Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra honouring late flutist with a new piece of music

Randi Nelson, second from left, was principal flutist with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra for 40 years. She died of cancer in 2020.  (Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. - image credit)
Randi Nelson, second from left, was principal flutist with the Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra for 40 years. She died of cancer in 2020. (Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra. - image credit)

The Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra will kick off its season with a new piece of music dedicated to the memory of Randi Nelson, who died of cancer in 2020 after 40 years as its principal flutist.

The orchestra commissioned a piece by composer Christos Hatzis in Nelson's honour. The piece, Up To Her Waist in Lupins, will have it's world premiere Saturday night.

Erin Brophey, principal oboist with the orchestra and a friend of Nelson's, says the evening will be emotional.

"It's really the opportunity for us musicians to honour her in music,"  Brophey said. "I also think that it is absolutely fitting that there's a new, incredibly gorgeous piece that is going to be added to the flute cannon, that there will be people that will continue to perform this piece and have to research who Randi was. It keeps her legacy going,"

So where did the title Up To Her Waist in Lupins come from? In part it alludes to Nelson's deep love of gardening.

Her husband and fellow orchestra member Terry Sturge was engaged to marry Nelson in 1987. That year Sturge, who was living in Saskatoon, returned to Victoria, B.C., where he is from to pick up the rest of his belongings.

"I was gone almost a month … I drove back toward the end of June all in one go, with some rest stops along the way. But it was a long drive,"  Sturge recalled.

 Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra
Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra

When he arrived in Saskatoon to see Nelson, he was greeted by a scene he will never forget.

"I remember it as if it all happened yesterday. The sun was behind her house and it was streaming through the trees. As I drove up to the curb, Randi was out in her front garden, literally up to her waist in lupins."

After Nelson died at the age of 65, Sturge told Saskatoon Symphony Orchestra executive director Mark Turner the memorable story of his wife. Turner passed it along to Hatzis.

"His imagination was just fired by that image, and he's written an amazing piece."

Sturge says the tribute composition was a surprise to him.

"I was just overwhelmed. I think that it's just such a permanent and a fitting tribute to somebody who meant so much to so many people and was really the heart and soul of the orchestra for many decades."

Brophey says Nelson touched many lives, including hers, especially when Brophey was getting started with the orchestra.

"I felt like she really took me under her wing, showed me the ropes of how things work in the Saskatoon Symphony, and kept tabs on me, helped me. There were many instances, particularly in that first season, where I really relied on Randi to keep me together," Brophey said.

"There was no reason for her to do that. That's just the kind of person she was."

Submitted by Terry Sturge
Submitted by Terry Sturge

Sturge recounts being "absolutely stunned" by the clarity of Nelson's thoughts, her organizational skills and simple desire to always do the right thing.

"She loved practising almost more than she loved performing, maybe even more than she loves performing," Sturge said.

Nelson was extremely influential in her profession, Brophey says.

"Her legacy lives on in her orchestra. It also lives on in the countless students that she affected in the province of Saskatchewan."

The orchestra will perform Up To Her Waist in Lupins on Saturday at TCU Place in the Sid Buckwold Theatre.