First Nations artist featured in Okanagan Symphony

Fortier, of the Syilx Nation and Secwepmec peoples, along with Penticton, Kelowna and Summerland composers perform

Csetkwe Fortier performs with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra Saturday in Kelowna and Sunday in Vernon. (Contributed)

Csetkwe Fortier performs with the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra Saturday in Kelowna and Sunday in Vernon. (Contributed)

A return to in-theatre, live-audience performances, will see the Okanagan Symphoney Orchestra feature multi-talented First Nations artist Csetkwe Fortier.

“I have no words to describe how much I am looking forward to welcoming Csetkwe as our guest artist and to getting back on stage with our OSO musicians,” music director Rosemary Thomson said. “There is much that has transpired in the world and I hope that this concert will offer meaningful reflection and a sense of hope in a new dawn.”

Csetkwe’s name is pronounced chuh-set-quah; it means Lights Reflection on Water. Her new dawn performance with OSO takes place in Kelowna Saturday, Oct. 23 and in Vernon Sunday, Oct. 24. For patrons who are not yet ready to return to the theatre, livestream access to the Oct, 23 performance, through Unicorns.live, is available by donation.

Holding the respect of being a sqwuy (mother to a son), stamiya (Two Spirit) and a Traditional Knowledge Keeper, Fortier (of the Syilx Nation and Secwepmec peoples of the Kamloops territory) works mainly in performance art, song/ poetry writing, painting and illustration. She is a graduate of the En’owkin Centre of Indigenous Art, receiving a National Aboriginal Professional Artists’ Training certificate and Nsyilxcn Language Program certificate.

Whispers of the Mountain, which was premiered by the Kamloops Symphony Orchestra, is a creative collaboration between Csetkwe and Quebec-born composer Katia Makdissi-Warren.

“Csetkwe sent me her song ‘Sunrise on the Water,..’ and I was immediately inspired to write something in response…Certain aspects of Aboriginal music imitate sounds of the natural world, and I wanted to explore this idea too while still maintaining respect for the artistic elements of Csetkwe’s song and culture…The result is an orchestral work that aims to re-create the larger natural environment in music,” Thomson said.

A work by Fortier receives its world premiere on this program. Cuwix, which means “Come here,” memorializes the 215 children whose remains were found at the site of the Kamloops Residential School earlier this year.

The OSO also celebrates home-grown talent with three works by Okanagan composers: Anita Perry from Summerland, Nicholas Kelly from Penticton and Dryden Bennett from Kelowna.

Perry is a good friend of the OSO with a long association. Her Fantasy for Chamber Orchestra was written in 1986 but complements this month’s program wonderfully.

“I’m absolutely delighted [that the OSO is performing it]. I know my music is safe in the hands of the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra. That is a wonderful feeling,” Perry said.

Bennett is a youth orchestra player and Grade 12 student who only began composing at the start of the pandemic in 2020. His whimsical and lighthearted Tangerine Trees was inspired by a children’s book he created, about a boy who sets off to sail the world, and discovers an island with a tangerine tree on it.

“Dryden is very accomplished for someone who has only been composing for 18 months,” said Thomson.

Dryden describes the feeling of having a professional orchestra perform his piece as, “…awesome. It already feels like I’ve accomplished one of my life goals.”

Kelly’s evocatively titled piece The Sunken City paints an image of an underwater world that despite some initial darkness is still full of optimism.

Other highlights on the program include The Light of Three Mornings by American composer Gwyneth Walker, a three-movement work for chamber orchestra inspired by the purity and beauty of mornings spent in the composer’s studio in Braintree, Vermont. Hailing from Newfoundland, Peter Gardner’s work 2 Metres for Socially Distanced Chamber Orchestra is just that — written in response to the restrictions imposed on orchestras by the pandemic.

Tickets and livestream access (Saturday’s performance only) are available at okanagansymphony.com/tickets.

While the pandemic is not over, as evidenced by audience capacity restrictions and mask mandates, the OSO continues to be committed to following all public health directives. Ticket holders are required to show their BC Vaccination card, as proof of vaccination to access the theatres.

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