SSO to Perform ‘Lost’ Concerto By German Composer

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Johannes Dyring is bringing his grandfather’s concerto back to life. (Photo Supplied)

A 1938 violin concerto by a German music master will be performed for the first time in 80 years at a much-anticipated Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra (SSO) concert.

The exciting event will showcase the music of Heinz Moehn (1902-1992), which was believed to be lost until it was brought to life by the composer’s grandson, Johannes Dyring. Dyring, the managing director of Innovation Enterprise at the University of Saskatchewan (USask), had been storing Moehn’s chamber, solo and choral works in his basement in the hopes the music would one day be performed.

Moehn was known as a leading editor of Mozart’s works — including the great Requiem — but the discovery of Moehn’s ‘lost’ concerto in Saskatoon now highlights his abilities as a composer. The discovery will culminate in a concert on March 23 when the SSO will perform Moehn’s concerto, edited by USask music lecturer and composer Paul Suchan. The second half of the concert will feature Mozart’s Requiem, performed by the SSO and accompanied by the USask Greystone Singers student choir.

Certainly, it’s not every day that a long-lost violin concerto is rediscovered in Canada. Some members of Saskatoon’s music community have compared the unlikely event to finding buried treasure.

“It’s an exciting adventure,” conductor Eric Paetkau, the SSO’s music director, said in a recent interview.

The catalyst for the SSO’s concert, aptly titled Finding Heinz Moehn, was a conversation that took place at a business lunch between Dyring — who moved to Saskatoon from Sweden in 2015 — and USask music professor Dean McNeill. McNeill, a professor of brass and jazz who also plays the trumpet with the SSO, introduced Dyring to Paetkau and to SSO executive director Mark Turner.

“Johannes mentioned it one day to Dean that he had all these scores from his grandfather in his house, and Dean, of course, was very excited because he’s a musician,” said Paetkau. “So that’s where that connection started.”

When asked to compare Moehn’s work to a well-known composer with whom local SSO audiences may be familiar, Paetkau noted the Romantic elements in Moehn’s music, adding, “there’s a hint of Mahler in there.”

“It’s not like Brahms or anything like that,” Paetkau said. “It’s three movements, and there’s a lot of different expressions and moods in there. So it’s very lyrical – demanding for the soloists as well – but it kind of is the full spectrum of what you’d hear in a long, multi-movement piece.”

USask musicology professor Amanda Lalonde recently received a $25,000 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) grant, in collaboration with Paetkau, to explore Moehn’s place in the history of 20th-century German music and to engage in work with the SSO to bring to life Moehn’s music through performances. Two students will be part of the project team, which will create a multi-media website, a podcast and an interactive web display of Moehn’s artistic associations.

In advance of the Finding Heinz Moehn concert, a panel discussion featuring Paetkau, Turner, Dyring and Lalonde will be held at 7 p.m. on March 19 at McNally Robinson bookstore.

In a news release, Dyring said it’s gratifying that the collaborative project has come together and enabled his grandfather’s work to be performed again.

“For me as a newcomer to Canada, it’s really great that this community allows the entrepreneurial and risk-taking spirit to thrive. After all these years, I was able to find the talented people who were interested in his music and would perform this concerto again,” Dyring said. 

“This happened here; it didn’t happen in Sweden or Germany. These local musicians had the will and the courage to get this done.”

The March 23 concert will start at 7:30 p.m. at TCU Place. Philadelphia-based violinist Timothy Chooi will perform Moehn’s concerto. Chooi has performed with major orchestras throughout the world and was the bronze-medal winner of the 2015 Michael Hill International Violin Competition. Concert tickets range from $34 to $73 and are available online at saskatoonsymphony.org.