Staying in Canada for this week’s comparative rarity. Montreal born Robert Turner (1920-2012), was a prolific composer, as well as radio program producer and teacher. He studied with a wide range of notable composers early on, including the legendary Roy Harris and Olivier Messiean. Turner’s first success was his String Quartet Number 1, which premiered in 1949, quickly followed by his first major commission; a piece for large symphony orchestra, Opening Night, which I’m posting tonight.
This led to a long string of successful works, primarily commissions for Television, Stage and Radio, which also led to teaching posts at the University of British Columbia, Acadia University and The University Of Manitoba.
Turner was also a confessed eclectic, Turner had a variety of influences, including jazz harmony, folk music and dance, as well as postmodern references and quotations. He described his own music as “tonal” and “lyrical” and he maintained these characteristics with exemplary craftsmanship, being able to marry contemporary techniques with a strong command of mood and evocation – especially of place – in order to write music that engages the audience. He was also a noted orchestrator. Most of his compositions have been written on commission or for particular occasions and reflect his belief that music should be ‘precisely notated, emotional in content and listener-oriented’ (Musicanada, May 1970)*.
*Historica Canada website
This recording, offered by the CBC Transcription Service International, was originally done in 1960, which may put it at around the second time this piece had been recorded, the first was presumably in 1955 for the premier, which was performed by the Vancouver Symphony under Irwin Hoffman. This one features the CBC Symphony led by Charles Houdret, himself a cellist and composer as well as conductor, who co-founded the Montreal International Music Competition. According to Historica Canada, Houdret dropped out of sight somewhere in 1964, and it isn’t know if he’s still with us or not – if he is, he’d be 112, since he was born in 1905.
Needless to say, a good performance turned in of a work that bears a strong resemblance to Leonard Bernstein as well as Roy Harris, but is interesting enough on its own to spend some time with.