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by Jane Enkin, April 3, 2022

April 12  7:30 pm in person. Online April 29

Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster Avenue

Please note all tickets must be purchased ahead of time online at or by phone. 204-783-7377


Interview of Sid Robinovitch by Jane Enkin


For a long time, Sid Robinovitch has been fascinated by the biblical Book of Jonah, heard every year on the afternoon of Yom Kippur. Jonah is sent by God to prophesy the destruction of the great city of NIneveh. But Jonah makes a daring escape and gets on a ship heading out to sea. A terrifying storm rises up, and the sailors draw lots to see who is responsible for this bad luck. Jonah, naturally. Jonah convinces them to throw him overboard to save their own lives. And Jonah is swallowed by a whale...


Central to the story of Jonah is the hope for repentance. It's an important story for Christians and Muslims as well as Jews. When renowned Winnipeg composer Robinovitch was approached a few years ago to compose a choral piece for the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra, he decided this was the time to tell the story of Jonah musically.


The MCO suggested that Robinovitch write the piece for a young people's choir, along with the string players of the MCO, and although most of his choral pieces are written for a standard adult choir with soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices, he agreed that the story would lend itself well to a young group. This led Robinovitch to a new experience. In the past, he has always had a text in hand before composing any music. For this choir, Robinovitch worked on music and words together, writing the lyrics in collaboration with poet John Weier, "like Rodgers and Hammerstein!"
The conductor is soprano Valdine Anderson, "an incredible performer and interpreter of contemporary music", says Robinovitch, who teaches vocals at the University of Manitoba.The Pembina Trails Voices will sing the choral parts. The choir previously joined the MCO in 2013 to present the moving opera Brundibar, composed for children in the Terezin concentration camp. Playwright Bruce Sarbit will be the narrator.


Robinovitch included the whole story of Jonah, right to the ending. As Jonah sits in the hot sun, God makes a plant grow which offers him shade. Then the plant withers and the prophet is in despair. God chastises Jonah for caring more about a plant than a city full of people. Of course, many listeners will be more familiar with the exciting beginning of the story. Rabinovitch enjoyed writing the dramatic parts, like the violent storm at sea, and the captain coming down to Jonah in the hold. "What are you doing? You're sleeping! There's a huge storm going on! Come on up on deck!" Other parts of the Book of Jonah are more in the realm of ideas, he says. Why did Jonah challenge God? How was he transformed by his time inside the whale? Why was he so distressed when the people of Nineveh fasted, wore sackcloth and repented? "There's a philosophical, moral aspect to it -- that was more difficult...The music is somewhat more reflective."   
Musical influences range from jazz, including some scat singing, to Renaissance harmonies, to a lament in a Jewish mode, set for the unusual duet of soprano and timpani -- a combination I've never heard before! Percussion is important to Robinovitch, and he plans to get together separately with the two percussionists in the ensemble, virtuosos Victoria Sparks and Ben Reimer. "I write a lot of wavy lines when it comes to percussion, because it's my feeling that percussionists can do stuff way better on their own than if you try to write everything out."


Robinovitch is excited to hear this rich composition in performance. Collaboration is hard, he says, but he enjoyed the new challenges that came his way.


What's next for Robinovitch? He's reaching into his extensive back catalogue of compositions to update, digitize and edit them. And we can watch for new performances to come.




At this concert, the MCO is also pleased to present Copland’s boisterous Hoe Down, from his cowboy ballet Rodeo, which has scored countless Hollywood films. Also to be performed are Vaughan Williams’ Charterhouse Suite and de Falla’s Seven Spanish Songs. Together, these shorter works round off an evening of extraordinary music with folk undertones.


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