanade, in memory of Nanaimo’s No. 1 Esplanade Mine explosion of 1887, which took the lives of 150 coal miners and left only seven survivors. The piece was written by Richard Covey, an assistant professor at the University of Prince Edward Island.

Covey composed Esplanade following a discussion with Courtenay pianist Sarah Hagen, who recently joined the UPEI faculty and will be accompanying the Nanaimo Chamber Orchestra for its upcoming Rhapsody and Reverie concerts at Brechin United Church on March 17 and Knox United Church in Parksville the following afternoon.

Nanaimo Chamber Orchestra director Karl Rainer said he’s looking forward to premiering the piece.

“This is a very new thing for us because we didn’t plan originally on doing it, it happened almost by happenstance,” he said.

“Sarah said, ‘Hey, I’ve got this guy who wants to write a piece, would that be OK?’ And so in my conversation with him, I looked at some of the music that he’d done and his style is really compatible with what we’re doing.”

Since the piece would be debuted in Nanaimo, Covey decided to seek out relevant inspiration. That search led him to read into the city’s history, where he found an article commemorating the explosion.

“I looked into that and it turned out to be sort of a keystone marker in the history of that place that was such a young city at the time,” he said.

“So I thought that was interesting, these events, good and bad, that sort of galvanize who we are.”

Covey has never visited Nanaimo, although he did study at the University of British Columbia. He said he reflected the Esplanade incident in the composition. The piece begins with an explosive piano opening with rumbling strings underneath.

“That sort of anger and sadness … contrasts with the sort of simple folk or hymn-like melody that represents the humble simplicity of the people at that time. So there’s a lot of contrasts and swirling emotions throughout the piece as well,” he said.

“It’s really dramatic,” Hagen said.

“It feels quite West Coast-y to me. It feel earthy and kind of craggy, like rocks, and also parts that really sound like you’re under water.”

Rainer said Esplanade fits into the Rhapsody and Reverie program, which includes romantic and Scandinavian music.

“It’s modern music, so it still has that romantic sensibility to it,” he said, later adding, “This is the more passionate, more romantic, really, more melodic, rich sound that we’re going for in this concert.”

WHAT’S ON … The Nanaimo Chamber Orchestra presents Rhapsody and Reverie at Brechin United Church on Saturday, March 17 at 7:30 p.m. Admission is $20 for adults, $5 for students, children 13 and under get in free. Available at the Port Theatre box office.

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