Sid Robinovitch is one of Canada's most versatile and widely performed composers. Frequently broadcast on CBC radio, his works have been featured by a large number of musical ensembles including the Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal Symphony Orchestras, the Elmer Iseler Singers, and the Vancouver Chamber Choir. In addition to his concert music Robinovitch has written for film, radio and TV, where he is probably best known for his theme for the satirical comedy series, The Newsroom.
A native of Manitoba, Robinovitch received a Ph.D in Communications from the University of Illinois and taught social sciences at York University in Toronto. Since 1977 he has devoted himself to musical composition, studying at Indiana University and the Royal Conservatory of Toronto. He presently lives in Winnipeg, Canada, where he works as a composer and teacher.
While many of Robinovitch’s works are rooted in traditional or folk material, they often have a distinctly contemporary flavour as well. Dreaming Lolita, for example, is a dramatic retelling in poetic form of the famous Nabokov novel, while in Psalms of Experience the choral textures are infused with elements of Balinese music and rhythmic chanting.
Robinovitch has received 3 Juno nominations for his recorded work. In 2002, Klezmer Suite, a recording devoted entirely to his music and performed by the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Bramwell Tovey, received a Prairie Music Award for outstanding classical recording. Sefarad, a CD featuring his music for guitar, was released in 2008 on the Marquis label and received a Western Canadian Music Award nomination for classical recording of the year. His latest CD, Choral Odyssey, was released in 2012 and features the Winnipeg Singers under the direction of Yuri Klaz.
CBC Manitoba SCENE
Monday April 16, 20112
Winnipeg composer Sid Robinovitch reflects on his musical odyssey
Do you remember the Canadian comedy-drama called The Newsroom? Well Winnipeg composer Sid Robinovitch wrote the theme to that quirky program. And Sid Robinovitch will be featured on Tuesday, April 17 at the Meet the Composer series at McNally Robinson.
When you meet Sid, he comes across as a regular guy. Yet his list of compositions ranges from orchestral, to chamber to choral to film and television and you can't help but be in awe of his output.
Here at CBC we had the pleasure of being involved in the recording of Sid's Klezmer Suite recording, featuring music commissioned by Finjan along with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra. That recording was nominated for a Juno in 2002 and was awarded a Prairie Music Award for outstanding classical recording.
In 2010 the Winnipeg Singers under Yuri Klas devoted an entire concert to Sid's choral works. That performance and its subsequent recording and release as Sid Robinovitch: Choral Odyssey are the focus of Robinovitch's talk at McNally.
SCENE asked Sid to tell us about his life as a composer.
Believe it or not, the only thing that I ever really wanted to be was a composer. Of course when I was young I had notions about becoming: a radio announcer (yes, I'm a child of the radio age!), a baker (I was pretty good at helping my Mom with her apple and raisin pies), or a rodeo performer (I had the whole cowboy outfit - boots, hat, chaps, shirt and string-tie). None of these things seemed practical so I just kept going to school, got a graduate degree and ended up teaching in the social sciences. But my first love finally outed itself and I decided to pursue music as a career.
I had never really been a serious student of music. I took piano lessons from an early age (Toronto Conservatory stuff) but never liked practicing. I used to play the tunes of the day and improvise my own pieces. Eventually I took popular piano lessons from a local musician and probably learned more from him about the mechanics of music than I ever did from my classical teachers.
After my academic career wound down I studied composition at that same Toronto Conservatory that had been my nemesis decades before. I started by writing little ditties for piano - then more involved pieces with other instruments and voices. My first big triumph was a public performance of a piece for choir entitled "The Eggplant Epithalamion" on a text by then celebrated novelist and poet Erica Jong. After the show we served egg-plant and humous at my apartment.
Then I just continued to write all sorts of things, and actually have kept pretty busy at it for over 30 years. I guess you could even call it a career, although I am a little reluctant to describe myself a "composer," since most people think of figures like Beethoven and Mozart, and I would never deign to put myself in their league.
When people ask me why I do this, I often quip that it's a dirty job, but somebody has to do it. Then I quickly qualify this by saying that it is actually a very clean job and nobody has to do it. Sometimes I say that I really wanted to be a chartered accountant, but my family insisted that I go into music.
I can say that music has been good to me. I have been lucky in getting many performances of my work and I continue to write even into my "mature" years. You are very isolated much of the time, but that is true of any writing field. Although I do have my social side, I suppose I'm a bit of a recluse.
I look at writing music as a process of self-revelation. You find things that are latent within yourself and bring them out into the open. And when you think of it, through composing you are transmitting to others gestures and and sensations that reverberate deep within your kinaesthetic core. That's pretty intimate stuff, eh? And miraculously, others seem to reverberate on similar wave-lengths.
Do you learn anything about the world by writing music? I believe that as well as a process of self-discovery, it is actually a way of learning about the ebb and flow of nature. You are a kind of research scientist, tapping into the vital forces that animate the flow of life itself. Whoa! Enough of that. Think I'll get back to my apple pies!