Sound, Music and Nature's Song

1909 NewMusicAs we head into the summer season, spending time outside in the natural world is the one thing most of us eagerly look forward to after enduring the long winter months. And even though we are now witnessing the incredible enduring force of nature bursting with new growth all around us, we also know deep in our guts that life as we know it on the planet is in trouble. Already many places are experiencing the effects of climate change, super storms, rising sea levels, drought, and on and on. It has been argued by many that one of the reasons that we are in this situation is that collectively as an industrialized culture, we have lost our sense of deep respect for being in relationship and communion with nature. Our technological and unlimited growth ideologies have led to widespread misuse of the earth and its resources. So, one of the questions that I ask in response to these difficult issues is how can musical practice and sound itself cultivate a restored relationship and connection with the earth, with the land, with the natural world.

June: Since the early 1970s, Canadians have been pioneers in the field of acoustic ecology and soundscape studies, beginning with the groundbreaking work of composer R. Murray Schafer and his colleagues at the World Soundscape Project. So it is no surprise that Schafer is one of the keynote speakers in the upcoming “Sound in the Land – Music and the Environment” festival at the University of Waterloo’s Conrad Grebel College. Running from June 5 to 8, the festival/conference is the brainchild of composer Carol Ann Weaver, who is part of the music faculty at Conrad Grebel.

During a conversation I had with Weaver about her vision and motivation for creating a series of Sound in the Land festivals (2004, 2009, 2014), she spoke passionately of her love for the stillness and beauty of the wilderness. From these experiences she has cultivated a creative practice focused on listening to the soundscapes of nature and composing music in response to what she hears. It is this quest to recreate the magical moments in nature that inspired her to pull together this uniquely focused multi-disciplinary event in order to delve more deeply into the relationship between music and the natural world. The festival will combine concerts, workshops, keynote speakers and academic paper presentations to create a cross-pollination of ideas, sounds and people and the music of many musical cultures so that the “bruised and broken planet can yet be sung back into new birth.” Appropriately, Schafer’s keynote address is titled “Hearing the Earth as Song.”

Although the conference occurs early in the month after many WholeNote readers may have received their summer issue, the festival provides an important context for these larger questions of how musical practice can participate in the restoration of the planet.

The festival concerts range from soundscape music to European-based chamber, orchestral and choral, alongside African-themed, Korean, Balinese, Argentinian and First Nations music. For early risers, there will be a dawn soundwalk on June 7 and on June 8, a dawn concert at Columbia Lake that will include some of Schafer’s music specifically written to interact with the natural environment. It will also include works by composers Emily Doolittle and Jennifer Butler, both of whom have been profoundly influenced by their longtime involvement in Schafer’s wilderness collaborations. These words by Schafer sum it up: “Sing to the lake, and the lake will sing back!”

The African Kalahari Desert is also featured prominently in the festival and is the focus of the main evening event on June 7, which combines African traditional songs, African-influenced composed music and the second keynote address, “Hearing Songs from the Earth – Kalahari Soundscapes and Visuals,” by Gus Mills. Mills has spent many years researching African large carnivores and will use recordings and visuals to demonstrate the interaction between the behaviour of these species within an acoustic ecological framework. Earlier in the day, the concerts include a series of compositions created from soundscape recordings as well as the Grebel Gamelan performing traditional music from Bali.

The “Sonic Convergences Concert”on June 6 will feature four orchestral pieces, each highlighting natural themes. Included is Weaver’s piece Kalahari Calls, influenced by her experiences in Africa.  The evening will conclude with Earth Songs by Korean artist Cecilia Kim, a five-part multimedia piece combining music theatre, visuals and Korean traditional music. Texts for two of the songs are from the poetry book Where Calling Birds Gather by Canadian poet John Weier.

One final observation I’d like to make about this festival is to draw attention to the Mennonite legacy of the host college Conrad Grebel and its commitment to promoting nonviolence and justice. It is Weaver’s vision to expand that perspective to include peace and balance for the earth that makes this festival such a landmark event.

Open Ears: It seems that Waterloo is the place to be this June with the return of the Open Ears festival. Now in its 16th year, it runs from June 5 to 15 offering ten days of performances, discussions and installations presented in a range of different venuesand programmed around the overall theme of “Open Stories.” This year, the festival will be running concurrently with an exhibition of contemporary visual art organized by the Contemporary Art Forum Kitchener and Area (CAFKA) which runs through to June 29. Some of the Open Ears highlights include Griffin Poetry prize-winner and sound-artist Christian Bök (June 7); a concert combining viola da gamba and the hurdy gurdy (June 9); the Penderecki String Quartet with music inspired by T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets (June 10); the Nexus percussion ensemble appearing with Sepideh Raissadat, the first female vocalist to publicly perform in Iran after the 1979 revolution (June 13); a performance of Steve Reich’s epic work Drumming (June 14); and an opera marathon, featuring five new Canadian operas (June 15). There’s so much more in this festival; I urge you to check out the Open Ears website.

July: Moving into July and continuing with our theme of music in the environment, we arrive at Stratford Summer Music and onto Tom Percussion Island. From July 15 to July 20, the island will be filled with nine percussion-based instrumental exhibits on display for audiences to engage with, including a tongue drum made from a hollowed-out apple tree trunk, fire drums made from cut and tuned fire extinguishers, a piano dulcimer made from a 110-year old piano flipped on its side and a Dream Gong Maze for you to get lost in. At various times during the week, members of the percussion quartet TorQ will be on the island to perform their own “pop-up concerts” or join with the public in exploring the sounds of these instruments in the outside environment.

The TorQ quartet is in residence this year at SSM; in addition to their presence on Percussion Island they will be offering three concerts as well as running their annual Percussion Seminar designed for university percussion students. Seminar participants will offer outdoor “BargeMusic” performances and will join TorQ and guest faculty member Nebojsa Jovan Zivkovic on stage for the three concerts. Zivkovic, who now resides in Germany, is world-renowned as an expressive marimba and percussion artist and as a masterful composer. His works will be showcased on the July 25 concert, including his piece Tak-nara that features more than 75 instruments on stage. On July 20, TorQ will join with the Larkin Singers to perform works written for choir and percussion by Eric Whitacre, Riho Maimets and Colin Eatock. Their final concert on July 27 will include the Canadian premiere of the 99-percussionist version of environmental composer John Luther AdamsInuksuit.

Other new music events at Stratford Summer Music include a panel discussion on percussion music at the annualHarry Somers Forum and a return visit bythe Bicycle Opera Project, who will have pedalled from Waterloo after their performance in the Open Ears opera marathon earlier in June. The bicycle performers provide a car-free alternative to touring along with two collections of short operas and excerpts, including pieces recently talked about in this column: L’Homme et le ciel by Adam Scime and Airline Icarus by Brian Current and Anton Piatigorsky.

August: As mentioned earlier, the process of listening is of utmost importance in fostering this deeper relationship with nature. And one of most accomplished proponents of the importance of listening is American composer Pauline Oliveros, who has evolved a unique approach to not only music and performance, but also one that has influenced literature, art, meditation, technology and healing. She calls this process “Deep Listening,” and describes it as “listening in every possible way to everything possible to hear, no matter what one is doing.” This requires a heightened consciousness of the world of sound and the sound of the world, encompassing the sounds of daily life, nature, one’s own thoughts, imagination and dreams.

In one of my first personal encounters with her many years ago, she took a small group of us out into a forest to engage in this more expanded experience of listening. Not only did we listen to the soundscape, but she introduced a simple vocal composition (Sonic Meditations) during which we sang and intentionally directed our sounds to the trees around us. “They need to hear our sounds,” she said simply. This experience not only opened up a world of possibilities for my own work with sound, but this paradigm establishes a template for how we can communicate nonverbally with all living beings. It creates a model for a co-existent and reciprocal relationship, using sound and its vibrations as a vehicle for connection. In a recent correspondence I had with her, I asked specifically about her process of attunement with the environment. She stated that “the connection with all things happens through listening. When I perform it is my intent to listen inclusively to all that I can possibly hear. Inclusive listening seems to be magnetic. I have had many experiences with birds and insects gathering around me in outdoor concerts.”

Her work also challenges traditional artistic values by subtly moving the focus away from the artistic work as a separate entity and inviting each of us to open up how we are perceiving all layers of any given soundmaking or artistic experience. Her goal is to “balance out, and come to a different understanding of what can be done.” These ideas are central to cultivating our relationship with nature and expanding how we imagine sound as a significant ingredient of this connection.

In August, Toronto audiences will have an opportunity to experience her Deep Listening work. She will be delivering a keynote lecture at the Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium on August 15 and will be giving a solo performance on August 16. She will also be doing an artist talk as part of the Sound Travels Intensive that begins on August 19. All these events are organized by New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA) and more details can be found on their website.

QUICK PICKS

Toronto Music Garden concerts: Kahnekaronnion (The Waters): Original songs by the Akwesasne Women Singers and compositions by Barbara Croall, July 3.

Bach to the Future: Cello music by Bach, Piatti, Britten, and the world premiere of a work by Michael Oesterle, August 28.

Soundscapades: An exploration of the diverse sounds, landscapes and people of the city of Toronto with TorQ Percussion, September 7.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


21C – Beauty and Courage

1908-InWithTheNew-WeiweiLanSomething new is coming to town in May – a festival of music unlike any other. Aptly named 21C, this 21st century music festival produced by the Royal Conservatory spotlights new creation across the musical spectrum. The brainchild of Mervon Mehta, executive director of performing arts at the RC, the festival offers eight concerts over five nights, with 20 premieres, and runs from May 21 to 25. I sat down with festival composer-consultant Brian Current to get a first-hand overview of what awaits the listener and why this festival is so unique. Put simply, he describes it as a festival of “beauty and courage.” The combination of concerts offers an opportunity for the people of Toronto to come and listen to who we are musically, and to hear our city proudly reflected back. It’s a celebration of what’s alive and vibrant in our collective lives at this time.

Many of the performers and composers involved in the festival are people whom Mehta has brought in to perform inside the acoustical wonders of Koerner Hall, which opened its doors in 2009. Mehta approached many of these artists to either write something new for the festival or to come as guest performers. His vision is to reach out to many different musical communities and in so doing, offer each audience the opportunity to hear something familiar and something unexpected. Thanks to its main benefactor, Michael Koerner, the festival is scheduled for a five-year run and over that time will be an extraordinary opportunity to build trust with the listeners of Toronto. The concerts will also be live-streamed online so it also offers an opportunity to generate an international audience.

Read more: 21C – Beauty and Courage

Spring’s Synesthesia

inwiththenew gavin-bryars-credit nick-whiteAs I sit down to write this month’s WholeNote column, the date (March 20) tells me that it’s the first day of spring. Even though I see snow falling outside my window, I know that a completely different sensation is waiting in the wings: a mingling of the smells, sounds and colours of emerging spring. And with the arrival of April comes a plethora of in-with-the-new performances that promise to take the listener into a multiple-sensory experience.  

Back in 1827, the German philospher K.F.E.Trahndorff coined the term “Gesamtkunstwerk” to express the idea of a synthesis of the arts. About 20 years later, the (in)famous composer Richard Wagner used this term to describe his vision of the unification of all forms of art into one expression. This ideal became the foundational principle of his operatic style.  A companion to this idea is the phenomenon of synesthesia, a word created from the combination of two ancient Greek words meaning “together” and “sensation.” The word describes the experience that some people have when the stimulation of one sense creates an involuntarily response in one of the other senses.  An example would be someone who automatically sees colours while listening to music, or vice versa. So while the sensory world of spring begins to awaken around us, inside the concert hall the listener will have several opportunities to experience a variety of approaches to the combining of art forms, with or without an accompanying dramatic component. 

Art of Time Ensemble: The WholeNote’s cover story last month talked about the symbiotic relationship between dance and music in the work of Peggy Baker and how crucial her collaboration with pianist Andrew Burashko was for how she works with live music. This collaboration was equally formative for Burashko, who states that Peggy gave him “a whole new universe” in exposing him to a range of theatrical elements. And that without this infusion of new approaches, his ensemble, Art of Time, could not have happened. In fact his ensemble’s reputation has been built on the daring and innovative interaction with outstanding artists in many different artistic disciplines, including dancers, writers, actors and non-classical musicians. Their production running from April 9 to 12 is titled “I Send You This Cadmium Red: Meditations On Colour And Sound.” This exploration of the senses will combine music, theatre and visual projections to create a kaleidoscopic effect, which can best be described as a film, a painting, an essay, a play and a concert —all at once. In fact the whole becomes larger than the sum of its parts, and promises to be mesmerizing. 

The music of composer Gavin Bryars will provide the score for the evening. Two of his works will be performed by the ensemble: After the Requiem and the title piece I Send You this Cadmium Red.  The latter work by Bryars is based on a correspondence between the visual artist John Christie and Booker award-winning writer John Berger, who wrote The Ways of Seeing. To begin their collaboration Christie sent Berger a square of colour along with a letter that ended with the sentence “I send you this cadmium red.” John Berger’s reply was a musing on the cadmium red as well as many other colours, and the ensuing correspondence began a series of meditations on the essence of individual colours, while also delving into poetry, art history and memory. The correspondence eventually became both a book and a radio broadcast for which Bryars wrote music to underscore the colour themes in the texts.  Performing the text taken from these letters in the Toronto production will be actors John Fitzgerald Jay and Julian Richings.  To get a sense of the stunning explosion of colour and sound of this piece, I highly recommend viewing a short video from a 2011 performance of the work co-produced by Art of Time and Canadian Stage.

Toronto Masque Theatre: Even before the term Gesamtkunstwerk was coined, the art of masque existed. Tracing its origins back to the 16th and 17th centuries, this European form of interdisciplinary entertainment involved music, dance, song, acting, stage design and costumes. The Toronto Masque Theatre is dedicated to reviving this art form both through the performance of early works and the commissioning of new works.  On April 25 and 26 they will present two pieces exploring the Greek myth of Europa, after whom the continent of Europe was named.  Alongside a baroque-era work by Pignolet de Montéclair will be the premiere of Toronto composer James Rolfe’s  Europa and the White Bull.  With a libretto written by poet/novelist Steven Heighton, this 21st century masque will expose the darker sides of the myth: power, sexuality and ethics.  There are many versions of the original, but at the heart of the story is an encounter between Europa (sometimes equated with the goddesses Astarte and Demeter) and a bull, an animal sacred to the Cretan Minoans.  (As a side note, I recommend a unique take on this story set in Ontario:  the novel entitled Europa in the Wilderness written by Christopher Malcolm and published by Augusta House Press. )

Contemporary Opera: Then there is contemporary opera, a world that continues to imbue the traditional form with new elements. Last month, I introduced the FAWN opera company and their new workshop opera productions.  On April 11, they are premiering a new chamber opera by award-winning composer Adam Scime, L’Homme et le Ciel.  Based on sources from the second century, the libretto by Ian Koiter recounts one man’s struggle to live righteously. Scime introduces electronics into the score as both an enhancement of the orchestral colours and to further the narrative. On May 3, FAWN presents an event in their Synesthesia series: a showcase of eight short films by emerging Canadian filmmakers with live soundtracks by Toronto composers. 

Back to opera: the Essential Opera company will be premiering three new one-act operas by three composers from the Toy Piano Composers collective on April 5. Monica Pearce’s Etiquette combines music and speech to present various opinions about the role of etiquette in society.  Elisha Denburg’s Regina is based on the story of the world’s first female rabbi – Regina Jonas. Chris Thornborrow’s Heather explores the issues of cyberbullying.  Just a week later, on April 12, these co-directors/composers of the Toy Piano Composers group will be presenting a concert entitled “Tension/Resolution: New Music for Harp and Ensemble” featuring soloist Angela Schwarzkopf and the TPC Ensemble. All works on the program are composed by TPC composers, who represent an eclectic range of interests and aesthetics – from chamber music to improvisation to sound installations and noise art.

Soundstreams: The groundbreaking Australian Art Orchestra has evolved their own way of blending and reinventing by breaking down barriers between disciplines, forms and cultures.   On April 15, Soundstreams will present the Canadian premiere of their jazz-infused piece Passion After St. Matthew, a reinvention of J.S. Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. Five of the ensemble’s composers were asked to write new pieces inspired by five movements from Bach’s masterpiece and these are linked together by chorale passages.  However, the piece is a constantly evolving structure, and the Toronto performance will put together six members of the AAO with a 12-person ensemble of acclaimed Canadian musicians to create a unique new hybrid of the piece. The program will also feature a new work by Montreal-based composer Nicole Lizée, Hymns to Pareidolia, which will combine instrumental textures and turntable-based sounds in Lizée’s exploration of Bach’s themes.

inwiththenew rick-sacksMusic Gallery: Lizée pops up again this month in the Continuum/Music Gallery co-production “By Other Means” on May 4.  In a concert that explores non-traditional techniques and new musical devices, Lizée will combine her turntable techniques with the sounds of Atari video games. She will be joined in this evening of sonic experimentation by international composers Salvatore Sciarrino, Hugo Morales Murguía, Erik Griswold, and Canadian Thierry TidrowExtended techniques are highlighted also at the Music Gallery’s April 12 concert featuring Toronto-born musicians Noam Bierstone and Bryan Holt performing an evening of avant-garde Scandinavian works for cello and percussion, including two by Finland’s Kaija Saariaho.   This season the Music Gallery has been spreading beyond the walls of their home at St. George the Martyr church and producing events in other Toronto venues.  On April 16, they venture into the heart of Kensington Market and its fringe-arts haven Double Double Land to bring Brooklyn-based vocalist Julianna Barwick to Toronto for an experience of spiritual ambience from a one-woman choir. She will be joined on the bill by another Brooklynite, Vasillus, as well as Castle If and Toronto’s Christian Duncan with her astonishing five-octave voice.

Additional concerts to bring in the spring:  April 22 pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico celebrates the CD release of Glass Houses Volume 2 featuring compositions by Ann Southam. Diana McIntosh presents works arranged for piano, toy piano, mouth percussion, voice, live electronics and tape on April 16.  The Toronto Symphony Orchestra presents the Canadian premiere of Vivian Fung’s work Aqua on April 11.

Works by contemporary composers are increasingly being programmed by more traditional concert presenters and ensembles.  Here’s a quick look at what’s available this month. Works by Arvo Pärt can be heard in concerts by INNERchamber Concerts in Stratford, April 6 and by Masterworks of Oakville Chorus & Orchestra on April 12 and 13.  The Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents works by Michael Coghlan on April 6 and Claude Vivier on April 23. The New York Chamber Music Festival presents a world premiere by Michael Oesterle along with other Canadian premieres by various composers at the Heliconian Hall April 18.

And speaking of world premieres, at noon on April 24 in the Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, percussionist Rick Sacks presents a recital on MalletKat/keyboard, titled Polar Bears and Lullabies, that includes the premiere of a new work by Sacks titled “Necessary Outcome: A Meditation on Richard Dawkins” along with other works.

The end of the academic year in April provides an opportunity to hear what’s cooking among the students of the various music programs.  On April 10, Brian Current conducts the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble in Behind the Sound of Music, another world premiere by the prolific Nicole Lizée.  April 25, the Royal Conservatory Orchestra performs Murray Schafer’s Adieu Robert Schumann.  Up at York University, a concert of new compositions from the students of Matt Brubeck (April 1) is followed by a concert on April 2 by York’s New Music ensemble.

Quick Picks:

Canadian Music Centre:  April 13 “Microexpressions: The 21st Century Virtuoso”; April 24 “Lunch Time Concert.” Beckwith, Beauvais and Uyeda; April 25 “Mid-Atlantic: A Voyage in Song.” Works by Branscombe, Coulthard, Morawetz and others.

Musideum:  Association of Improvising Musicians (AIM): April 3, 10, 17

Larkin Singers: “Modern Mystics.” Works by Tavener and others, April 5 

Syrinx Concerts Toronto:Walter Buczynski Birthday Celebration,” April 13

Symphony on the Bay. “Celebration of film composer Mychael Danna,” May 4 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In the Spirit of Gaudeamus

1906 newmusicBack in the December 2013 issue of The WholeNote, I wrote about the developing collaboration amongst new music presenters in Toronto.  This desire to build community and mutual support gets a big boost in early April when the Music Gallery, Continuum Contemporary Music and Arraymusic team up to present “Gaudeamus: Deconstructed and Reconstructed.”  To understand more about the significance of this Dutch-Canadian contemporary music summit, it’s important to look at the legacy of the Gaudeamus Music Week in Holland.  

Right after World War II in 1945, a yearly festival and competition for new music was held in a village called Bilthoven, located near Utrecht. Imagining what Holland must have been like emerging out of the war, I find it remarkable that not only was a festival created to promote Dutch composers in such a climate, but that also it was named “gaudeamus” – from the Latin phrase gaudeamus igitur, meaning “Therefore let us rejoice.” The title of a popular academic song performed at university graduation ceremonies in many European countries since the early 18th century, the phrase is in the same spirit as carpe diem (seize the day) with its exhortation to enjoy life.  So the Gaudeamus festival is a celebration, an invitation for hope, renewal and rejuvenation, an antidote to the fear and terror of the war years. The Gaudeamus Music Week eventually opened up to include international composers and has now become one of the premiere forums for presenting the latest developments in the global contemporary music scene. The prestigious Gaudeamus competition is open to composers under 30 with the prize money going towards a commission for a new work. 

And now this spirit makes its way to Toronto bringing together members from the Continuum and Arraymusic ensembles with several Dutch musicians to present two nights of concerts at the Music Gallery.  On April 3, Gaudeamus will be “Deconstructed” during two sets of improvised music featuring both Canadian and Dutch improvisers.  Part of the evening will feature three comprovised works by Holland’s Michiel van Dijk and Koen Kaptijn, along with Canada’s Allison Cameron.   And in case you aren’t familiar with the term “comprovise,” it refers to a mixture of composed and improvised material and is the name of an American music series in the Boston and New York areas that aims to avoid or shatter genre barriers and explore the boundaries between composition and improvisation. Sounds like a perfect goal for a night of deconstruction.

Then on April 4, Gaudeamus is “Reconstructed” again with composed works by composers who have either won the Gaudemus award or had pieces selected to be performed at the festival.  The lineup includes Louis Andriessen and Yannis Kyriakides from Holland and eldritch priest and Michael Oesterle from Canada. Louis Andriessen who turns 75 this coming April, is one of Holland’s most celebrated composers.   Back in the 1970s, he turned minimalism upside down with his radical musical responses to American experimentalists Reich, Riley and Glass. He challenged these composers’ trance-like states with a European sense of edginess and angularity, creating powerful and aggressive results. Toronto audiences will be able to hear his high-voltage piece Hout, a work that embodies his trademark style of combining the rigours of complex chromaticism with rhythms derived from jazz and pop.  The “reconstruction” continues with Cyprus-born composer and sound artist Yannis Kyriakides’ piece Tinkling, which is based on Thelonius Monk’s Trinkle Tinkle.  Kyriakides left his native Cyprus to live in Holland and study with Andriessen and no doubt was influenced by Andriessen’s embracing of jazz influences. Kyriakides is also drawn to interdisciplinary combinations of musical forms and digital media, as is Canadian Michael Oesterle who will present a newly commissioned work.  Rounding out the evening will be a piece by Canadian composer, sound artist and author eldritch priest whose interests lie in sonic culture and experimental aesthetics.

Another feature of the Gaudeamus summit will be a roundtable conversation during the late afternoon of each evening’s performance to discuss whether there is still such a thing as a local sound identity, given that we can all be so instantly connected in the wired world.  These conversations will include a collection of musicians, composers, programmers and a sociologist to weigh in on the topic. And finally, if you’d like an opportunity to play with some of the visiting Dutch improvisers, a free workshop with members of Trio 7090 will be happening at the Music Gallery on April 5, from 10am to 1pm.

New Opera:  There is a new voice for contemporary opera arising on the scene, and its name is FAWN. Collaborating with emerging composers to create contemporary chamber operas, the opera and new music collective will be presenting excerpts of two of their produced operas by David Foley and Adam Scime, along with a new work by composer Cecilia Livingston on March 14.  This concert is part of the Emergents Series at the Music Galley curated by saxophonist Chelsea Shanoff. Adding to the experience of FAWN’s repetoire will be a selection of compositions by Michael Vincent, who is also writing an opera for FAWN’s upcoming season. One characteristic of this new company’s vision is to foster and support emerging musical and visual Canadian artists. Their “Synesthesia” concerts offer previews of new works in local art galleries. 

And then there is Tapestry which has been championing new Canadian opera for over 30 years. On April 4 and 5, they will be collaborating with Volcano Theatre in a showcase of work titled “Explorations” combining theatre, opera and dance.  Volcano is known for their physical energy and vision of creating work that explores identity, politics, history, and the contemporary human condition.  With both FAWN and Tapestry, we are witnessing another example of genre expansion through the fusion of opera with other artistic sensibilities and forms. 

Arditti String Quartet:  New Music Concerts and Music Toronto present the Arditti String Quartet on March 20.  Well-known for their spirited and technically refined interpretations of contemporary and earlier 20th century music, the contemporary string quartet repertoire would be unimaginable without them. The program includes works by some of the most venerable composers of our times, Elliott Carter, Hilda Paredes, Brian Ferneyhough and Helmut Lachenmann, each of which is part of their standard repertoire.  Carter’s String Quartet No. 5 is a perfect example of his signature technique of metric modulation, which can be described simply as a change in pulse rate or tempo where each of the two tempos have a shared relationship, rather than a sudden shift.   Hilda Paredes, originally from Mexico, wrote her second quartet “Cuerdas del Destino” in 2007-08, dedicating it to the Arditti Quartet.  Brian Ferneyhough, the master of the “new complexity,” wrote his Dum Transisset Quartet in 2006-07; it has been widely performed and recorded by the quartet. 

Additional Noteworthy Concerts (see Listings for Details) :

March 3: Wendalyn Bartley and Tina Pearson:  Tales from the Sonic Labiatory, Musideum.

March 6: AIM Toronto, Musideum.

March 7: Canadian Art Song Project CD launch, with works by Derek Holman. Canadian Music Centre.

March 16 and 18: Talisker Players: “Creature to Creature: A 21st-Century Bestiary.”

March 19: Les Amis: Duo X[iksa] from Japan.

March 19: University of Waterloo: Music by Carol Ann Weaver with Rebecca Campbell.

March 20: University of Guelph:  Time and Space in Time. Slowpitch (turntablism and visual aesthetics). 

April 5: Essential Opera:  Trio of new Canadian works. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

In Dialogue With History

It has now been one year since I wrote my first In With The New column for WholeNote, and in looking back over the past 12 months, I’ve made a short list of what I’ve observed as the leading edge of the new in our local music scene: the continual blurring of lines between musical genres (or the rise of “genreless music”); improvisation anchoring itself as a respected artistic voice and creative process; the role of community building and the creation of composer collectives; the movement out of the concert hall into new listening spaces and environments.

During this reflection process, a memory image came to mind from one of the first new music concerts I ever attended. It was back in the early 70s in Walter Hall at U of T’s Faculty of Music. The concert stage was full of percussion instruments, the lights were dim and candles lined the stage front. A bearded man dressed in white (John Wyre) along with some of his students moved as if in a dance amongst the assembled gongs, bowls, drums and no doubt all sorts of instruments from around the world. The mesmerizing cornucopia of sounds they invoked opened up a new world of possibilities in my imagination. I heard sounds that previously had existed only at the edges of my awareness. I was hooked. Determined to experience more, I immediately signed myself up to attend New Music Concerts, thereby exposing myself to the wild and adventurous sound experiments taking place both here in Canada and internationally.

bbb - in with the new 1New Music Concerts: And now 40 years later, New Music Concerts continues to bring these cutting-edge sonic visions honed by composers and performers to its audience members. The program they are presenting on March 2 represents the creative interests of many composers active in the 1970s. It will feature the multi-talented percussionist, improviser and composer Jean-Pierre Drouet playing works by some of these international composers that NMC introduced to Toronto audiences in its early days: the likes of Kagel, Rzewski, Aperghis and Globokar.

Threads common among these composers include the intersection between music and theatre, the use of improvisation and extended techniques, and (the thread I’ll focus on in this month’s column) the practice of creating music that reflects upon socio-political issues.

On the program, two solos from Kagel’s Exotica will be performed. It’s one of his first pieces to focus on musical and political history, and tiptoes that elusive edge that exists between the West and the world beyond. Scored for an array of non-European instruments, Exotica reflects on the issue of what makes the music exotic. Is it because the sounds have been shaped by the pen of a Western composer, or rather is it because with the sounds of these instruments, it’s not possible to produce music with typical Western features? It’s a provocative topic to reflect upon all these years later, especially given the high interest amongst composers steeped in western musical traditions in using  an ever-expanding range of instruments and sound sources. Even my own initiatory experience of new music is implicated in this matter.

Continuing, Globokar’s work Toucher, based on scenes from Bertolt Brecht’s play Life of Galileo raises issues of being silenced by structures of power (the church, government, and tyrannical ideologies). Rzewski, renowned for works that exhibit a deep political conscience, is represented with To The Earth, which stands in solidarity with the growing consciousness of the environmental movement. Drawn to the combination of music and text, Aperghis’ Le corps à corps narrates the thrills of a car racing event from multiple perspectives using both sound and spoken word. It portrays the composer’s practice of transporting everyday events to a poetic, often absurd and satirical world. Rounding out the program is Il libro celibe by Giorgio Battistelli, a composer fascinated by alchemy, psychology and the ideas of Marcel Duchamp.

bbb - in with the new 2New Creations Festival: What is compelling about the approach of the composers presented by New Music Concerts is their dialogue with cultural and historical references. It’s fascinating to note that this practice is also evident in many of the works being programmed at this year’s New Creations Festival, the Toronto Symphony’s annual celebration of contemporary orchestral works running March 1 to 7.  Each of the three pieces by featured composer John Adams engages in a conversation with either political/social history or the history of music. Renowned for his post-minimalist style, Adams’ music is full of contrasts and tends to be more directional and climactic than what we usually associate with minimalist music.  His Doctor Atomic Symphony (March 1) is based on orchestral music from his opera Doctor Atomic. With a libretto created by Peter Sellars from a variety of sources (interviews, scientific manuals and poetry), the story centres around the final hours leading up to the first atomic bomb explosion at the Alamagordo test site in New Mexico in June, 1945. The music conveys the epic struggle and moral dilemma surrounding the impact of the force about to be unleashed into the world, which in hindsight, ushered in the atomic age.

Adams’ two other works—Slonimsky’s Earbox (March 5) and Absolute Jest (March 7)—are dialogues with some of the great names of musical history. Nicolas Slonimsky was a witty Russian author whose output included several books on music, including the Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns. Adams makes use of this compendium of modes in his Earbox piece, which arose out of his admiration for another Russian creator—Igor Stravinsky—and the use of modal scales in Stravinsky’s The Song of the Nightingale. And finally, Absolute Jest is an adaptation of the light and energetic style found in Beethoven’s late quartet scherzos composed as a concerto for string quartet and orchestra. Expect to hear a warped sense of time and harmony in this fast-paced dance.

Three other works in the festival also engage in a conversation with musical history. Canadian Vincent Ho’s City Suite (March 7) is inspired by author Eric Siblin’s book The Cello Suites which outlines the history of J.S. Bach’s works for solo cello. In Finnish composer and pianist Magnus Lindberg’s Piano Concerto No.2 (March 1), originally written for the virtuosic capabilities of festival guest performer Yefim Bronfman, we witness his tussle with the complexity of pianistic history. Former Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen took on a similar challenge during the composing of his Violin Concerto (March  5). His solution was to create a deeply personal narrative summing up everything he had learned and experienced in his life as a musician.

More-than-Human Communication: And when it comes to the exchange of ideas, what could be more cutting edge (or to be more historically accurate, steeped in ancient traditions), than inter-species communication? Back in the spring of 2013, the Music Gallery offered audiences an opportunity to listen to two recordings of humpback whale song in combination with electronics that had been released on their Music Gallery Editions label back in the 1970s. As a continuation of that initiative, the Gallery will be presenting an event on February 22 that combines both lecture and music. Bioacoustics researcher Katherine Payne will team up with recording artist Daniela Gesundheit and a group of Toronto-based singers and instrumentalists to create a unique sonic exchange with Payne’s recordings of humpback whales and African elephants.

Improvisation: As mentioned in the opening paragraph, one of the major trends I’ve noticed over the past year is the presence of improvisation as a force to contend with. Improvisation relies on cultivating a listening presence, which is at the heart of all true communication and dialogue. From February 21 to 23 at the Tranzac, the Somewhere There Creative Music Festival offers a full schedule of concerts and lectures by performers and thinkers that reflect the vitality and diversity of what’s happening on the improv scene in the Toronto area. The two festival lectures reflect on the history of experimental music in Canada and the roots of Toronto musical improvisation. Two other improvisation-focused events this month include “The Array Sessions,” a concert of Toronto-based improvisers on February 6 at the Arraymusic studio and the Music Gallery’s Jazz Avant event February 8 featuring the saxophone and electronic improvisations of L.A. based musician Anenon.

Additional Concerts:

Feb. 6: A Soldier’s Tale - a dance theatre work with music by John Gzowski, COC.

Feb. 8: New works created for the Toy Piano Composers ensemble by Doelle, Dupuis, Murphy-King, Versluis, Taylor, Heliconian Hall.

Feb. 13: ∆TENT New Music Ensemble presents works inspired by remembrances of childhood by composers Tsurumoto and Southam, CMC.

Feb. 18: “Women in the Power House” – works by leading female composers, COC.

Feb. 19: Reverb Brass presents works by Ruo, Ridenour, Golijov, Carter, Maimets, Hillborg, Agnas, Lutoslawski, Gallery 345.

Feb. 21: Thin Edge New Music Collective presents new works by Anna Pidgorna (for two violins and antique wooden door) and Anna Höstman, along with performances of compositions by Ana Sokolović and Brian Harman, Gallery 345.

Mar. 2: Orpheus Choir presents the premiere of a new composition by Charles Cozens entitled Tres Bailes Latinos, influenced by the composer’s relationship with Cuban musicians, Grace Church-on-the-Hill.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


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