By Katherine Gombay
Mark Fewer, who teaches violin at the Schulich School of Music, is pretty excited these days. And he’s got good reason to be. He recently won the Juno for the Contemporary Jazz Album of the Year for his album Changing Seasons, which he recorded with the Phil Dwyer Orchestra.
“I was thrilled, when I found out we had won,” says Fewer. “It really validated all the hard work that went into the project.”
Indeed, it was in about 2008 that Fewer and Phil Dwyer first came up with the idea for the piece, which was inspired by Antonio Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, but written with the flavour of John Coltrane.
One of the big challenges in moving the project forward, however, was the size of the orchestra. It takes 40 people, including both a jazz big band, and a full orchestral string section along with a solo violinist to perform the piece. But this problem was solved thanks to the collaboration of Kevin Dean, Gordon Foote and Douglas McNabney. Changing Season actually had its premiere at the Schulich School of Music in November 2010, with an orchestra made up of McGill faculty, guests, graduates, students and the composer Phil Dwyer himself, all under the direction of Prof. Gordon Foote.
Fewer and Dwyer have known each other since the late 1990s when they played and toured North America and Europe together as part of the Art of Time ensemble, a group whose concerts tend to mix musical genres. And indeed, it is Fewer’s combination of talent and interest in both jazz and baroque music that makes him such a welcome addition to the Schulich School of Music, according to Dean Sean Ferguson. “Professor Fewer is an extraordinary artist. He brings to the Schulich School an unmatched breadth of musical expertise, from classical orchestral, solo and chamber repertoire, to early music performed on baroque violin, to contemporary music, to jazz improvisation,” says Ferguson. “Our students benefit immensely from the multiple points of view that Mark is able to bring to his teaching and all of us benefit from his contributions as an artist to the cultural life of Montreal, Quebec and Canada.”
And though Fewer acknowledges that there are definite challenges involved in blending such distinct worlds as those of jazz and baroque music, he also firmly believes that there is something to be gained by bringing these two worlds together, and that the sum is somehow greater than the parts. Now, thanks to this Juno win, Fewer’s talents are destined to find an even wider audience, as listeners explore this unusual and award-winning musical blend.
To hear extracts from Changing Seasons: www.phildwyer.com/