Claude Lapalme, music director of the RDSO, composed a Group of Seven Suite, which will make its world premiere at the Feb. 22 concert. (Advocate file photo).

Claude Lapalme’s original musical tribute to iconic Canadian artists is featured at next RDSO concert

His Group of Seven Suite will make its world premiere on Feb. 22

This year’s 100th anniversary of the Group of Seven happens to coincide with the 30th year Claude Lapalme is music director of the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra.

What better way to mark both anniversaries, thought Lapalme, than by premiering his original composition Group of Seven Suite at the next RDSO show?

The Canada On Canvas concert is Feb. 22 at the Red Deer College Arts Centre. And Lapalme hopes listeners will enjoy hearing his musical descriptions of the lonely jack pines and unforgiving mountains so familiar from Group of Seven paintings.

The bold works are iconic to many Canadians — including Lapalme who became a regular visitor to the Group of Seven exhibits at the McMichael Gallery in Kleinburg after his family moved to Ontario from Quebec.

The strong, expressionistic landscapes captured by the Group’s painters made Lapalme feel “very Canadian, because a lot of what they painted is what I know …”

The Group’s artists mostly lived in Ontario and Quebec, but they took their easels to the scrubby Yukon tundra, across the wind-swept Prairies and to the snow-covered peaks of the Rockies, and both the Atlantic and Pacific shores.

Lapalme’s 40-minute Group of Seven Suite consists of nine movements. Seven will describe a painting created by each of the seven artists, including A. Y., Jackson, Arthur Lismer, Frank Johnston, and Frederick Varley.

The one dedicated to Lawren Harris’ monumental painting of Mount Lefroy will feature a long Swiss alphorn and describe the dangerous ascent, and then the calm climbers feel when they reach the summit.

The movement based on J.E.H. MacDonald’s The Tangled Garden is structured like a palindrome. Lapalme said the music will becomes tightly “entwined,” much like the vines the artist has depicted, and then the tension will slowly release as the garden prepares for winter.

Franklin Carmichael’s Northern Silver Mine inspired Lapalme to tell an orchestral story starting with a musical description of a sunrise and the descent underground for a hard day of labour.

The Suite’s eighth and ninth movements were influenced by the artists who joined the Group later (A.J. Casson, Edwin Holgate, and LeMoine FitzGerald), and for the Group’s close associates — artists Tom Thomson and Emily Carr.

As well, Lapalme has dedicated each of the nine movements to a different principal player in the RDSO, whose instrument is featured in that portion of the piece.

The conductor would have loved to recognize every single member of the orchestra, but joked listeners wouldn’t have had the endurance for such a long piece.

Lapalme is grateful for his three-decade stint with the RDSO. He said it allowed him to pursue a music career in a community that provided a high quality of life for his family — his wife Janet Kuschak, a principal cellist with the RDSO, and their two now grown sons.

Money is an issue for the RDSO and many other arts organizations during this difficult economy, but Lapalme feels a sense of achievement at pulling together quality concerts on what he jokingly calls “a bit of floss” budget.

Although musical arranging and adjudicating are busy sidelines for him, Lapalme doesn’t have plans to step down as RDSO music director anytime soon.

He hopes listeners will enjoy reflecting on his new Group of Seven Suite — as well as other visual-art inspired music on the concert program: Nikolay Korndorf’s The Smile of Maud Lewis, and Harry Somers’ The Picasso Suite.

“There will be little surprises. I hope they will be delighted by it.”

Tickets are available at

Classical music

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