In a birthday blast for Chopin's and Schumann's 200th and Robert Turner's 90th birthdays, Music Director Peter Oundjian and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra opened this season with Turner's OPENING NIGHT (A Theatre Overture).Kevin Bazzana program notes describe this work as "melodious and evocative, eclectic but accessible;" L.H. Tiffany Hsieh in La Scene Musicale heard "a sunny outburst of energy and festivity;" and John Teraud's Toronto Star review recalls "this rhythmically lively piece is a sparkling sackful of sequined syncopations. It put a smile on the evening that would last all the way through to Mahler's reorchestration of Schumann's Symphony No. 2."
In cooperation with the Prairie Region Canadian Music Centre, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra Music Director, Alexander Mickelthwate appropriately chose for performance October 29th and 30th, SHADES OF AUTUMN. This 1987 work was written while Turner was in residence at the famed MacDowell Artist's Colony in New Hampshire.
Robert Turner's exhilarating and profound music stems, in part, from his minute analysis of the music of fellow international composers. In Europe and the U.S., through study, travel and personal discourse, he has shared ideas and learned from Messiaen, Britten, Berio, Andriessen, Stockhausen, Britten, Copland, William Schuman, Elliot Carter and Roy Harris as well as the many conductors and performers who have played his music. "He delighted in yearly travels,... especially sojourns in the southern climates of Italy and Spain, where we attended countless live concerts, visited museums and art galleries, explored the old homes of writers, painters and composers, and haunted the stacks of bookstores and libraries. His musical allusions and painstaking selections of the texts for vocal works reveal Turner's sophisticated affection for humour and illusiveness derived from these vital events, peoples and places he experienced as much as from the arcane cultural sources and influences he discovered in books and other composers' scores." (son, Alden Turner)
In the 1960's - 1970's Toronto Symphony Orchestra audiences heard several performances of OPENING NIGHT, the CONCERTO FOR TWO PIANOS, and three different conductor's interpretations of the 12-tonal work, THREE EPISODES. Zara Nelsova, cello and Grant Johanneson, piano toured major cities from Vancouver to Montreal with the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra premiering CAPRICCIO CONCERTANTE. During the 1980's and 1990's Rivka Golani premiered the CONCERTO FOR VIOLA with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra; the National Arts Centre Orchestra with Rivka Golani premiered A GROUP OF SEVEN which was subsequently performed by orchestras in Vancouver, Edmonton and Hamilton; Kazuhiro Koizumi conducted the profoundly moving SYMPHONY IN ONE MOVEMENT "Gift from the Sea" and Uri Mayer with the Edmonton Symphony performed SHADES OF AUTUMN. THIRD SYMPHONY, premiered by Bramwell Tovey and the Winnipeg Symphony, received several nominations and awards (Juno and WCMA). In 2003 and 2006, THE HOUSE OF SHADOWS, an 8-minute section of an unperformed opera, was heard by symphony audiences in Vancouver (Bramwell Tovey) and Winnipeg (Andrey Boreyko).
Robert Turner's "undoctrinaire openness of response seems to be the key to his work", wrote Peter Garvie (former CBC colleague) in 1969. "His music is not written to illustrate a thesis. He simply brings his resources as a composer to the problem set by a particular piece, and the problems are human as well as technical. This means that he has been able to compose attractive and popular pieces like the overture OPENING NIGHT or the concertino for jazz ensemble, ROBBINS' ROUND, as naturally as his SYMPHONY FOR STRINGS or his thoughtful chamber works. He has not had to write below his style for one or screw it up to rhetoric for the other...Robert Turner's output is thoughtful and distinguished. His music has no dogmatic allegiance (he uses serial technique freely when it suits him), but nourishes its roots in human experience and its power to communicate directly. It can be gay without being slick, and deeply felt without losing balance and clarity. These are considerable gifts."
In 2006, composer Sid Robinovitch wrote, "One of the features of Dr. Turner's music that is most apparent to me is its distinctively North American quality. I believe that his music has achieved what is characteristic of the great composers of this continent such as Copland, Harris, and Ives: it has absorbed the concrete realities of the world around us and, through wide-ranging artistic reflection, presents a mature vision of what we are all about."
Robert Turner has composed over 70 compositions in all forms from symphonic and chamber works to operatic, vocal and ensemble pieces, including three symphonies, four concertos, three string quartets and two operas. He has fulfilled a great number of commissions from prominent national and international organizations and soloists, most notably the Canada Council, the Manitoba Arts Council, and C.B.C. Radio. His orchestral works have been successfully performed under many distinguished conductors: Kazuyoshi Akiyama, Karel Ancerl, Gary Bertini, Sergiu Commissiona, Franz-Paul Decker, Charles Dutoit, Agnes Grossmann, Derrick Inouye, Sir Ernest McMillan, Seiji Ozawa, Simon Streatfeld, and Bramwell Tovey.
In recognition of his distinguished, creative, and innovative contributions to Canadian music and culture, Robert Turner received the Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada (1993), the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (2003) and was appointed to the Order of Canada (2003).
In 1985 Robert Turner retired from teaching, and he is Professor Emeritus of Music at the University of Manitoba. His second opera, House of Shadows, was completed in 1986, and many of his most significant orchestral works were written in the years following this retirement: Shades of Autumn (1987), Third Symphony (1990), Manitoba Memoir (1991), House of Shadows (1994), and River of Time (1994). During the 1990 season, in celebration of Turner's 70th birthday, the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra performed five of his major orchestral works under the direction of Bramwell Tovey.