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Being Robert Schumann – “Spring” Symphony

26 November 2023 @ 2:30 pm

Trading bouquets of mutual admiration and professional support, Schumann lent his discerning ear to the ‘dreamy’ incidental music written by his close friend Mendelssohn—the first person to conduct Schumann’s “Spring” symphony. The same work was the starting point for composer Rita Ueda in a VS/VSO co-commission. A celebration of Tokyo’s famed cherry blossom (sakura) season features koto soloist Miyama McQueen-Tokita in a fusion of ancient Japanese traditions with the present day.

Sundays at the Royal Series underwritten by Sandra Lackenbauer
Concert underwritten by the Gail O’Riordan Climate & the Arts Legacy Fund at the Victoria Foundation


Christian Kluxen, conductor

Now in his seventh season as Music Director of the Victoria Symphony, sixth season as Chief Conductor of the Arctic Opera and Philharmonic, and first season as the Principal Guest Conductor of the Turku Philharmonic, Christian Kluxen is regarded as one of the most exciting conductors to emerge from Scandinavia. Born in Copenhagen in 1981 to Danish-German parents, Kluxen has a natural affinity towards the Germanic and Scandinavian repertoire, particularly the works of Beethoven, Brahms, Richard Strauss, Nielsen, and Sibelius.

In the press he has been described as “a dynamic, charismatic figure” who “forms the music with an impressive vertical power of emotion and a focus on the grand form”, conducting “with exemplary clarity and a heavenly warmth.” From Canada, to Finland, and Norway, Maestro Kluxen has been recognized for his sincere and transparent leadership, innovative programming, and his bold, imaginative, and energetic interpretations.

Alongside his many and varied commitments with APO, Turku Philharmonic, and Victoria Symphony, recent and forthcoming guest engagements include Orchestre de Chambre de Lausanne, Odense Symphony, and Norrköping Symphony. On the operatic stage, Kluxen has conducted extensive tours of Don Giovanni and Madama Butterfly with the Danish National Opera, followed by his Berlin conducting debut with Die Zauberflöte at Komische Oper. In 2017, he led highly successful performances of Die Fledermaus with Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, and Ariadne auf Naxos with Arctic Opera and Philharmonic. In 2019, he led two full productions of Bizet’s Carmen; in Denmark at Opera Hedeland and in Norway with Arctic Opera and Philharmonic.

Kluxen’s concerts have been broadcast live in Denmark, the UK, Sweden, Norway and Canada. He has received several prestigious awards and prizes, and in 2016 he was nominated by the International Opera Awards as “Young Conductor of the Year.”

Miyama McQueen-Tokita, koto and bass koto

Miyama McQueen-Tokita is a koto and bass koto player and improviser. Fusing Japanese traditions with new ideas that are relevant to the present day, she performs contemporary works, improvisation and original music. She is known as a musician who is free and expressive, with a solid traditional foundation, which has led to collaborations with high-profile artists within Japan and internationally.

Miyama has been invited to perform as a soloist in festivals such as the Tokyo Jazz Festival, Melbourne International Arts Festival and Mapping Melbourne. Ensembles she has collaborated with include the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Thin Edge New Music Collective (Toronto), Australian Art Orchestra, Japan Philharmonic Orchestra and Vancouver InterCultural Orchestra.

Miyama also puts energy into seeking composers from various backgrounds to create music for the koto in styles that have not yet been explored. This has led to the completion of her first solo album “SONOBE”, featuring new and existing works for the koto by composers from all around the world, released in 2020. In 2019 she spent six months in NYC as a 2018 grantee of the Asian Cultural Council New York Fellowship, where she immersed herself deeply in the experimental, free improvised and new music scenes.

Since returning from her fellowship, she has focused on improvisation, composition and ensemble leading. Her most recent projects include: a series of solo concerts; the Miyama McQueen-Tokita Trio; and the Low Light Art Ensemble, an ongoing large ensemble project led by Miyama, focusing on bringing new and experimental music into new spaces, funded by Arts Council Tokyo. Miyama has been taught by Satsuki Odamura and Kazue Sawai, and has a Masters in Music from the Tokyo University of the Arts.


Global Representation – IAI Artists – mundomundo.com

NOVEMBER 26, 2023


One certainly can’t accuse Rita Ueda of failing to keep her promises—although she’s not averse to pushing a deadline. The genesis of Bloom, her gorgeous new concerto for the harp-like koto and orchestra, can be traced back 25 years or more, to when she was studying composition at CalArts in Santa Clarita, California, under Wadada Leo Smith. The esteemed composer, visual artist, and educator has a secret passion for the koto, Ueda reveals, and in fact plays it very well, at least for someone whose primary instrument is trumpet.

“We talked about what I might do one day when I got the chance to write for orchestra and koto,” Ueda says. “I promised him I would write an improv orchestra piece, and I would make it so that the orchestra would do it with a big smile on their face.”

Based on Bloom’s premiere, with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra in March of 2023, she’s succeeded wildly. Not only has she integrated improvisation into Bloom’s score so deftly that it’s hard to tell where the written music leaves off and spontaneous invention begins, she’s also created an intercultural concerto where, for once, the “ethnic” soloist—in this case Japanese-Australian koto virtuoso and singer Miyama McQueen-Tokita—isn’t constrained by the demands of a Western orchestral setting.

“This a problem with the vast majority of intercultural music so far: the intercultural player is the one that is bending over backwards to work with the Western players,” the Hokkaido-born composer points out. “So what I wanted was for the Western players to meet Miyama halfway. I wanted to create a situation where everybody is meeting halfway, and everybody is trying something new.”

Some compromises were necessary. In Japanese music, for instance, improvisation is just as foreign to most koto players as it is to orchestral violinists; McQueen-Tokita had to push beyond her comfort zone in learning Ueda’s music. She also had to modify her vocal style to some degree—not to accommodate the orchestra, but to function in the usual orchestral setting of a large, airy room.

“That’s something I was very conscious about,” McQueen-Tokita allows, although she adds that growing up in an intercultural family gave her an edge in this department. “My musical background itself is sort of hybrid,” she explains. “I started learning the koto when I was seven years old, and I was also learning the piano. And my mother is a musicologist but also a singer, and she does very much Western singing. We sang in church and I sang in a choir, but all my professional career has been koto, and so all my professional singing training was in the Japanese style of ko-uta—a singing style that is specific to koto and shamisen music from the Edo period. So it was interesting: I had to use Japanese vocal techniques while singing in English!”

Composer, soloist, and orchestra all managed to negotiate these challenges, but what’s even more striking about Bloom—which Ueda built around a poem written by her longtime friend Heather Capocci—is the way in which it integrates the swelling optimism of cherry-blossom time with the melancholy knowledge that such beauty exists only briefly. Ultimately, though, the message is positive.

“I wanted to shape a story,” Ueda says. “The poem is about the life cycle of many, many women out there; you’re one thing when you’re a young person, and then you get married and you have a role as a mother, or you have a career. And then that phase ends and you go on to something else. When one flower sort of falls off, you have another flower that blooms. You’re constantly reinventing yourself, and you’re constantly ready to bloom into something else.”

This theme fits well with the Being Robert Schumann series, as curated by the Victoria Symphony. It illustrates how Schumann’s music has retained its power to surprise over the course of almost two centuries, how it was shaped by his predecessors, and how it has survived through the work of his friends, acolytes, and successors. Through the Hugh Davidson Fund at the Victoria Foundation, the VS and VSO have commissioned four pieces by Canadian composers, using Schumann’s works as a starting point.

Here the stimulus began with Schumann’s seasonally apt Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, nicknamed the “Spring” symphony for its youthful optimism. In addition, there are excerpts of Felix Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream: the Overture, Nocturne, and Scherzo.

“There’s an obvious connection between Mendelssohn and Schumann, with Mendelssohn being the big godfather of German music at this time and Schumann being the upcoming young man,” says Victoria Symphony music director Christian Kluxen. “And the first time they met was at Clara Schumann’s home while Robert Schumann was teaching Clara piano and helping her to orchestrate her piano concerto. And then Mendelssohn dropped by because he was going to conduct the concerto. Mendelssohn always has a small part in the Being Robert Schumann series—we’ve featured a piece here, another piece there—and that connection is important to include.

“And, as you know, when Schumann was in a mental institution at the end of his life, Clara gave birth to their ninth child,” Kluxen adds. “When she asked what the child should be called, he said ‘Felix’, after Felix Mendelssohn. So there’s another big connection.”

Kluxen also traces a link between the fantastic world of William Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which Mendelssohn so expertly evoked in his music, and the increasingly phantasmagorical nightmare of Schumann’s later life. “A Midsummer Night’s Dream is all about this thing of ‘Is it real, or is it something I imagined?’” he says. “Who is really mad and who is really sane? I’m sure Schumann already felt this when he wrote his first symphony, although it was really around the time of his second symphony when he started to see small people in the room.

“Strangely enough, that was also when Schumann was composing the music for Goethe’s Faust,” Kluxen adds. “So all that is kind of frightening to know, that while he’s composing music for a piece that, again, is about reality/not reality, he starts to see strange elves in his room and things like that. You could make a movie about it!”

Yes, you could. But isn’t a concert series much more fitting?

Notes by Alex Varty

Felix Mendelssohn (1809—1847) 
A Midsummer Night’s Dream 

Rita Ueda (1963—)
Bloom Premiere, VS/VSO co-commission
Supported by the Hugh Davidson Fund at the Victoria Foundation

Robert Schumann (1810—1856) 
Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 38 “Spring”
Andante un poco maestoso; Allegro molto vivace
Scherzo: Molto vivace
Allegro animato e grazioso

SCHUMANN: Symphony No 1 in B-flat major
Performed by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe
Conductor: Yannick Nézét-Séguin (former VS principal guest conductor and now MAJOR international star)


SCHUMANN: Symphony No. 1, Spring
Performed by the Gewandhaus Orchestra
Conductor: Andris Nelsons


MENDELSSOHN: Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Performed by the Gewandhaus Orchestra
Conductor: Riccardo Chailly



26 November 2023
starts at 2:30 pm


Victoria Symphony


Royal Theatre
805 Broughton St + Google Map

Concert Programme

  • Mendelssohn
    A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Overture, Nocturne, & Scherzo
  • Rita Ueda
    Bloom with the support of Hugh Davidson Fund at the Victoria Foundation
  • R. Schumann
    Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, “Spring”