By Shannon Boklaschuk
University of Saskatchewan (USask) music professor Dr. Véronique Mathieu (DMus) has been awarded a second federal grant to research and develop a set of 12 violin etudes in collaboration with 12 internationally established composers.
Mathieu, an associate professor of violin in the Department of Music in USask’s College of Arts and Science, received $22,900 from the Canada Council for the Arts in August 2021. The funding will enable her to hire USask music students to help evaluate the etudes as they are being composed.
“The students will be given an evaluation matrix to fill out for each etude and will be asked to rate several aspects of the compositions, such as the clarity of the writing, the level of technical requirements, the relevance of the instructions given by the composers, and whether the etudes helped them with learning the prescribed techniques,” she said.
The Canada Council grant follows $50,000 in funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) awarded to Mathieu in June 2021 to research and develop the etudes, which will aim to address contemporary techniques used in 20th and 21st-century violin.
“I feel very fortunate to have received this award, since SSHRC grants are extremely competitive,” she said. “I was also very pleased that the jury found value in the development of literature to support the performance of contemporary music.”
The new etudes are scheduled to be completed within the next 36 months. Each composer will work on their etude for approximatively four months, and the completion deadlines will be staggered to enable Mathieu to focus on the editing process one etude at a time. She is also planning several future performances of the etudes in the form of lecture-recitals to be held in Brazil, Canada, and the United States, and she hopes to present the project at several conferences, such as the American String Teachers Association and the Canadian Federation of Music Teachers’ Association.
After performing contemporary music for nearly 25 years and teaching in post-secondary education for more than a decade, Mathieu said it’s clear to her “that traditional training does not prepare performers for the challenges of more abstract creative methods present in 21st-century art music.” This observation is what inspired her to begin working on the etudes project.
“The gap between musical expectations and musical capacity has not been well researched. Performers and teachers lack the experience and knowledge to meet the musical demands of contemporary works, and the ability to impart the skills to those who wish to study them in a practical way,” she said.
“By creating these etudes, the goal is to improve the learning, understanding, and performing process of contemporary repertoire for violinists, and fill a gap in the violin literature. Understanding and mastering contemporary playing techniques is vital to the dissemination of the music that is composed today. If performers are not at ease with the different ways of playing extended techniques and complex rhythms found in new compositions, composers will struggle to have their works performed and appreciated.”
Throughout her career as a professional musician, Mathieu has performed as a soloist and chamber musician in Asia, Europe, South America, South Africa, the United States, and Canada. She is a prize-winner of the Eckhardt-Gramatté Contemporary Music Competition and the Krakow International Contemporary Music Competition, and she is also a three-time winner of the Canada Council Bank of Instruments Competition. Earlier this year, Mathieu was nominated for a 2021 Western Canadian Music Award (WCMA), in the Classical Artist or Ensemble of the Year category, following the release of her CD Cortège. The WCMA winners will be announced in October.
Mathieu is also the first holder of the David L. Kaplan Chair in Music at USask. The position—which she began on July 1, 2018—was made possible by a $2-million donation from alumni Xiaoping (Bob) Xu (MA’92, LLB’17) and Ling Chen (MA’90), named in honour of their former music professor.
Through her role as the Kaplan Chair, Mathieu is focused on training undergraduate and graduate violin students, deepening the Department of Music’s connection with the community, including the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra, and enhancing the international reach of the university’s musicians.
“It has been a very positive experience, and I look forward to more developments in the strings area,” she said. “It is rare to find chair positions in music, and I do hope that we will see more of them be established in the future as there are so many areas of research that need to be supported in the fine arts.”
Did you know the College of Arts and Science is now on Spotify? Follow USaskArtSci to hear playlists curated by and for students, faculty, staff and alumni, featuring performances by Mathieu and others. More than 50 playlists are already available.