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Night Sonnets

for voice, reader, and string quartet

duration ~ 39 minutes

Poetry by Colin Browne

Commissioned by David Pay & Brian Laberge

Premiered as part of Music for a Night in May at the Vancouver East Cultural Centre on May 4th, 2018

Carla Huhtanen (voice), Colin Browne (reader), Olivia Blander (cello), Andrew Brown (viola), Karen Gerbrecht (violin), Nicholas Wright (violin), Brian Chan (sound design)

Night Sonnets is a suite of twenty-six short “songs” for soprano, reader and string quartet. Eighteen songs are sung by the soprano, eight are recited by the poet or reader. The suite has an emotional, but not a narrative, arc, and the voices range from declaration to exposition to self-reflection and mystery, concluding with a farewell to the poet’s mother in which she appears in a dream, as if to say goodbye. Like formal, fourteen-line sonnets, many of the Night Sonnets are divided into two parts: statement and response, and this subtle structure informs the performance. As well, each song has been scored for a different combination of instruments. Night Sonnets, while charged with memory, are committed to addressing conditions in the present. They are a burst of mirrored fragments in the night.


This collection of luminous fragments was generously commissioned by David Pay and Brian Laberge.


Many of the texts were newly written for this composition while others are drawn from Browne’s collection, THE HATCH (2015 Talonbooks).

1 - for Tom (Voice)

2 - ear fire (Voice, Vln I)

3 - i knew when i rushed in (Voice, Vln II, Vlc)

4 - my knees/pistons (Voice, Vln I, Vla)

5 - a man pitches head first (Reader, Vln II, Vlc)

6 - my knees/ossuary (Voice, Vln I, Vln II, Vla, Vlc)

7 - forget the rubber paddles (Voice, Vln I, Vln II)

8 - honeysuckle (Reader, Vla, Vlc)

9 - a new them (Voice, Vln I, Vln II, Vlc)

10 - who are you? (Voice, Vln I, Vln II, Vla)

11 - O flat people, rise up (Reader, Vln I, Vln II)

12 - raven is geranium (Voice, Vlc) 

13 - the story i cling to (Voice, Vln I, Vln II, Vla)

14 - when i turn off my mouth (Voice, Vln I, Vln II, Vla)

15 - Citadel Hill (Reader, Vln I, Vln II)

16 - Buffy (Voice, Vln I, Vln II, Vla, Vlc)

17 - at the kitchen table (Voice, Vln I, Vln II, Vla, Vlc)

18 - in the shape of a spoon (Voice, Vln I, Vln II, Vla, Vlc)

19 - men of silage (Reader, Vln I, Vlc)

20 - the streams (Voice, Vln I, Vln II, Vla, Vlc)

21 - in the japonica (Voice, Vla, Vlc)

22 - Susanna sent a text (Reader, Vlc)

23 - all night he lay on the pack ice (Voice, Vln I, Vln II, Vla, Vlc)

24 - the weapon called Canada (Reader, Voice, Vln I, Vln II, Vla, Vlc)

25 - what did you do all day in that whale? (Voice, Vlc)

26 - May 25, 2014 (Reader, Vln I, Vln II, Vla, Vlc)

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