During the Hungarian Uprising in late 1956, faculty and students at the Hungarian Forestry School in Sopron escaped the approaching Soviet tanks by fleeing first to Austria, then, in an attempt to stay together, sent letters to twenty countries seeking a new home for themselves and their school. The Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia offered to adopt them, and in 1957, the first classes, taught in Hungarian, took place. Through a difficult transition, they prospered, and have gone on to make important contributions to forestry in British Columbia, Canada, and the world.
In Arbutus, for tárogató and piano, the “new” and “old” worlds collide through two distinct, alternating musical ideas: fast, aggressive, percussive music expressing the chaos of being uprooted and escaping to an unfamiliar country and culture; and slow, longing music evoking memories of the country left behind. The bends and ornaments of traditional tárogató playing are an integral part of both soundworlds, and the piano’s tremolos are reminiscent of the cimbalom. The title Arbutus comes from the arbutus tree so common in British Columbia, but not native to Hungary, again reflecting the “newness” of the Soproners’ new home.
Arbutus was commissioned by Jason Hall in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Sopron Division at the Faculty of Forestry, University of British Columbia. It was made possible with the assistance of the British Columbia Arts Council.