Program Note

Sarantine Polyphony draws its title from Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay’s historical fantasy series The Sarantine Mosiac. The action in Kay’s Sarantine novels takes place in Sarantium, a fictional city and empire modeled after Byzantium in the time of Justinian, ca. 500-600 AD. In the novels Kay vividly paints a sophisticated society that is both rich in culture and customs and filled with political intrigues and sub plots. The dichotomy of theological beliefs is a central line of inquiry in the novels. Though Sarantium is by empirical decree a monotheistic society, pagan beliefs and the half-world are ever-present in the minds of its inhabitants. Specific characters and events from the novels were the inspiration for the three movements of this piece.

Movement I – The Zubir
The Zubir is the physical manifestation of the pagan bison god of the forests. Its presence is both terrible and awe-inspiring. Caius Crispin, the protagonist in the story, encounters the Zubir on the Day of the Dead when the god requires a human sacrifice. Crispin is forever changed by this encounter.

Movement II – Shirin’s Dance
Shirin is the daughter of an alchemist and the most celebrated exotic dancer in the city of Sarantium.

Movement III – The Sleepless Ones
The Sleepless Ones are a holy order of clerics who keep prayerful vigil all night long while the god fights through the darkness of night to ensure the light of a new day. In this movement my intention is to create the impression of the clerics’ chanting echoing in the vast space of their great basilica.

Sarantine Polyphony was commissioned by the McGill Chamber Orchestra in celebration of its 70 Anniversary Season. Financial support for this piece was graciously provided by the Canada Council for the Arts. Boris Brott conducted the McGill Chamber Orchestra in the premiere performance of this work on March 15, 2010, in Redpath Hall, Montreal.