Portrait of Peter Paul Koprowski thumbtack

Ancestral Voices

Score sample

Duration: 16 minutes

Written: 1996

Premiered: June 15, 1996

Guelph Spring Festival Chamber Orchestra

Conductor: Peter Paul Koprowski


  • Strings (minimum 5, 4, 3, 3, 1)


Ancestral Voices was commissioned in 1996 by the Guelph Spring Festival with financial assistance from the Ontario Arts Council. The first performance was given on June 15, 1996 by the Festival's Chamber Orchestra under the direction of Peter Paul Koprowski. Soon afterwards the work received numerous performances in Canada, USA (Tanglewood), South America (Caracas, conducted by the composer), and Europe. Together with the Epitaph, it became one of his most frequently performed compositions.

The title of the work mirrors the title of and the thought behind the 1996 Guelph Spring Festival.
Ancestral Voices pays homage to composers and styles of the past. It echoes the music of the Renaissance and the voices from Poland and Eastern Europe - with driving rhythms of the mazurka, intense lyricism, and the echoes of the Eastern Orthodox chant.

Koprowski remarks that the work "brings into focus individual stylistic characteristics drawn from the past which influenced my thinking. At the same time, the architecture of the work reflects my desire to merge chamber and orchestral writing within one composition".

Reviewing the premiere performance for the Globe and Mail, Tamara Bernstein noted that the music "was gripping from beginning to end, thanks in part to Koprowski's dynamic, expressive conducting and to the kaleidoscope of sound colours and textures he presents. The gorgeous opening - a sustained threnody for three cellos - is a knockout. It's a measure of Koprowski's artistic personality that the piece never sounds like a pastiche".

Ancestral Voices was one of the four orchestral compositions (in addition to the JUNO nominated Viola Concerto, as well as Symphony of Nordic Tales and Concert Overture Saga) written within the 1995-96 season, for which the composer received the notable Jean. A. Chalmers NATIONAL MUSIC AWARD. All four compositions have since received repeated performances, while the Viola Concerto is available on CD (SMCD 5206) with Rivka Golani and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Jukka - Pekka Saraste.

Contrasts, driving rhythms, lyricism, humour, drama and instrumental virtuosity all find a place in Koprowski's Ancestral Voices, a work that in its short life appears headed for repertory status among chamber orchestras.