Pulitzer Prize-winner brings surround-sound Circus to U of A

    Students get the chance to work with composer of Circus Maximus, Symphony no.3

    By Jamie Hanlon and Ileiren Poon on October 20, 2010

    (Edmonton) University of Alberta music student Christa Eriksson likely never expected to join the circus. But tomorrow night she and her cohort will be doing just that when they perform in Circus Maximus, Symphony no.3 at the Winspear Centre for the first time in Canada.

    But make no mistake: this inaugural symphonic big-top performance is like no classic piece you have ever heard. Complete with sirens, lion’s roars, a marching band, blended musical genres and a surprise ending, Eriksson says the process has been an incredible experience. Her fellow student, Dan Sabo, says that the sound level may be a bit closer to Black Sabbath than to Beethoven.

    “When you come for classical music, you typically don’t think rock-show loud,” said Sabo. “It’s going to be coming at you from every direction; it’s going to be really intense. But, there’s also very subtle moments too�a whole range of dynamics.”

    “It’s so loud that your body hurts sometimes. It’s really cool,” said Eriksson.

    An added bonus for the students is the chance to work with Circus Maximus composer and Pulitzer Prize-winner John Corigliano for the week. Corigliano was on campus conducting the piece and giving a composition lecture for graduate and undergraduate music students.

    The piece draws connections between the deadly entertainments of ancient Rome and today’s obsession with media and diversion, says Corigliano.

    “While Rome was being invaded, they were still putting on shows,” Corigliano told his lecture audience. “And the rulers of Rome wanted those shows to go on because they were scared the people would revolt if they knew how terrible the political situation was.”

    Both Sabo and Eriksson are excited to have the chance to work with Corigliano for different reasons. Sabo is experimenting with music arrangement that was inspired by the opportunity to talk Corigliano informally about music. Eriksson is enthused by the opportunity to work with a live composer whose music she can interpret.

    “It’s really exciting to have him here, and to know the music is always evolving,” said Eriksson. “It’s great to be part of that experience.”

    U of A music director Angela Schroeder, who was involved in a presentation of Circus Maximus while working on her doctorate, says the University of Alberta of one of the few places that would be able to accomplish this performance, and to be the first in Canada is quite a distinction for her students and the university.

    “Knowing that very few people have the means to perform this piece it puts us in great stead with some the greatest ensembles in North America and even Europe, where it’s been performed in a few places,” said Schroeder. “Because we’ll be one of only a few to do this piece, particularly in Canada, it’s a real honour for us�and for me to facilitate this.”