Borealis String Quartet violinists Yuel Yawney

Borealis String Quartet violinists Yuel Yawney

NOCCA hosts world premiere to open season

Borealis String Quartet opens the North Okanagan Community Concert season to perform piece by renowned Coldstream composer Imant Raminsh.

Greater Vernon classical music fans are about to witness a world premiere right in their backyard.

What makes the opening of the North Okanagan Community Concert Association’s (NOCCA) 62nd season even more special is that the premiere involves a composition written by Coldstream’s own Imant Raminsh, and will be performed by Vancouver’s world renowned Borealis String Quartet.

The gala performance takes place at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

Raminsh’s connection to Borealis goes back long before the quartet was even conceived, and involves Borealis’ violinist Yuel Yawney, who grew up in Vernon.

Yawney’s parents, Jo and Marsh Yawney,  also professional musicians, not only sang in the original lineup of the Aura Chamber Choir, which Raminsh founded in 1979, but like Raminsh, they also performed in the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra (Jo on viola and Marsh on cello).

“They spent many years here before moving to Victoria,” said Raminsh, who has kept up his connection with the Yawneys. “Besides their son, they also have a daughter who is a singer. I watched them grow up.”

It was in 2001, the year after Borealis formed, that Raminsh was asked to write his first violin string quartet.

However, the commission was hit by tragedy.

It began when David Mardon, a Kamloops-based music enthusiast and a compliance technician with the Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection, asked Raminsh, also a violinist, about starting a valley-wide string festival.

“We were hoping to have it annually or biannually and we were planing the event for the following year and wanted Borealis to be the quartet in residence and for me to write a piece for them. But then David was murdered.”

Killed by a disgruntled coworker at the ministry office where he worked, Mardon never saw his dream come to fruition.

However, the composition did see the light of day. In 2002, Chamber Music Kelowna hosted Borealis to premiere Raminsh’s string quartet, Elegy (A Falcon, A Storm, or a Great Song).

It was dedicated to Mardon.

Later approached by Yawney to write another quartet in memory of his friend Sylvia Russell, Raminsh penned String Quartet No. 2 (subtitled The Waking, after a poem by Roethke).

“I had a publisher in Toronto interested in my solo vocal repertoire and I asked him if he’d publish my string quartets,” said Raminsh.

“I believe Borealis received good mileage from the first and second quartets I wrote. They have even wanted to do a full recording of them.”

Raminsh’s third string quartet, originally called Dialogues, was written in 1990 for two instruments. He reworked the new version, now untitled, for two violins, viola and cello two years ago.

“Over the course of my career there have been times where I have reworked things from their original form. If it was originally for treble voice, I’d rewrite it for mixed choir. For this (third quartet), I made it more approachable.

“It’s a very celebratory piece and upbeat. It’s less cohesive than the others and harder to excerpt the movements. (However), this one has individual suites, which could be performed in a scaled-down version.”

Having one of the most dynamic and exciting world-class ensembles of its generation perform the world premiere is the icing on the cake.

Featuring Patricia Shih on first violin, Yawney on second violin, violist Nikita Pogrebnoy, and cellist Bo Peng, Borealis has received international critical acclaim as an ensemble praised for its fiery performances, passionate style, and refined musical interpretation.

“For the most part string quartets have an interesting chemistry,” said Raminsh. “Typically, the first violinist is the authoritative and the second violinist plays the supporting role and the cellist has to be play to be heard. Everything with a string quartet is intense. There’s the sharing of ideas, the interpretation, the tempo. When you watch (Borealis), their precision is machine-like.”

Along with the world premiere, Borealis will perform Beethoven’s String Quartet No. 4 in C Minor, Opus 18, and Dvorak’s Quartet No. 12 in F major (The American).

“Not only will the audience be thrilled with Borealis, but NOCCA will be continuing the Rising Star performances initiated earlier this year,” said president Paul Maynes.

Seventeen-year-old award-winning violinist Julien Haynes will warm up the audience before Borealis takes the stage.

A student of Bev Martens at the Vernon Community Music School since he could hold a violin, Haynes has completed his Grade 10 Royal Conservatory of Music exams in violin, as well as his Grade 6 RCM in piano. Haynes will be accompanied on the piano by Lauren Dvorak.

The NOCCA follows up this performance with the all-female gypsy-jazz quartet Christine Tassan et les Imposteures Nov. 1, the inaugural North Okanagan Youth Showcase, featuring local young talent, Jan. 31, pianist Sergei Saratovsky Feb. 21, the Wolak-Donnelly Duo (piano and clarinet) March 20 and Kokopelli & The University Of Pretoria Youth Choirs April 25.

All performances take place at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre and season subscriptions as well as individual tickets are available at the Ticket Seller box office. Order by phone at 250-549-7469 or online at