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Summer music series for the Battlefords is underway

When Cole Knutson first left North Battleford in 2014, he had already decided he would one day try to repay his hometown for helping him realize his dream of becoming a world-class musician.

THE BATTLEFORDS — The people of the Battlefords and area are equally deserving of the same quality of music they would hear in New York, London, Paris or Berlin. That's the belief of Cole Knutson, who lives and studies in England and Germany and who calls North Battleford his hometown.

When Knutson first left North Battleford in 2014 to attend university in Winnipeg, Man., he had already decided that he would one day try to repay his home community for supporting his dream of becoming a world-class musician.

Knutson says he has had such great fortune in the help he has received from his family, teachers, mentors and the community that the least he can do is take the skills and knowledge he's acquired and apply it in a way that shows the community what they have invested in.

At 25, Knutson has completed a bachelor’s degree in classical saxophone performance, a master’s degree in music and a second master’s degree in piano accompaniment performance and is now pursuing a doctoral degree.

While he's been pursuing a career and furthering his education overseas, he has been able to come home each summer to perform and teach. During the pandemic, recitals had to be small, private affairs held mainly at Jackfish Lake venues, but this summer he's been able to plan a more public series.

“Now that we are looking toward a future with fewer restrictions, it is safer to host recitals than in the past two summers. I really want to make an impression on audiences, especially after two years of such emptiness of live music,” says Knutson.

He says he wants his summers at home to give back musically and artistically in any and all ways that he can.

“I‘m now just starting to find myself in a position where I can try to give back more significantly in an artistic sense. It is my intention to continue to bring those artists in my network back to the Battlefords for the community to benefit,” he says. “This was part of the whole game plan; to go out into the world, refine my craft and meet like-minded young artists who are at the peak of their craft and then bring them home for the community to benefit.”

Music is for everyone

In deciding to call this summer's recital series the Battlefords Summer Proms, he says as someone who studies in the United Kingdom, the BBC Proms is a major part of his summer activities.

“However, he says, “beyond the association of the BBC Proms and summer classical music festivals, I think the very origin of proms aligns with a lot of my philosophical principles relating to sharing music. A 'promenade concert' was conceived to allow for more relaxation for the audience and for the format. Part of a promenade was also to get people up and moving or standing during the performance, allowing the venue to charge less money for tickets, ultimately making live music more accessible to people from all backgrounds.”

Knutson says the Proms in the UK still offer a similar feeling.

“The concerts are really relaxed, and there are cheap tickets available for people who have to be more mindful of money. I can recall many picnics up in the gallery of The Royal Albert Hall, listening to the greatest artists and orchestras in the world, paying something like £6 for a ticket.”

In some areas of the world, says Knutson, classical music has in some ways earned a reputation of stuffiness, pretentiousness and an atmosphere that may not always be welcoming to newcomers or those who are not necessarily as privileged in a musical education. That‘s why he wants to take this opportunity to create an environment that welcomes people who are very familiar with repertoire and also people who may have never attended a classical music recital. Anyone and everyone is welcome. “This is also why I‘ve decided on entrance by donation.” adds Knutson. “This allows people to contribute what they can, no matter their circumstances. If an audience member can only offer their time and attention, for whatever reason, they are welcome. That is more than enough. If an audience member is in the position to more generously support us musicians with their donation, then, of course, they are equally welcome. The hope in the end is to enlighten the community and perhaps begin to change the stigma often associated with this remarkable art form.”

The Battlefords Proms

On Sunday, July 10, at 2 p.m., Knutson will join North Battleford City Kinsmen Band artistic director Chinley Hinacay and Matthew Robinson, accompanying them on the piano and joining them in a saxophone trio.

The recital is part of an initiative called “The Prairie Saxophone Initiative,” founded by Hinacay and Robinson with the goal of making the saxophone a household name in the world of classical music.

To take place at 2 p.m. at Third Avenue United Church in North Battleford, the recital is a part of a tour arranged by Hinacay and Robinson to raise funds for their initiative to make the saxophone a household word in the classical music world. As such, general admission for this recital is set at $20, students are $10 and 17 and under are free.

The next recital, to take place at Third Avenue will feature Knutson with Arlene Shiplett, raised in North Battleford and now hornist with the Saskatoon Symphony, and Jaya Hoy, also raised in North Battleford and Knutson's former piano teacher. Knutson will perform on the saxophone.

It will take place Saturday, July 16, at 3 p.m. Admission is by donation.

Jaya Hoy will again perform with Knutson on Saturday, July 23, in a piano duo recital. Performance begins at 3 p.m.

The final Summer Proms recital will be Sunday, July 31 featuring trombonist Clara Daly Donnellan. In an evening performance starting at 7:30, Knutson will accompany Donnellan.

Knutson says, “Clara has cemented herself as one of the leading orchestral trombonists in Europe and has an impressive background as a soloist, having won the equivalent of the National Music Festival in Ireland when she was 12. She was the longtime protégé of Ian Bousfield, former principal trombonist of the London Symphony Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic. Her teacher, Ian, is regarded as one of the greatest classical trombonists to have ever lived and is the top-grossing classical trombonist in history.”

This performance, says Knutson, may be of the highest calibre of playing in the Battlefords that has existed in his time as a musician here.

“I feel like the term world-class has a tendency to be thrown around hyperbolically,” says Knutson. “Something or someone who is considered of world-class stature, should, in my opinion, unless limited by circumstance, be consistently observed on an international platform with a reputation that supports the alleged claim to fame. When I say that and Clara is of a world-class calibre, I say this with quite a degree of certainty.”

He adds his friend Clara is beyond excited to come to the Battlefords — and the lake — after hearing so many praises for almost a decade.