Composer Victor Davies composes with the help of Mr. Red Ears (Lori Davies)
We became really close with his whole family because these were very personal things. It becomes quite a meaningful relationship for both parties.
—Victor Davies, composer
Remember the good ol' days of music patronage? When dukes and princes supported composers by paying for new works and sponsoring concerts? Well okay, maybe we weren't around in Beethoven's day, but the idea of individuals supporting the creation of new music is once again alive and well.
Composer Victor Davies knows, as most of his works are commissioned by individuals or families. He even offers tips on his website for those who feel inclined to initiate a living legacy of music. "It's a much more personal experience," he says.
He insists it is not intimidating, it is in fact "like ordering lumber." He even outlines how much a new commission might cost. "People are afraid to ask," he says.
His newest work, a Violin Concerto, was commissioned by Elmer and Hilda Hildebrand in honour of the 50th anniversary of Golden West Radio and as a showcase for Manitoba violinist Rosemary Siemens.
The work will be premiered on December 2 with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. It will be paired with Davies' popular Mennonite Piano Concerto which was in turn commissioned by the Fast family back in 1975 to commemorate the 450th anniversary of the founding of the Mennonite faith.
By way of background, while musicians, ensembles, choirs and orchestras often initiate new works, they are generally funded by institutions such as the Canada Council or Manitoba Arts Council through an application and jury system.
These days more and more composers are looking to individuals to commission works and more music lovers are stepping up to the mark and initiating new projects.
"To me, that's the place where growth is going to happen because arts councils have limited funds and there's more and more demand for commissions," says Davies. "What's happening is that the pool of money that's available isn't increasing by very much but the demand is increasing quite a lot. And so the amounts that they give out to composers as they try to spread the manure around in the fields gets pretty thin.
"Traditionally it was the 1% who commissioned Haydn and Mozart. So we're in that kind of climate at the moment. There's a lot of people who have a lot of money out there now."
People commission works for a variety of reasons. After hearing Davies oratorio Revelation on CBC Radio--another commission from the Fast family--an individual in Ottawa approached Davies to write first a piece in memory of his wife, and then another work to commemorate the christening of his granddaughter and then a choral piece.
"We became really close with his whole family because these were very personal things. You have another kind of responsibility in that context as opposed to an institution. It becomes quite a meaningful relationship for both parties," Davies says.
Neil Fast, whose family commissioned two previously mentioned works says "the Mennonite community has always been interested in good music. Our family has been quite involved in the Mennonite community and we simply felt that we could give something back."
The Mennonite Piano Concerto, the brand new Violin Concerto and a selection of Mennonite hymns will be performed by the WSO Sunday, Dec. 2 at 7:30. Rosemary Siemens is the violin soloist and Leanne Regehr is the piano soloist. The orchestra will be joined by the Mennonite Festival Chorus.