Kelly-Marie Murphy

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Kelly-Marie Murphy — Azrieli Commission Prize 2018

by Wah Keung Chan

Canadian Kelly-Marie Murphy is the winner of the 2018 Azrieli Commission Prize for Jewish Music, consisting of $50,000 and a premiere of her forthcoming composition. The performance will take place on October 15, 2018 in Montreal, with the McGill Chamber Orchestra led by Yoav Talmi.

No stranger to orchestras across Canada, the prolific composer has heard her creations played by the Toronto, Winnipeg, and Vancouver symphony orchestras, Gryphon Trio, James Campbell, Shauna Rolston, the Cecilia and Afiara String Quartets, and Judy Loman. Her music has been interpreted by such renowned conductors as Sir Andrew Davis, David Brophy, Bramwell Tovey, and Mario Bernardi in such iconic concert halls as Carnegie Hall, the Mozarteum in Salzburg, and the National Concert Hall in Dublin.

Murphy was born on a NATO base in Sardinia, Italy, and grew up on Canadian Armed Forces bases all across Canada — not the usual training squad for a budding musician. “To have music as the core of my whole life, no matter where we moved, whether a radar base outside of Saskatoon or a NATO base in Italy, music is what held me together. The piano lessons and later the voice lessons, that was my world,” said Murphy.

She began her studies in composition at the University of Calgary with William Jordan and Allan Bell, and later received a PhD in composition from the University of Leeds, England, where she studied with Philip Wilby. After living and working for many years in the Washington D.C. area — where she was designated “an alien of extraordinary ability” by the US Immigration and Naturalization Service — she is now based in Ottawa.

Kelly-Marie Murphy’s new work, a double concerto for cello and harp, explores Sephardic music and how it had an impact other cultures as the diaspora settled in Morocco, Tunisia, and parts of Europe. “What fascinates me is how music travels and how it can subtly influence cultures throughout its journey,” says Murphy, noting that there is also a Sephardic community in Amsterdam. She will draw from Sephardic folk and liturgical melodies for the new concerto, building on this source material as “a respectful attendant and contributor to a vibrant, living culture.”

“The first time, I was terrified by the proposal documents,” said Murphy of the application process. “This time, I asked my daughter’s singing teacher, who is Sephardic, and she gave me tons of material. I found it just fantastic. It speaks to everything that music has been in my life. It’s about reality, life stories, melodies, rhythmic, this blending of cultures and tradition.”

Jury member composer Ana Sokolovic adds, “Kelly-Marie Murphy is one of our best-known Canadian composers. Her work is honest, direct, and of great competence. We are confident that she will give us a work that is worthy of the Prize.”

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