An important story of Canadian history and tragedy that was retold through an opera written by Stephanie Martin, associate professor of music at York University’s School of the Arts, Media, Performance and Design (AMPD), will be the subject of a special lecture on March 11 at York University.
The presentation is the marquee event in a special celebration honouring Martin with the third annual AMPD Research Award.
The AMPD Research Award Reception & Talk will take place from 2:30 to 5 p.m. in room 237, Accolade East Building on the Keele Campus. (This event is by invitation only.)
“Stephanie Martin has distinguished herself as a prominent composer, choral conductor, and scholar who is recognized through performances of her compositions across Canada and internationally,” says Professor Louise Wrazen, chair of the Music Department. “The AMPD Research Award is a wonderful way of acknowledging these achievements, as well as her contributions to York and to the Department of Music.”
The lecture will focus Llandovery Castle, an opera created by Martin to mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the eponymous hospital ship during the First World War. Martin’s original opera took a historical tragedy and made it live for current audiences. Llandovery Castle, which premiered June 26 and 27, 2019 in Toronto, tells the story of the journey of the Canadian hospital ship HMHS Llandovery Castle that was torpedoed in the North Atlantic Ocean in June 1918. The story focuses on 14 nurses from across Canada who served in harrowing circumstances around the First World War. The opera features music written by Martin, libretto by Paul Ciufo and was staged at the Calvin Presbyterian Church in Toronto.
Martin’s interest in the story began in 2015, when during a rehearsal for another project she noticed a dedication plaque for a Llandovery Castle nurse on the wall of Calvin Presbyterian Church. The music of opera, scored for a sonorous classical chamber orchestra and nine singers, has been described as “a modern flirtation between baroque, classical, traditional and popular genres.” Martin describes this operatic style as “21st century bel canto,” focused on the narrative and expressive power of the human voice.
The creation of the opera is part of an illustrious career in classical music. “Professor Martin’s compositions, along with her edition of Parry’s oratorio Judith, are examples of how composition can be seen as research creation and are firmly rooted in her exemplary career as a choral conductor,” said her colleague Professor Dorothy de Val in her nomination letter.
“From the research point of view, Martin brings her own compositional voice to traditional genres such as oratorio, cantata, mass and motet to frame her original ideas, and above all makes her works accessible to performers and a large audience,” added de Val.
Martin’s current compositions include an oratorio, The Sun, the Wind, and the Man with the Cloak (2019), an opera Llandovery Castle (2018), a Requiem mass Requiem for All Souls (2017) premiered in San Diego (Ruben Valenzuela, conductor) and Missa Chicagoensis (2017) premiered at St. John Cantius parish in Chicago (Fr Scott Haynes, conductor). Her choral symphony Babel (2016) premièred at Wilfrid Laurier University (Lee Willingham, conductor), celebrating the 40th anniversary of the WLU Faculty of Music. (Listen on Soundcloud).
To learn more, read the September 2019 Q-and-A with Martin, published in “Brainstorm” a special issue of YFile. The article is available at https://yfile.news.yorku.ca/2019/09/05/q-and-a-with-composer-reveals-how-and-why-she-transformed-a-first-world-war-tragedy-into-song/.