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Sudbury author paired with Shostakovich in Jan. 7 SSO show

What do a post-apocalyptic novel set in an Indigenous Northern Ontario community and a string quartet written by a Soviet-era composer have in common? Plenty, it turns out

Fans of reading and classical music may want to purchase tickets to a Saturday, Jan. 7 event featuring a collaboration between Greater Sudbury author Waubgeshig Rice and the Sudbury Symphony Orchestra String Quartet.

Rice will be reading excerpts from his 2018 book “Moon of the Crusted Snow,” interspersed with a performance by the SSO string quartet of Soviet-era Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich’s String Quartet No. 3.

The members of SSO's string quartet are Beth Schneider-Gould on violin, Melissa Schaak on violin, Geoff McCausland (you may remember him as the past Greater Sudbury city councillor for Ward 4) on viola and Dobrochna Zubec on cello.

The idea for SSO’s collaboration with Rice was originally floated in 2020 by Mélanie Léonard, the symphony’s past artistic director. Unfortunately, the pandemic intervened, and Léonard has since left the SSO.

Thinking it was still a good idea, SSO interim executive director Jennifer Grant revived the collaboration.

Rice’s book “Moon of the Crusted Snow” is a post-apocalyptic novel set in an Indigenous community in Northern Ontario. 

A “world-ending blackout” is compounded by “some intense winter weather, and then some unexpected visitors arrive from the south,” said Rice. 

“That sort of throws the community out of balance a lot more. And then they have to make some tough decisions about their future.”

While pairing Rice’s work with the Shostakovich piece might not seem obvious at first glance, Grant says there are similar themes.

She said Shostakovich lived through the Stalinist days and cold Russian winters, as well as the restriction of the arts in the USSR. “What he’s evoking is family, weather, suffering, survival, and all of those things,” Grant said.

Rice said he wasn’t familiar with Shostakovich’s work until this initiative came up, but he’s since done some reading on him.

“He dealt with a massive, often oppressive regime that has an influence on his work and tries to manipulate his work, too,” he said.

“In some ways, the characters in ‘Moon of the Crusted Snow’ endure similar things, being victims of colonialism, people who have been oppressed, too. So I think there are some shared themes, not just seasonal, in both works, and I think it'll be fun to explore those as well.”

Following the performance, members of the audience will have a chance to ask Rice any questions they may have.

By the way, here’s a bit of literary breaking news — Rice said he plans to come out with the sequel to his debut novel this coming October. Entitled “Moon of the Turning Leaves,” it is being published by Penguin Random House.

“It takes place 10 years after the end of ‘Moon of the Crusted Snow,’” Rice said. “The community in their new settlement decides that they need to move on, their resources are dwindling around them, and they decided to embark upon a quest to the south to find a new place to live, but also see what's left of the world, if in fact, it has ended, and to reconnect with their original homelands on the North Shore at Georgian Bay.”

Besides the show featuring Rice detailed above, Grant said SSO is looking to collaborate with other local artists of all kinds in a new series. Back in the fall, Greater Sudbury poet laureate Kyla Heyming composed poetry on the spot inspired by a SSO performance.

“This whole series is looking for other art forms to join in,” Grant said. “We brought some dancers in from a dance company for one of the shows. We're open to anything and everything.”

The show runs at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 7 at Sudbury Theatre Centre. Tickets are available online here.

Heidi Ulrichsen is the associate content editor at Sudbury.com. She also covers education and the arts scene.