Malcolm Forsyth

We Rejoice!

photo: National Arts Centre

On Friday, June 15th and Saturday, June 16th, the Sooke Philharmonic will be performing Siyajabula! We Rejoice! by Malcolm Forsyth, who died last year.
The piece was written in celebration of the end of Apartheid in 1994.

Malcolm Forsyth was born in South Africa in 1936 and died July 5, 2011. He studied piano and flute, as well as trombone. He attended Cape Town University, and received an M.A. (1966) in conducting and composing. In 1972, Forsyth received a Ph.D. in Music, also from Cape Town University. He played trombone in the Cape Town Symphony Orchestra.
In 1968, Forsyth immigrated to Canada. He played trombone in the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra (1968 to 1980) and joined the faculty of the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where he taught theory, composition, conducting and trombone. He was the conductor of the University Symphony Orchestra and held the composer-in-residence position.
His daughter Amanda is an internationally renowned soloist as well as Principal Cello with the NAC orchestra. She is married to Pinkas Zukerman.

Forsyth wrote for orchestra and brass ensemble as well as for strings, woodwinds, and voice.
The influence of black South African music, especially that of the Zulu, is evident in many early works such as Sketches from Natal (1970), Symphony No. 1 (1972), and Music for Mouths, Marimba, Mbira and Roto-Toms (1973).
Later works, among them Atayoskewin (1984) and Canzona (1985), have a First Nations flavour.

Forsyth’s music has been widely performed in Canada and abroad. He had commissions from the Canada Council, the CBC and Shell Canada. He wrote for and was performed by the Canadian Brass, Montreal Symphony, Edmonton Symphony, Cape Town Symphony and Natal Philharmonic.
His cello concerto Electra Rising was composed for his daughter Amanda and was premiered by her in 1995 with the Calgary Philharmonic.

Forsyth was named Composer of the Year in 1988 by the Canadian Music Council. He won three Juno Awards for Best Classical Composition in 1987, 1995 and 1998 for Atayoskewin, Sketches from Natal and Electra Rising respectively.

When Norman Nelson joined the music department at the University of Alberta in 1980, he met Malcolm Forsyth, who had been on faculty since 1968. They shared conducting of the university orchestra. Forsyth paid particular attention to the brass and of course Norman’s attention was beamed onto the strings — particularly the violins!

Norman writes:

I met Malcolm Forsyth in 1980 at the Music Department of the U of A in Edmonton where we spent the next eighteen years as colleagues and friends. He was intensely against the South African government and its apartheid policy and equally intense about international soccer. Over the years we never tired of discussing both topics with passion. I have fond memories of an inebriated “performance” of the Mendelssohn String Octet at his home, which included a trombone (played by Malcolm) and a clarinet.
A few short days before he died, we talked a great deal about the piece we are playing in his memory, Siyajabula! We both determined that we would share a nice drink together after the performance in Sooke. Sadly, it was not to be.

Most of the Sooke Philharmonic players who knew Norman in Edmonton also, of course, knew Malcolm Forsyth.

Our concertmaster Anne McDougall remembers:

I had ear training with Malcolm. He was known for challenging discussions, and one time, people were talking about perfect pitch. Suddenly, he pointed at me and said, “Anne, sing an ‘A’ “, which I did, tremulously. His point was that, even those without perfect pitch can develop a pretty good pitch memory when we tune every day to the same note.
One other memory was entering the first class in September of twentieth-century harmony and analysis. The professor, Dr. Chris Lewis, had a very interesting and dramatic piece of music playing. We sat and listened, totally engrossed. Then he proceeded to talk to us about whether and how we know what the composer’s intentions were — after all, most of the music we play was composed long ago. But as for the piece of music we had just heard, all we had to do was go upstairs and walk down the hall… and ask Malcolm! The piece of music was Atayoskewin. I went out and bought the CD! The sad part of this story is that I never had another class with Dr. Lewis, as he was killed when his car hit a moose on a trip to Grande Prairie that weekend.

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