Renowned composer Anna Hostman has been nominated for a 2021 Juno award for Classical Composition of the Year for her piano solo, Harbour. Hostman, who was raised in Bella Coola and is part of the Nygaard family, traces her roots back generations to the first Norwegians who settled the Valley in the late 1890s.
The piece was recently released by Toronto pianist, Cheryl Duvall, on Redshift Records (Vancouver) on a CD of solo piano works with Harbour as the title track. The album has been featured on CBC’s In Concert with Paolo Pietropaolo (29 Mar, 2020) and has been met with great reviews.
Hostman spent her childhood in Bella Coola after moving to the Valley at age two, and her connection to her homeland is deep. Her large scale work, Nuyamł-ił Kulhulmx (Singing the Earth): 11 Pieces about a Place, makes use of historical and contemporary sources in four languages (Nuxalk, Norwegian, English and Japanese) in the creation of an artistic response to the isolated landscape and culture of Bella Coola.
It premiered in Toronto in 2013 and featured Banchi Hanuse’s film Cry Rock in addition to dozens of images, audio recordings, and songs in several languages, which were sung by First Nations mezzo-soprano Marion Newman, who was born in Bella Coola.
Growing up in Bella Coola, Hostman said that music was always part of her family’s life.
“My mom [Carol Nygaard] played the piano by ear, so we were always playing together,” she said. “My dad sang, my uncle Raudger played piano, my grandpa Melvin played the saxophone and the clarinet. There was always music in our family.”
Hostman’s first piano teacher was local instructor Elizabeth Endicott, and she played piano and clarinet in the school band. She recalls an active, flourishing music and arts scene which was rounded out by the dedication of the Bella Coola Little Theatre Guild (with Verna Mikkelson steering the ship), who consistently delivered live entertainment to the Valley.
“Elizabeth was such a wonderful teacher, I have such warm memories of playing with her,” she shared. “She was so patient and so gentle, I just loved her.”
Hostman said that her jump to composing was a natural transition, perhaps fostered by her detailed study of a limited supply of music books.
“I don’t recall learning from a large variety of music books,” said Hostman. “So I ended up playing the same ones consistently and thoroughly, that may have been part of the reason I transitioned to composing.”
She began composing at age 11 or 12 and has never looked back. It has resulted in an incredible and rewarding career.
“I remember the first song I composed, it was entitled “Song for Peace,” for the flute and piano,” Hostman recalled. “Alan Stiles gave me some very good feedback.”
After leaving the Valley Hostman completed her first year at Capilano College before eventually moving onto the University of Victoria, where she completed a Master of Music degree and was the Composer-in-Residence with the Victoria Symphony from 2005-2008. Her studies then took her back east, where she completed a Doctor of Musical Arts in music composition at the University of Toronto.
“In Toronto I really found the community I needed to continue in my composing work,” she explained. “There was such a strong sense of collaboration and it’s really all about working with people, and Toronto was the perfect environment to do that.”
Hostman’s pieces have been performed throughout Canada and internationally. Her works have been described as “suggestive, elegant” and “hauntingly beautiful.” Alongside pieces for the concert stage, she has composed for opera, dance, performance installation, theatre, experimental film and video, and created music for the National Film Board.
She refers to herself as an “amateur pianist,” and said the piece that is currently nominated for the Juno Award would not have been possible without the support and collaboration of many people, most notably Toronto pianist Cheryl Duvall.
“It is an incredibly hard piece to play,” said Hostman. “So I’m really grateful to Cheryl for devoting the time to it. She is an incredibly beautiful pianist, and her musicality and nuanced approach to the instrument inspired me greatly throughout the writing of the work. We also spent a lot of time working through details. She gave me many artistic suggestions which allowed the piece to come into its final form”
Hostman says that, as far as the awards ceremony goes, she’s “relieved” that it’s virtual this year, but she’s very excited and happy for the nomination nonetheless.
“I’m pretty shy so I don’t think I would even go if it was live,” she said. “But I am really happy for everyone that was involved that it’s received this nomination, it’s really uplifting for everybody who worked so hard on it.”
The Juno’s are set to be delivered virtually this year on May 16. To listen to Hostman’s piece, Harbour, you can go to www.redshiftrecords.org.