It’s fall, and fall means rain, and rain means salmon. Dog salmon in particular, one of the last of the salmonids to ascend the rivers, brooks, and creeks that surround the Salish Sea.
Also known as chum or keta salmon, they’re big, meaty fish, a favourite of sea lions and home smokers, and yet they’re so hardy that they can spawn in rivulets insufficient to cover their own dorsal fins. And they come to those streams in the millions—even to urban gutters like Burnaby’s Still Creek, where if you’re lucky you might see some right now.
Owen Underhill had his most significant salmon find indoors, however: in the airy Great Hall of the Museum of Anthropology, amid towering mortuary poles and intricate carved masks rather than among salmonberry canes and sedge grass.
And that encounter led to English Horn—Dog Salmon, a new—or at least freshly reconfigured—piece that the Turning Point Ensemble will premiere as part of this week’s annual Modulus Festival.
“My piece was prototyped in a program we did at the Museum of Anthropology in 2010, where we worked with Robert Joseph and William Wasden of the Kwakwaka’wakw,” explains Underhill, in a telephone interview from his East Van home. “As part of that, there were a whole bunch of solo pieces played all over the gallery, and the audience moved around.
“The subjects of those solo pieces were things that I had discovered in the gallery: there was one called Clarinet Transformation Mask, and one called Double Bass Cedar.
“There was also, in some of the sculptures, a mention of dog salmon, and I thought the idea of a dog salmon swimming upriver very much suited the sound of the English horn. So I started writing the piece—but I’ve actually added substantially onto it and changed it, and that’s why I’m calling it a premiere.”
As co–artistic director of Turning Point—a position he shares with trombonist Jeremy Berkman—Underhill could easily have added English Horn—Dog Salmon to this weekend’s Under the Microscope program by executive order.
But he’s especially pleased that horn soloist David Owen asked to play it. The idea behind Under the Microscope is that it shows off 14 of the ensemble’s first-call players in mostly short works of their own choosing—or, in the case of trumpeter Marcus Goddard’s Solus, their own devising.
“I put out a call, and there was actually enough music proposed for something like four or five programs,” Underhill reveals. “It was nice to see how many works people wanted to propose. So I kind of pieced it together in such a way that pretty much all the players in the ensemble are represented.”
The longest and largest composition on the program is Marjan Mozetich’s 20-minute Angels in Flight, for flute, clarinet, harp, and string quartet. It was harpist Heidi Krutzen’s idea to include this transcendentally tonal work on the bill, but that didn’t bother Underhill: he’d commissioned it in the 1980s, when he was artistic director of Vancouver New Music.
Judith Weir’s Distance and Enchantment, based on Irish and Scottish folk music, is another link to Underhill’s past: he once brought the Master of the Queen’s Music to town to work with the late and lamented CBC Radio Orchestra.
The connections even extend to Turning Point’s upcoming programming: Bohuslav Martinu’s jazzy La Revue de la Cuisine, from 1927, hints at what the ensemble will deliver during the 2017 Vancouver International Jazz Festival.
“We like to collaborate,” says Underhill, noting that this season’s co-pros stretch from last month’s stellar performance by Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal to an exploration of Frank Zappa’s music in conjunction with the PuSh International Performing Arts Festival.
“It’s a way of partnering, reaching more people, and making more connections artistically also.”
Music on Main’s Modulus Festival presents the Turning Point Ensemble at the Roundhouse Community Arts and Recreation Centre on Saturday and Sunday (November 5 and 6). For concert times and a full schedule, visit the Music on Main website.