A spellbinding new choral and orchestral work about water – and a community’s struggle to protect this precious resource – will be premiered at the final concert of the 100th season of the Grand Philharmonic Choir on May 28 in Kitchener.

Water: An Environmental Oratorio is written by composer Stephanie Martin, with lyrics by playwright Paul Ciufo and guidance from Indigenous environmental activist Vicki Monague. It tells the story of a small community that has the chance to bring in an industrial development that would create jobs, but would also pose a risk to the environment.

This evocative oratorio describes the wrenching debate that ensues, but also explores water on other levels – as an entity with a voice of its own, surrounded by water spirits; and as a life-giving element that has inspired Hildegard von Bingen, Confucius and Goethe, among others.

For the past two years, the oratorio’s creators have worked with the Philharmonic Choir singers and choir artistic director, Mark Vuorinen, while the piece was taking shape. There have been workshops, conversations and recounting of personal history.

Monague, whose own work as a water protector activist provided inspiration for the piece, has brought guidance throughout the creative process. She also is a founder of the United Nations Decade of Indigenous Languages working group.

“It’s been a very collaborative process,” said Vuorinen. “It’s always both exciting and daunting to bring life to a new work.”

“Water is everywhere, around us and in us, yet we rarely stop to consider how much we rely on this essential element,” Martin said.

“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.”

Martin is a composer of note, whose works have been performed across North American and internationally. Her cantata, Winter Nights; an opera, Llandovery Castle (about nurses who perished in the First World War); and Babel: a choral symphony, written for the 40th anniversary of the WiIfrid Laurier University faculty of music, have been performed in Waterloo Region by the Philharmonic Choir, other choral ensembles, and opera and choral students at Wilfrid Laurier University.

Martin said she’s excited to start a conversation about water with this new work, which was commissioned thanks to a donation from Dan Leader and Deborah Finlayson of Toronto.

She said she expects listeners to see themselves in some of the roles and complex relationships expressed in the oratorio.

Martin asked, “What will you do when confronted with a difficult decision?”


Water: An Environmental Oratorio will be performed Sunday May 28 at 3 p.m. at the Centre In The Square in Kitchener, by the 140 combined voices of the adult, youth and children’s choirs, the Kitchener Waterloo Symphony, and soloists: Katy Clark, soprano; Marion Newman, mezzo-soprano; Jean-Philippe Lazure, tenor; and Phillip Addis, baritone.

Bruckner’s powerful Romantic work, Te Deum, opens this concert, which is the final performance by the choir in the year it celebrates 100 years of continuous singing.

Tickets ($10 to $40) are available at www.centreinthesquare.com or 519-578-1570.

A chamber version of the work will be performed June 4 at the Huron Waves Music Festival, 3 p.m. at Trivitt Auditorium in Exeter. A six-metre-wide sculpture of the Earth accompanies this performance. For more information, visit huronwaves.ca

For more information contact:

Mark Vuorinen, choir artistic director, Grand Philharmonic Choir: mvuorine@uwaterloo.ca

Stephanie Martin, composer: stmartin@yorku.ca

Paul Ciufo, lyricist: paulciufo@gmail.com

Vicki Monague, adviser: onjibiisaa@gmail.com

Stephanie Martin

Paul Ciufo

Vicki Monague

Mark Vuorinen

© 2022 Grand Philharmonic Choir