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Problematic Orchestra brings protest music to solstice concert

“We’re really, really lucky to have a large ensemble concert like this.”
The Problematic Orchestra returns to the Yukon Arts Centre for its More Protest Songs solstice show on Dec. 20 and 21. (Submitted)

Whitehorse’s Problematic Orchestra will be bringing a different kind of protest music to the stage at the Yukon Arts Centre next week.

“There’s a little humor, there’s little gravity. We live in strange times right now and it’s a chance to take a look at a lot of things and also be light about it,” said director and composer Daniel Janke.

The show is a follow-up to last year’s protest song theme. The billing invites guests to “join us for a therapeutic rant in these difficult times,” but Janke said that’s mostly tongue-in-cheek. He does hope the show will be cathartic.

The Problematic Orchestra’s annual solstice show will take place at YAC on Dec. 20 and 21.

Clarinetist François Houle, of Vancouver, will be joining the 26-member ensemble composed of musicians from the territory. The show is co-produced by YAC and the Longest Night Society and directed by Janke.

They will be performing works by Frederic Rzewski, as well as new works by Andrea McColeman, Scott Maynard, Kelvin Smoler, George Koller, Keitha Clark, Ben Johnston-Urey, François Houle and Janke.

The songs included in the program will explore themes including world conflict, capitalism, the U.S. presidential debate, white privilege, environmental damage and injustice.

“It kind of covers the gamut of things that are that one might protest and how you can do that in music,” said Janke. “In these times it’s good to engage that part of our brain. And if we’re going to rebuild society, how do we want it to look?”

Songs by Yukon composers include “Where Silence Holds Lease” by Keitha Clark, which is an environmental activism piece inspired by the Beaver River watershed near Mayo. “White Privilege” is a collaboration between Music Yukon executive director Scott Maynard and Yukon hip hop artist Kelvin Smoler.

The show also includes a piece composed in 1971 called “Coming Together” by Frederic Rzewski that explores incarceration, political prisoners and injustice. The piece includes narration and was inspired by the writing of Sam Melville, an inmate at the Attica state prison in upstate New York.

The ensemble includes music on viola, cello, violin, piano, flute, clarinet, saxophone, bassoon, trumpet and percussion, in addition to rap and narration.

“We’re really, really lucky to have a large ensemble concert like this. In the North, it’s not that common to sit there with 25 semi-professional musicians on stage,” said Janke. “We’re hoping to get people out even though it’s cold, you have to get out and be social.”

Contact Haley Ritchie at