BY DOUGLAS MCLEAN — With source material provided by Philip Morehead.
Lake of Bays resident, Patricia Morehead, composer, oboist and teacher, was commissioned to compose a full orchestra piece by the North Bay Symphony Orchestra, and conductor Thomas Jones.
The piece was supposed to celebrate the 250th birthday of Ludwig van Beethoven and to be performed during the orchestra’s 2020 season. But unfortunately, the COVID pandemic cancelled the scheduled performance.
Luckily, Patricia Morehead managed to secure a Canada Council Exploration Grant enabling her to record the composition, Voyage Across Centuries, with the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra in the Czech Republic in 2022.
The symphonic work recorded and released by Navona Records on Inviting Worlds, Vol. 3, along with other new orchestral works, is available for streaming on all major platforms. It is performed by the Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava and conducted by Stanislav Vavřínek.
“Voyage Across Centuries” is an evocative tone poem, rich in imagery and cinematic scope. It is a surprisingly innovative and stimulating confluence of two great lives in celebration of exemplary human achievement. It incorporates a variety of instruments that cleverly invoke pre-colonial, primordial boreal forests and rivers; at one point quoting Beethoven’s most famous “Ode to Joy”. The twelve-minute composition is shrouded in a mysterious sense of loss, even in the midst of great discovery and the timelessness that Beethoven aspired to and achieved.
Morehead described the meeting with conductor Maestro Thomas Jones, who asked her to write the music, in commemoration of one the greatest musical figures of all time, as daunting, even intimidating. “So I tried to find a way and what I decided to do was have Beethoven visit North Bay through the eyes of Samuel de Champlain, (the French Explorer) who named North Bay and he also named Lake Superior.”
Patricia explains, “Born in Montreal, grew up in Winnipeg, I’ve always been fascinated by the first people, (European people), to come here and discover Hudson Bay, James Bay… so that has fascinated me all my life. When I was asked to write for Beethoven, I thought I needed someplace to start. So I decided to make it about Champlain. The connection for me was that Champlain was a great explorer and Beethoven found a way in modulating (using shifts in key centres and pitch) which led to the music of the nineteenth century. So I would say he was an explorer of harmony that pushed the musical language forward and Samuel de Champlain was an explorer who pushed our country forward”
Composer Patricia Morehead has premiered over fifty compositions. Her work, Music for Five, was the 1990 winner of the Search for New Music Competition of the International League of Women Composers. Patricia was also a highly regarded professor of composition, theory, oboe, and music history at Dominican University, Chicago Music College, Roosevelt University, St. Xavier University, and music history and composition at Columbia College. For 17 years, Morehead was the leader of the Composers Forum at the Merit School of Music in Chicago.
Blind in one eye, her parents, for fear of impairing the sight in her other eye, forbade her to learn music, presumably due to the strain of sight-reading. Nevertheless, she secretly undertook the study of the recorder. Self-taught, she completed her first book of fingerings before the other students had even completed their first lesson. In Grade Seven, a visiting oboist from the Winnipeg Philharmonic, who expected their musicians to perform in local schools, played the part of the Duck from Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev and Patricia knew that she had found her destined musical instrument.
Peter and the Wolf is a children’s musical story where all the characters are portrayed by special motifs, played on specific instruments. Those of a certain generation will certainly recognize its familiar themes. The fate of the duck is both elating and sorrowful. When the visiting oboist played the part, Peter and the Wolf being one of her favourite recordings, Patricia exclaimed, “Oh my god, that’s the duck, that’s the one I want to play! So I’ve always been the duck who jumped into the wrong pond”.
At age twenty, Patricia Morehead began her formal studies of oboe and cor anglais – known also as the English horn. She has studied oboe with renowned teachers such as Myrtil Morel, Etienne Baudo, Ralph Gomberg, John Mack, and Lothar Faber, all of whom are considered influences on her compositional style and approach. Patricia earned her Bachelor of Music in Oboe from New England Conservatory and her Ph.D. in Composition from the University of Chicago.
The oboe is a family of reed instruments often described as the most beautiful, soulful, melodic instrument. It is often associated with “Gabriel’s Oboe”, the main theme for the 1986 film The Mission written by Italian composer, Ennio Morricone. Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony features an enigmatic cadenza for solo oboe in its first movement. The heart-rending tone of an oboe, in skilled hands, will most certainly touch most listeners’ emotions effortlessly.
“Voyage Across Centuries” appearing on Inviting Worlds, Vol. 3 is Morehead’s third recording. Her first album, Good News Falls Gently, released in 2011, is a provocative series of disquieting reflections including the title composition that serves as a setting of the poetry of Chicago-based writer Regina Harris Baiocchi that portrays an intense spiritual faith from a feminist perspective.
Brass Rail Blues, released in 2014, “showcases her ability to incorporate varying instrumentation into her compositions, from mezzo-soprano and chamber ensemble; to flute and piano; to mandolin, cello, and clarinet. Because of this variety, the composer creates a world of imagery, setting poems by such writers as Margaret Atwood, Anne Sexton, and Cathy Ann Elias in several of her pieces”.
Moving to the Huntsville area after leaving their professional positions in Chicago, Patricia Morehead lives with her husband, conductor, pianist, and writer Phillip Morehead. Patricia remains active in local symphonies and orchestras, as a sought-after composer and oboist, her first and longest love.
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