‘Placentia Bay – Summer of 1941’ Mark Haney Concerto Preview

Vancouver composer Mark Haney teams up with double-bassist Meaghan Williams to produce a moving concerto. Modern composition at a highly absorbing level.

Release date August 9, 2024

Thanks to Riparian Media for this press release.

Composed by Mark Haney  Double Bass by Meaghan Williams

Produced by Mark Haney and John Raham. Engineered + Mixed by John Raham at Afterlife in Vancouver, BC. Mastered by Graemme Brown

Lauris Davis – oboe, Mark Takeshi McGregor – flute, AK Coope – clarinet, Karmen Doucette– bassoon, Jeremy Vint – trumpet, Nick Anderson – French horn, Dominique Bernath – timpani, Martin Fisk – percussion

String Quartet: Rebecca Whitling and Cameron Wilson – violin, Katrina Chitty – viola, Cristian Márkos – cello. 

String Orchestra: Mark Ferris, Karina Slupski, Sufan Yu, Alicia Venables, Cameron Wilson, Yi Zhou, Molly MacKinnon, Ken Lin – violin; Isabelle Roland, Parmela Attariwala, Roxi Dykstra – viola; Cristian Márkos, Finn Manniche, Doug Gorkoff – cello. 

musica intima vocal ensemble: Kate Medcalf, Lucy Smith, Tabitha Brasso-Ernst, Risa Takahashi, Oliver Dalton, Taka Shimojima, Stephen Duncan, Jacob Gramit.

Placentia Bay: Summer of 1941 is the final instalment of what Vancouver-based composer and double bassist Mark Haney regards as his “storytelling trilogy,” which began with his acclaimed 2010 album Aim For The Roses. Haney’s penchant for unique stories is a theme throughout his entire opus, though. And while many embed narratives into their music, what’s striking about his approach is the myriad ways that he does.

Aim For The Roses took the fateful jump of failed daredevil Ken Carter as its inspiration, and musically it seemed to sit somewhere between Harry Partch’s tales and the Rheostatics’ Music Inspired by the Group of Seven,with bits of sung and spoken text strewn throughout music that spanned folk to hovering bass drones.  The album was subsequently rendered into a noted documentary film. His collaboration with the beloved cartoonist Seth, Omnis Temporalis (2022) went somewhere different entirely. The eccentric, multi-form work deconstructs Seth’s graphic novel George Sprott: 1894-1975 and its explorations of identity, time, change, loss and memory in what Haneydubbed a “chamber novella.” The piece employed a trio of musicians and actors Richard Newman, Dorothea Hayley, koralee, and Jovanni Sy, and was brought to life as elaborate installation-performance over ten days at the Richmond Gallery and as a deluxe LP package.

The atmospheric Placentia Bay veers considerably from its predecessors in several ways. The forthcoming LP is a chamber concerto for Haney’s longtime friend the gifted Canadian double bassist Meaghan Williams. Its underlying story: the secret meeting between British PM Winston Churchill and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt off the coast of Newfoundland on August 9, 1941 that resulted in the so-called “Atlantic Charter.” Said charter cemented the British-American allyship during World War 2, while formulating a post-war outlook with an emphasis on peace.

Both of Haney’s earlier recorded effort featured him as a performer and also foregrounded their narrative features (whether more linear or more fragmentary) through copious  texts. Placentia Bay allows the storytelling dimension to reside someplace more oblique in favour of its radiant ensemble writing and a solo part demonstrates Haney’s deep knowledge of the instrument as well as Williams’ bold and precision as a performer. There is still some voice, but it is limited to choral singing courtesy of the vocal ensemble music intima. All in all it’s quite a bit more sporadic and diffuse than on the earlier records, its text feeling more textural than descriptive. Even Haney’s poetic liner notes assert a certain distance with respect to his subject matter; most of all, he’s adamant in them that the piece is not about war, and  this fact is audible.

Haney travelled to Placentia in summer of 2018, taking the overnight ferry from Sydney, Nova Scotia, to have the feeling of arriving by water. He rented a room above a cafe where he had Williams’ father deliver her student bass permitting him to write on the Newfoundland native’s own instrument. He spent five days there sketching and observing his surroundings—the shore at dawn, the mist on the water, the rusting American guns and bunkers.

With its richly lyrical ensemble colours and use of the bass’ full range of pitch and articulation, the work exudes a sense of the personal. It may not have the outwardly experimental spirit of some of Haney’s earlier output, but it’s hard to look at his treatment of the concerto medium as entirely straightforward either. It’s a carefully crafted piece that acknowledges the history of the form and its thematic content but skillfully brings this into the present moment.

Raised in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Meaghan Williams completed her undergraduate degree in performance at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto with virtuoso bassist Joel Quarrington. During that time, she also had the privilege of studying with bass legend Gary Karr. Williams earned her Konzertexamen with Michael Wolf at the Universität der Künste in Berlin. She also attended the Carl-Flesch Akademie in Baden-Baden, Germany, where she studied with Finnish double bass phenomenon Janne Saksala. Following her studies, Williams performed with the Neue Lausitzer Philharmonie in Germany, and she was a founding member of the Hyogo Performing Arts Center Symphony Orchestra in Japan. Since returning to Canada, Meaghan has performed with ensembles from coast to coast including the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, Victoria Symphony, and the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra. Meaghan is the Principal Bass of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra and a member of the Vancouver Opera Orchestra. A believer in diversity and innovation, Williams enjoys working with living composers and expanding the repertoire for double bass. In addition to premiering Placentia Baywith the Okanagan Symphony in November 2019, she also performed the debut of Concerto for Cello, Bass, Suona & Dizi by Dr. Ning Wang (Beijing) with the Nu:BC Collective in 2011.

Named one of the Globe and Mail’s “Canadian Arts Heroes” of 2020, Mark Haney is deeply motivated by issues of Canadian identity, culture, and community. Formerly the Composer-in-Residence at Mountain View Cemetery (2015-2024) and the Managing Artistic Director of The Little Chamber Music Series That Could (2012-2024), several of Haney’s compositions have earned him national attention including a Jessie Richardson Award Nomination for Composition (Small Stage) and extensive press coverage. In addition to the works represented in his discography, his major works include 3339, a retelling of the Terry Fox Story through the lens of the Hero’s Journey, Life Is Not a Horse Farm a 20 minute string quartet detailing his own journey on the Camino Santiago and 11, an 11-minute Remembrance Day-themed piece employing 11 brass instruments.

In 2016 producer/writer/director John Bolton and Opus 59 Films made a musical docudrama about his album Aim For The Roses and its creation, in association with Super Channel, and with project assistance from the BC Arts Council. In 2020, Haney spearheaded the Isolation Commissions project under the auspices of the Little Chamber Music Series, wherepatrons choses artists to film four-minute performances of themselves that evoked how the pandemic was impacting their artistic practices. As a double bassist, Haney has performed throughout North America in a wide variety of genres, and continues to commission and premiere new works by Canadian composers.

Vivascene Staff

Vivascene Staff members work with media agencies, recording companies, and artists to present music news and press releases. Email: contact@vivascene.com

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