Artist Spotlight: Nicholas Denton Protsack

Kelowna’s Nicholas Denton Protsack is emerging as one of Canada’s exciting new composers, while also honing his talents as a concert cellist.  The Canadian Music Centre BC recently described him as a “(composer) to keep a close eye on,” which Chamber Music Kelowna fully intends to do.

Growing up in Kelowna, Nicholas developed an early interest in piano and cello.  As he pursued intensive music study, he has fond memories of discovering a deep love for chamber music, in part through attending CMK concerts.  Nicholas says that, in considering his career choices, the centrality of music to his life was clear, and he obtained undergraduate and graduate degrees at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music.  His degree programs were an unusual combination of performance and composition study, tailored especially to the talents and interests of this extraordinary young man.  Now a Ph.D. candidate in music at Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, Nicholas has retained close ties to Canada and Kelowna. 

Nicholas shared with us what’s been keeping him busy over the last couple of years in addition to his studies.  Just prior to the COVID pandemic, he was commissioned by the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra to “reimagine” a movement of Salieri’s Triple Concerto for Oboe, Violin and Cello.  Kelowna concert-goers may remember that the Concerto was performed with its original first and second movements, then transitioned into a third movement reinterpreted for the times – with the composer of this new work as part of the trio.  Needless to say, it was warmly received by its home-town audience. 

That was only the beginning of a productive composition period; further works have followed, making the pandemic a productive time. Nicholas created a set of four short works entitled “Street View Sketches” for the cLoud Collective in Christchurch, NZ.  Next, he has a new work that will première in April with the San Francisco contemporary chamber music group Ensemble for These Times (E4TT) which is quite novel in its use of alternate, open-ended notation; it does not specify the type or number of instruments for its performance, and can be done with any ensemble of 3 or more which is prepared for the strongly improvisational experience. 

Here at home, Nicholas has formed a duo with Kelowna percussionist (and CMK Board member) Andrew Stauffer called “Sounds Like Things,” making music and creating soundscapes with everyday found objects.  Together with Harvard poet Kythe Heller, they have made “FIREBIRD,” a full-length album of spoken voice and experimental music.  The work, a realization of Heller’s Massachusetts Book Award-nominated poetry collection of the same name (Arrowsmith Press), draws from a vast array of sonic resources that include spoken verse, vocalizations, cello, pitched and unpitched percussion, hammer dulcimer, bells, found objects (including boiling water, gardening gloves, fire, and snow), and field recordings. This sonic world probes the capacity of the human spirit to endure under extreme conditions.  Fifty percent of all the proceeds from “FIREBIRD” will be donated to organizations dedicated to environmental disaster relief in British Columbia. The album can be found at

Wrapping up his time in Canada before he heads to New Zealand at the end of the summer, Nicholas is currently writing a work for the Toronto Summer Music Festival’s Academy Program, which some describe as a chamber music training ground.  He is creating a piece for 12 strings and piano which will première in July at Koerner Hall.  And then it will be back to the academy for this doctoral student, who is almost certainly destined to make a substantial mark in the music world in the years ahead.  We are privileged that Nicholas is part of our Kelowna music community, and grateful that he shares his gifts with Chamber Music Kelowna.

Contributed by Lorna Higdon-Norrie

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