The topic is WATER.

What are the topics about which composers write most music? If this were the question of the day, I’m convinced most answers would focus on love, falling in love, lost love, searching for love, insecure love, all of which, I suppose, are an ideal way to open a newsletter in February, the month of love. But as the world is increasingly experiencing the consequences of our planet’s ecological plight, I’ve become interested in how music is dealing with climate change and weather, with keeping the air pure and the waters clean, with species protection, with protecting our forests and ensuring our food supply.

Heavy topics, indeed, but for me, as a leader of an arts festival, these are important issues that need attention through musical expressions. And so I welcome you to the challenge and the concept at the heart of Huron Waves’ 2023 season, June 1 to July 3: Our Earth/My Responsibility.

There will be plenty of details to share with you in the weeks ahead as we unveil the festival’s full programming. For today I’d like you to know about Water: An Environmental Oratorio, the second creative step in our spring schedule. This new work by composer Stephanie Martin and librettist Paul Ciufo fits my goal to seek out creative statements about contemporary ecological issues. Water will have it second premiere just as Huron Waves gets underway in June. But ‘a second premiere’ you say? Allow me a few lines before I explain my numerical calculation.

An oratorio is a story told through music, generally with an ensemble of musicians, a vocal chorus and individual soloists who take on the roles of the story’s characters; sometimes there are props, scenery, even dancers added to the event. An oratorio is a member of the musical category that includes operas, operettas, cantatas, musicals. Handel’s The Messiah is probably the world’s best known oratorio; The Sound of Music is technically a second cousin.

On May 28, exactly one week before our performance, the Great Hall of KW’s Centre in the Square will resound with the premiere performance of Water: An Environmental Oratorio complete with a stellar cast: the Grand Philharmonic Choir augmented with its Youth and Children’s Choirs, the KW Symphony Orchestra and a quartet of eminent Canadian soloists, all under the direction of Maestro Mark Vuorinen. The Grand Philharmonic is commissioning this oratorio as a featured performance during its own 100th anniversary season. Congratulations are in order there!

For Huron Waves, where we simply can’t accommodate the sizeable KW company, Stephanie Martin has adapted the music into a smaller, or chamber, score. At 3pm, Sunday, June 4 we’ll be presenting the full oratorio with four soloists including Katy Clark, whose soprano voice was a highlight of our third seasonal video in December/22, plus a modest number of choristers, a string quintet, piano and percussion. That’s why I’m proudly saying that Huron Waves will present Water’s second (i.e. chamber) premiere in Trivitt Church in Exeter. (I’ll soon let you know when tickets for all our festival’s programs will go on sale but you can add June 4 to your calendar right now.)

Recently I asked the librettist and the composer to tell me why they think their subject matter is important and how they approached their roles to create the libretto and then compose the score. Here’s what they shared with me:

Stephanie Martin: “Water is everywhere, around us and in us, yet we rarely stop to consider how much we rely on this essential element. We assume it will always be there when we need it, but we don’t appreciate how fragile and threatened this resource is. It’s helpful to disrupt our stagnant modes of thinking and consider this Anishinaabe teaching: it is a sacred duty to protect Water. Our existence depends on it.

“Our oratorio presents two worlds: a fantastical world where Water is a person, surrounded by water spirits, and an everyday-world scenario played out in a Northern Ontario community where environmental protection confronts economic progress.

“A piece of music cannot change the world, but it can bring us together to engage in conversation, challenge us to think and feel in new directions, and open our ears to other ways of knowing.

“The music that brings this story to life may surprise you, since it finds expression through many different genres: opera, folk, jazz, classic choral music, and above all through the very special gift of The Water Song by Dorene Day which reminds us to give thanks for Water every day.

“I give my thanks to the team that built this piece – Deb and Dan, Mark, Paul, the Grand Phil, and particularly Vicki Monague whose courage as a water activist and teacher of the Ojibway language has given us inspiration we could not have imagined.”

Paul Ciufo: “This oratorio tells the fictional tale of a community torn between the economic opportunities and the environmental risks of a major new development. Actual events helped to inspire the fictional story but I chose the setting for the libretto for very personal reasons.

“The story is set in a fictional community in the Parry Sound area. Helen, a mayor, must decide whether to support a development that will provide a much-needed boost to the prosperity of her community, or to heed the warnings of her son Michael who joins a protest group. The protestors fear the “forever chemicals” that will be used in the new factory could threaten the pristine drinking water upon which the community depends. Indigenous and non-indigenous protestors like Michael work together to oppose the development. Water, herself, is a character in the oratorio.

“Throughout my life I have been fortunate to spend some time each summer in the Parry Sound area. In my mind and in my journals I have collected images of beauty: a still, misty morning lake reflecting every tree encircling it; lichen-webbed rocks; a crystal waterfall; infinite stars in the night sky. I wove these images into the libretto which became, in part, a love letter to that beauteous landscape.

“Tenacious protestors in several Ontario communities over the years have championed water and halted developments that would have imperiled this precious resource. Community leaders have had changes of heart and opposed the developments due the intervention of their children and grandchildren. The human capacity for change, and the ability of young people to influence change, gives me hope.”

Personally I’m very excited about this new work because of my experiences with two previous Martin/Ciufo creations. their first collaboration, The Llandovery Castle, premiered in June 2018 in Toronto to packed houses and critical acclaim; how well I remember the music matching the drama of the sinking of a hospital ship during World War 1. In June 2019 they co-created The Sun, the Wind, the Man, and the Cloak, an oratorio as a modern interpretation of Aesop’s ancient fable.

What makes me so eager to hear the new oratorio and to offer it within the focus of Huron Waves’ overall theme this spring are this particular author’s ability to pen a dramatic story matched by this particular composer’s skill to express that story through her music, vocal and instrumental, and her orchestrations.

Huron Waves’ 2023 season
Our Earth/My Responsibility


June 1 to July 3




Water: An Environmental Oratorio


3pm, Sunday, June 4


Trivitt Church Auditorium, Exeter


Tickets on Sale February 15, 2023. Till we’re together again…remember that Music Connects Us.

John A. Miller,

Artistic Director