As perhaps the leading figure in the third-stream movement growing in Canada at that time, Symonds wrote some jazz works employing classical forms (eg, Fugue for Reeds and Brass, Fugue for Shearing, and two Concertos for jazz octet), and others for jazz group or soloist and string or symphony orchestra. His Concerto Grosso was premiered and recorded in 1957 by Ron Collier's quintet with the CBC Symphony Orchestra under Victor Feldbrill and played in 1957 by the Collier group with the Tri-City Symphony in Davenport, Iowa, and in 1966 with the TSO. After the Toronto Symphony Orchestra performance, John Kraglund (Toronto Globe and Mail, 9 Nov 1966) called the work 'more successful than most scores in this hybrid idiom.'
Symonds' other third-stream orchestral works included Autumn Nocturne, premiered in 1960 by a CBC string orchestra with tenor saxophonist Rick Wilkins as soloist; The Nameless Hour (dedicated to Albert Camus) premiered in 1966 by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Victor Feldbrill and the flügelhorn player Fred Stone and later (after the composer revised it for other solo instruments) recorded by an orchestra under Collier with the pianist Duke Ellington as soloist. Also in the same vein were his The Democratic Concerto, commissioned by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, which gave its premiere in 1967 with Stone's quartet; and Impulse, commissioned by R.W. Finlayson for the TS (and also performed by the NYO), a work which integrates elements of jazz in the music but does not use jazz musicians in its performance. Several of Symonds' other works also drew on jazz: Opera for Six Voices, presented in 1961 on CBC radio; the mixed-media incidental score for Man, Inc. (with Jacques Languirand), produced at the St Lawrence Centre, Toronto, in 1970; Black Hallelujah, a collaboration with Russ Little, seen on CBC TV in 1971; and Lady in the Night, produced in Toronto in 1977 by the Co-Opera Theatre with Julie Amato in the lead and the composer as conductor.
A five-month trip across Canada under a Canada Council senior fellowship in 1969 was a creative watershed; Symonds has called it 'one of the most important things I've done in my life in terms of the harvest I've reaped from it' (CanComp, 151, May 1980). Much of his subsequent work was strongly evocative of the vastness and wonder of nature. His reminiscences of the trip were the basis of the 13-part CBC radio series 'Travelling Big Lonely'; it was scripted and narrated by Symonds, broadcast in 1971, and later issued by RCI on a 13-LP set of broadcast transcriptions (13-RCI 230). He completed the orchestral work Big Lonely (commissioned, premiered, and recorded by the NYO) in 1975 and has composed such pieces as The Story of a Wind and The Land (for CBC TV), Four Images of Nature (for the Guelph Meistersingers), Forest and Sky (commissioned by OFSO for the Niagara Symphony Orchestra), and From the Eye of the Wind (commissioned by The Esprit Orchestra). Symonds' nature pieces depart in some essentials from his third-stream works. They are expressionist in their sombre but strong colour and their concern with conveying feelings directly. Like his jazz works they make effective use of ostinati and other patterns, and the instrumental timbres are carefully judged, but the purpose is different. The result is usually a large-boned, moody but essentially simple statement distinct from the relaxed colloquy of his third-stream pieces.
In addition to those organizations mentioned above, a number of others commissioned works from Symonds, notably Canadian Brass (Diversions), the Canadian Electronic Ensemble (Quintet for clarinet and four synthesizers), the COC (' Charnisay Versus LaTour,' an opera written for student audiences and produced by the COC for Prologue to the Performing Arts, which presented it on tour in Ontario in 1972), the Festival Singers (At the Shore), the Shaw Festival Theatre Foundation (The Canterville Ghost), and Imperial Oil (The Gift of Thanksgiving, premiered 9 Sep 1980 by the TS under Andrew Davis). He also wrote the music for the Stratford Festival's 1981 production of The Taming of the Shrew.
A special area of Symonds' interest was theatre music for young people, and with the creative participation of public-school classes he developed two plays with music, Laura and the Lieutenant in 1974 and Sam in 1976, both of them performed by the students upon completion. In the series of CBC radio broadcasts in 1979 Symonds described and discussed these creative workshops. Symonds was script writer and host 1975-6 for several programs on the CBC series 'Music of Today' and co-host in 1976 (with Norma Beecroft) of its summer series 'Ad Lib.'
His composition Three Atmospheres was recorded by the NACO in 1987 (Canadian Classics series vol. 2, CMC 2987 Centrediscs). Nameless Hour and Fair Wind can be heard on Duke Ellington's 1967 recording North of the Border (ACDM 1425 Attic, 1995). His works have also been recorded by accordionists Joseph Macerollo (Persuasion, MVCD 1096, 1996) and Joseph Petric, and by the Canadian Brass. Symonds was an associate of the Canadian Music Centre and a member of the CLComp, for whose 25th anniversary in December 1976 he prepared a CBC radio documentary.
Opera for Six Voices, radio opera (J. Reeves). 1962. 6 voices, jazz band, string orch. Ms
Tensions, ballet. 1966. Jazz quintet, orch. Ms
The Story of a Wind (Concerto for TV). 1970. V, narrator, jazz ensemble. Ms
Man, Inc., mixed-media stage work (J. Languirand). 1970. Jazz orch, 3 voices, percussion, dancers, actors. Ms
'Charnisay Versus LaTour' (or The Spirit of Fundy), opera (Symonds). 1972. Ms
The Land (Concerto for TV). 1973. Narr, voice, jazz ensemble. Ms
Laura and the Lieutenant, musical play for school children (Symonds). 1974. Kerby 1976
The Canterville Ghost (Wilde). 1975. Narr, instr ensemble. Ms
Lady of the Night, opera (H. Alianak). 1977. Ms
Episode At Big Quill, radio theatre. 1979. Youth choir and actors, percussion, narrator. Ms
The Fall of the Leaf, oratorical music drama. 1982. 4 actor-singers, choir, jazz quartet. Ms
Sylvia, music theatre. 1990. 6 singer-actors, jazz quartet. Ms
Concerto Grosso. 1957. Jazz quintet, orch. Ber (rental). RCI 181 (Ron Collier Quin)
Autumn Nocturne. 1960. Saxophone, string orch. Kerby, B&H (rental)
Pastel Blue. 1963. Str orch. Kerby 1973, B&H (rental). CTL S-5030 (Hart House O)
Democratic Concerto. 1967. Jazz quartet, orch. Ms
Impulse. 1969. Ms. RCI 477 (B. Brott conductor)
Three Atmospheres. 1971. Ms. Centrediscs CMC-2987 (NACO)
Big Lonely. 1975, rev 1978. Kerby 1975, B&H (rental). RCI 431 (NYO)
Forest and Sky. 1977. Ms
The Gift of Thanksgiving. 1980. Orch. Kerby 1980, B&H (rental)
Spaces I 'The River'. 1980. Str orch. Ms
'Sylvia': An Adult Fairy Tale. 1982. Jazz quartet (orch), jazz soloists. Ms
On An Emerald Sea. 1983. Ms
The Eyes of Bidesuk. 1987. Acc, jazz orch (band). Ms
From The Eye of the Wind. 1988. Ms
Fugue for Reeds and Brass. 1952. Ms
Fugue for Shearing. 1957. Pf, jazz ensemble. Ms
A Six Movement Suite for Ten Jazz Musicians plus Four Songs and Incidental Music (Auden). 1959. V, jazz tentet. Ms
Fair Wind. 1965. Jazz ensemble (band). Ms. Decca DL-75069 (Ron Collier Tentet)
A Diversion. 1972. Brass quintet. Kerby 1972. CBC SM-320/MMG 1123/Umbrella UMB-DD5 (Canadian Brass)
Bluebeard Lives. 1975. Str quintet, tape. Ms
Quintet for Clarinet and Synthesizers. 1977. Ms. RCI 484 ( J. Campbell)
Elegance. 1982. Perc. Ms
Salt Wind White Bird. 1984. 4 fl. Ms
Also two concertos for jazz octet (1955, 1956), Hambourg Suite (1956) and other works for jazz group.
Choir and Voice
Deep Ground, Long Waters (Symonds). Med (low) voice, fl, piano. Kerby 1972
At the Shore: A Sea Image (Bible). 1976. SATB, percussion. Kerby 1979
Four Images of Nature (Shelley, Symonds, Bible). 1976. SATB, bass, percussion. Ms
Harvest Choral. 1979. SATB. Kerby 1985
Lullaby. 1979. SATB. Kerby 1985
Pity the Children (Symonds). 1979. SATB. Kerby 1980
Lady Elegance. 1986. Med voice, piano. Ms
'The Spirit of Fundy,' OpCan, Winter 1971
'Solving a problem: how to find a good libretto,' CanComp, 68, Mar 1972
Author Clifford Ford, Betty Nygaard King
McNamara, Helen. 'The skill of the skull: Canada's greatest jazz composer,' Music World, vol 1, 15 Jul 1957
'CBC will preview a new jazz opera,' OpCan, Sep-Oct 1961
'Third stream jazz composition,' CanComp, 24, Dec 1967
'Man, Inc., multi-media co-authorship,' CanComp, 47, Feb 1970
McNamara, Helen. 'Norman Symonds,' International Musician, Jul 1970
'Big Lonely: work in progress,' CanComp, 57, Feb 1971
West, Linda. 'Norman Symonds: a denizen of the deep,' That's Showbusiness, 19 May 1976
Schulman, Michael. 'Norman Symonds: a third stream composer finally comes of age,' CanComp, 151, May 1980
Miller, Mark. The Miller Companion to Jazz in Canada (Toronto, 2001)
Parsons, David. "Symonds bridged the third stream: appreciation," Globe and Mail, 29 Aug 1998
Contemporary Canadian Composers / Compositeurs canadiens contemporains
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Shawnadithit grew anxious waiting for her uncle, Longnon, to return to camp at the junction of Badger Brook and the Exploits River, deep in the wilds of Newfoundland...