Over the past year in Toronto’s new music scene, composers working within the spectral and post-spectral composition aesthetic have been making their voices heard. First of all, in March we heard the music of Britain’s George Benjamin, the featured composer at the TSO’s New Creations Festival, followed by the music of guest composer Kaija Saariaho from Finland at the 21C Music Festival in May.

In With The New 1Philippe Leroux: And now in the early days of December, another major figure is coming to town – Philippe Leroux. Although originally from France, Leroux now calls Montréal home, thanks to his permanent teaching position at McGill University. His influence on the compositional aesthetics in North America is growing fast, with many students being drawn to working with him.

WholeNote readers may not be that familiar with Leroux, but three concerts planned for December 6 and 8 can change that unfamiliarity into an opportunity to dive deeply into the creative oeuvre of this remarkable composer. First, on December 6, New Music Concerts is performing two of his chamber works: AAA for seven instruments and Ailes for baritone and 15 instruments. And December 8 is a double concert day with the performance of his piece Total SOLo for 28 instruments as part of the COC’s free noon-hour concert series, followed by five of his works at a special concert at the Music Gallery. Leroux is this year’s Michael and Sonja Koerner Distinguished Visitor in Composition at the U of T Faculty of Music. It’s interesting to note that both concerts on December 8 will be performed by advanced student musicians: artists of the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble conducted by Brian Current (the COC event) and doctoral students from U of T’s gamUT Contemporary Music Ensemble, conducted by Wallace Halladay (Music Gallery concert). Not surprisingly, both Current and Halladay have been personally influenced either by their studies or performance experiences with Leroux’s music.

I got together with Halladay to find out more about that relationship and discovered the passionate commitment Halladay has for Leroux’s music. In answer to my question as to how they met, Halladay told me how he went out on a limb and contacted the composer, still living in France at the time, when he discovered that Leroux was coming to the Université de Montréal as a visiting guest artist. He had been a fan of Leroux, within a contemporary trend in European music, and wanted an opportunity to talk with him. He followed up that meeting by organizing a concert in Toronto of Leroux’s music in 2011, hiring local professional musicians.

What he discovered was a composer who was completely committed to working generously with musicians, helping them to interpret the score; and musicians, in response, absolutely stimulated by the interaction. This type of communication is, in part, what has led to Leroux’s appeal to different ensembles – performers just love working with him, resulting in many commissions. If you’d like to experience this firsthand, the public are welcome to attend a talk at the Faculty of Music on December 7 (5:30 to 7pm) as Leroux works with performers in preparation for the December 8 concert.

For Halladay, the excitement comes from the challenge of the scores, which often call for a wide range of sounds not always translatable into standard notation. This is why the communication between composer and performer is so important. Leroux is always learning and listening carefully to the sounds being made by the performers, open to how they could be notated, or other possible ways to achieve what he is imagining.

In my conversation with Leroux, he amplified this idea: “I compose to create a relationship with the listener as well as with the musicians. I write a page or two, and then try to listen as if I was the first listener. I always try to listen to my music as a normal listener, not as a composer.”

No doubt this refined approach to listening is one of the results of the years Leroux spent working at IRCAM, a research centre for sound and electroacoustic music in Paris. This research allowed him to become completely immersed in the complex nature of sound itself, and understand all the variables that make up a given sound. This knowledge of the full spectrum of the sound and how it can be used to define the compositional structure is what defines the spectral school of composition, which originated in France in the 1970s with the work of Gérard Grisey and Tristan Murail.

As someone influenced by this aesthetic, Leroux continues the tradition in his own way. During my conversation with him, he spoke about how his starting place is with sounds he finds both interesting and beautiful, sounds that have the biggest potential for development and variation, whether that be in their harmonic colour or their trajectory of movement. After the computer-based analysis of these sounds, he may come up with as many as 400 different chords, each one created by the different pitch components – the spectrum – of the different sounds. He takes up to three weeks to just play those chords over and over on a piano or synthesizer, many of which will have microtunings. Finally, through an intuitive process, he selects up to ten chords to use as his structure in any given composition.

Halladay elaborates on the importance of the spectral approach to composition. Working with timbre or using extended techniques on traditional instruments “is not unique to the spectralists, but what is different is they are using timbre for the structural organization of music.” This approach contrasts with the majority of compositional strategies where melody and harmony are the mainstays of organization, even if the music itself is pushing boundaries as in minimalism, post-serialism, chance procedures, the use of extra-musical ideas, or the fusion of different musical traditions. With spectral composition, “the process opens a window to all the elements that make up a sound, especially those aspects beyond the audible range” Halladay says.

University of Toronto’s New Music Festival. As Halladay emphasized during our talk, the educational aspect of presenting Leroux’s music is important, introducing unfamiliar music to students who would otherwise never be exposed to it. They are always impressed with “how good the music is.” So it is fitting that U of T’s New Music Festival follows up this experience with Le Roux’s work early in the new year with over a week of concerts running from January 30 to February 7, centred around the music of Canadian composer Allan Gordon Bell. One of the highlights of the festival will the performance, February 2, by Calgary’s Land’s End Ensemble of Bell’s work Field Notes, a JUNO award-winning work inspired by the prairie landscape. On February 1, the Gryphon Trio will perform works by Bell’s former students – Carmen Braden, Heather Schmidt, Kelly-Marie Murphy and Vincent Ho. The final concert of the festival on February 7 will premiere a newly commissioned choral work from Bell at the Contemporary Showcase Concert. During the festival, various student ensembles – including the Wind Ensemble, the Symphony Orchestra and the gamUT Contemporary Music Ensemble – will also be performing a wide range of works by Bell and others including an electroacoustic concert.

Music and Dance. One aspect of Leroux’s music that I didn’t mention above is his fascination with the ideas of movement and gesture in his music, whether that be physical movements made by performers, or metaphorical gestures realized through sounds that imitate a real gesture created by a human body. For example, to compose one of his pieces, he worked with data generated from a Bluetooth pen with a camera inside. An old musical manuscript was rewritten with this pen, which was tracking the speed or the thickness of the lines. This information was used as material for the piece. Other ways of exploring the relationship between sound and movement are highlighted in several other upcoming concerts.

For the opening concert of the Music Gallery’s Emergents series on December 10, curator and percussionist Germaine Liu has created a multidisciplinary ensemble to explore the unique space of the Gallery’s church sanctuary. Inspired by the collaboration of John Cage and Merce Cunningham, members of the ensemble will perform, compose and choreograph a series of new pieces that seek to blend the two disciplines of dance and music into an interdependent relationship.

Similarly, four improvising musicians, a painter and a dancer will explore the possibilities of interdisciplinary improvisation and communication in the NUMUS concert on December 13 in Kitchener-Waterloo. And on February 5 and 6, the Royal Winnipeg Ballet, in Toronto as part of their Ontario tour, will perform Mark Gooden’s choreography which was inspired by the stories of Residential School survivors, with music by Christos Hatzis and a performance by Tanya Tagaq.

Additional Concerts

Jan 11: Various composers’ works will be performed by Pamelia Stickney on the theremin, an early electronic music instrument, at Gallery 345. The evening will also include improvisations and a demonstration of the instrument.

Jan 14: Audiences will have a great opportunity to hear the brilliant and dynamic JACK Quartet in a concert co-presented by Music Toronto and New Music Concerts. This high-voltage quartet will perform works by John Luther Adams, John Zorn, Iannis Xenakis and an arrangement of a work by medieval composer Rodericus.

Jan 20: A celebration of American composer Nancy Van de Vate’s 85th birthday with a series of her mini-operas at Walter Hall.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

Andrew NormanOnce there was a time when aspiring Canadian composers were discouraged from writing pieces that required large ensembles, such as an orchestra. “No one will play it” was the advice given. But in Canada, that was before Esprit Orchestra came along. Formed in 1983 by conductor and director Alex Pauk, the orchestra is still going strong after more than 30 years of programming exclusively new orchestral music. Recently Pauk was recognized for his outstanding contributions to Canadian life and was appointed as a member of the Order of Canada.

That followed on the heels of a wildly successful tour this past spring to China, where according to Alexina Louie’s blog posts, they performed to cheering packed houses, with audience members clamouring to have selfies taken with members of the orchestra afterwards. Such was the reception of Canadian orchestral music in China! To read more about the tour, I recommend reading Louie’s posts, which can be found by going to espritorchestra.com and clicking on the blog link.

Play: The opportunity and possibilities that Esprit gives composers are about to be displayed to the maximum in their upcoming concert on November 15 with the programming of a piece titled Play by American composer Andrew Norman. Play is a massive and sprawling 47-minute work originally written in 2013 for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and is described as being akin to a “Symphony No.1.” In researching Norman’s work, I came across a November 18, 2014 episode of the Meet the Composer podcast series produced by Q2, an online radio station connected to the Classical WQRX station based in New York. Luckily, the last segment of the episode (44 minutes in) was dedicated to a conversation with Norman about Play. He talked about how he was given free rein to write anything he wanted, so he decided to go “really big.”

The podcast begins with a collage of different voices, each one describing their response to the piece. “Like a roller coaster ride, a jack-in-the-box, exhilarating, expansive, breathless, frightening, frenetic, and risky” are some of the terms used. With such a description, it’s best to go straight to Norman’s own words about the inspiration for the piece: the structure of video games. Although not a gamer himself, what intrigues him the most is the idea of “trying things again and again until you get it right. You try something, and you fail. You try again, and choose another door.” For him, this gaming process is very much about structural or formal design, the architecture of a piece. He even goes so far as to equate classical symphonic form itself as sharing similarities with video games. For example, in a Beethoven symphony, several ideas are first presented, but all mixed up. The ideas return in different ways until finally they appear in the right arrangement in the finale.

A similar process happens in Play, where the listener is confronted with a vast array of ideas at the beginning, a “gazillion ideas,” as Norman describes it. As the piece unfolds, some of those ideas become important and are transformed, while others are like wrong doors and are discarded. There are even multiple climaxes – each one coming up with a different answer, which turn out to be the wrong one, until the final climax appears with the right answer close to the end of the piece. He also uses the percussionists in a fashion analogous to the different operations in a game environment – pause, fast forward, rewind, etc. For example, every time a certain percussion instrument is played, that’s the signal for the orchestra to pause. It’s actually how he wrote the piece, thinking “what would it sound like if I randomly paused the music at any moment, sped it up, or moved it fast forward?”

Norman’s other interest in the piece is to explore the human potential of the orchestra, rather than just limit himself to using the orchestra as a field of sonic resources. Thus the orchestra members become different protagonists, interacting on an interpersonal level. This also extends to the underlying meanings of the word “play,” which suggests something both fun and also something more dark, like a chain of control with the musicians being “played” by the conductor. And given the role of the percussionists, they too become more like a conductor, playing the orchestra. In all, it sounds like it will be quite the ride on the evening of November 15. Joining in on the Esprit express that night will be two other works – Tevot, written in 2007 by English composer Thomas Adès and Canadian John Rea’s Zefiro torna (Zephyr Returns) from 1994.

Seismic Waves: There are several other upcoming musical events that also promise to create seismic movement in the local airwaves. In early December, Soundstreams is launching “Ear Candy,” a new series designed to engage the audience with new forms of presentation in more intimate venues. The first one happens on December 7 and 8 and features an electrified version of the Christmas classic, the Messiah. “Electric Messiah” puts together electronic musicians (John Gzowski, Doug Van Nort), extended vocals (Christine Duncan) and sound poetry (Gabriel Dharmoo) along with the Electroacoustic Orchestra of York University. The evening at the Drake Hotel will be bookended by DJ sets. Before all this gets going though, Soundstreams will be collaborating with Canadian Stage to present the North American premiere of Julie, which runs from November 17 to 29. This chamber opera composed by Belgium’s Philippe Boesmans is an adaptation of Strindberg’s 1888 play, Miss Julie, and is an example of Strindberg’s naturalism aesthetic that sought to create theatrical characters who were more realistic with multiple motivations for their behaviour. The story pits an aristocratic and desperate Julie against the ambitious social climber Jean, who inevitably become involved with each other, but not seemingly for love or mutual attraction. The score is minimalistic with the composer’s aim being to distill the music so that the narrative shines through.

Tagaq and Pallett: To get us rock and rolling into the Christmas season, what surely will be an explosive event will be happening at Massey Hall on December 1 when two previous Polaris award winners - Tanya Tagaq and Owen Pallett – take the stage. Pallett is a Canadian composer and violinist whose creative output spans writing orchestral music and performing in the indie music scene using programmed loop pedals to send his sound into multiple speakers. Tagaq, who appeared in R. Murray Schafer’s Apocalypsis back in June, is renowned for her extreme range of primal vocal sound that arises out of her Inuit throat singing heritage. She will appear with members of her band, percussionist Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubot, with a special appearance by the improvising Element Choir directed by Christine Duncan.

David VirellesGnosis: Shock waves will also spread on November 27 and 28 when Arraymusic and the Music Gallery team up to present the world premiere of Gnosis, a large-scale work created by former Torontonian David Virelles. Virelles sought out the Music Gallery as his venue of choice to present this work which offers a kaleidoscopic ride through the percussive rhythms of Cuban music. The evening will be an opportunity to hear the unique drums used by the Afro-Cuban secret society Abakuá, as well as master drummer Román Díaz performing with members of the Array Ensemble.

Thin Edge, Spectrum, Toy Piano: Three of Toronto’s younger and blossoming presenters are hot at it this month with their opening concerts of the 2015/16 season.

Founded four years ago in 2011, the Thin Edge New Music Collective begins its season with “Light Show” on November 29, including the Toronto premiere of Music for Lamps, an installation and performance work for 12 sound and light emitting lamps. Other works by Oesterle, Murail and Bolaños Chamorro complete a program that also includes visual illuminations and silent film.

Spectrum Music, founded in 2010, opens its season on November 14 with a concert delving into the complexities of colonial exploration. The program is made up of a suite of works narrating the adventures of explorers from the 15th century that left the world forever changed. As an interesting twist, each new work is paired with a reimagined classic folk song performed by singer-songwriter Alex Lukashevsky.

Kicking off their eighth season on Novembert 21, the eclectic Toy Piano Composers presents “To Be Announced III”– a program of six world premieres by emerging composers curated from TPC’s national call for new works.

Additional Concerts and Performances of contemporary music

New Music Concerts has two events this month. On November 8, an R. Murray Schafer CD benefit concert and on December 6, a program featuring two works by French composer Philippe Leroux, who currently teaches at McGill University, works by Gérard Grisey and Elliott Carter, and a newly commissioned piece by one of Leroux’s former students, Scott Rubin.

group of 27 and Eric Paetkau presents Loved and Were Loved by Canadian composer John Burge, November 6, in a novel venue: the ground floor “Garage” at the Centre of Social Innovation at 720 Bathurst Street.

New Music Kingston: Works by John Estacio, Vivian Fung and Jordan Pal, November 11, in the new but already muscally thriving Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston.

Music Toronto presents a world premiere commission by Nicole Lizée, performed by the Cecilia Quartet, November 5.

Heliconian Club celebrates the music of Canadian composer Kye Marshall, including a world premiere for harp duo, November 20.

University of Toronto Faculty of Music: Works by Christos Hatzis, Dean Burry, Julie Spencer, Dinuk Wijeratne and George Kontogiorgos, December 7.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

Lori FreedmanTo say it’s a month of music by Canadian composers may seem like a redundant statement for this In with the New column, as the majority of concerts I write about always feature music from our homegrown composers, improvisers and performers. However, this month is still a bit unusual, in that almost all the upcoming concerts consist of exclusively Canadian works. One composer, Linda Catlin Smith, is so lucky as to have three of her works performed all in the same weekend. Even she admits that’s a rare occurrence.

X Avant: A good example of this is the signature concert of the Music Gallery’s X Avant festival, which runs from October 15 to 18. On October 16, the MG is presenting “MG Encore” as part of the celebrations marking their 40th anniversary. In the October 2014 issue, WholeNote published an article written by Andrew Timar that spoke about some of the early history of the MG and the curatorial direction of the current artistic director David Dacks. The MG Encore concert takes a retrospective look at the gallery’s history by programming six compositions by people who have been part of that history. The entire festival, “X Avant X: MG40,” combines two concerts that provide a look back at the past and two concerts that look forward toward the sounds of the future. I spoke with Dacks about his vision for the festival.

The Encore concert was curated by Chelsea Shanoff with help from Dacks and a few members of the MG community. Using information sent to them by the Canada Council that listed all the grants they had ever received, they noted the number of pieces that had been commissioned by the MG. That list made them aware of what Dacks called “premiere culture” – the fact that so many commissioned pieces receive one performance but fail to have a second life. The Encore concert addresses that phenomenon in part and it influenced the final selection of repertoire (which was also based on a balance of musical style, era and gender).

The concert will present works by composers Ann Southam, Allison Cameron, Martin Arnold, Linda Catlin Smith, Erik Ross and Nic Gotham and will be performed by a custom-built ensemble made up of new generation players, thus giving these younger musicians an opportunity to acquaint themselves with music they may not have heard before. The concert is also a tribute to Nic Gotham with a performance of Miniatures, his final composition. These instrumental works were composed for an online installation related to Martha Baillie’s novel The Whale’s Ear, also known as The Search for Heinrich Schlögel. Postcards with excerpts of the novel were sent to friends who recorded themselves speaking the words on the card. The music was composed to accompany these extracts, and can be heard online on the In situ page at schlogel.ca along with images of the postcards and novel extracts.

Going beyond the MG Encore concert, there are a few other retrospective events to bring your attention to, both at the MG40 festival and in the upcoming season. On the festival’s opening night – October 15 – there will be a concert featuring the current members of the CCMC, the original free music orchestra that established the MG in 1976, coupled with a performance by frequent MG visitor, clarinetist Lori Freedman, performing several new commissions, including one of her own works. Before the concert begins that evening, there will be an historic gathering of former MG artistic directors who will discuss their different approaches and the artistic direction they took while at the helm.

Forthcoming in this year’s season, Dacks is programming a retrospective of Musicworks magazine, which began as part of the MG. For that event, the OCADU Student Gallery will be turned into an installation of the Musicworks cassette archives. The season’s final concert, MG Finale, is being designed as a counterpart to the Encore event. It will be a remix concert using materials from the audio and visual archives of the MG to create an installation-like experience. Stay tuned for the date on that one.

The two other concerts of the festival present an array of music that represent current and future trends and reflect the programming interests of Dacks, who loves to create hybrid evenings of music from a variety of genres and traditions. On October 17, Tyondai Braxton, son of Anthony Braxton, will perform his complexly structured music for laptop followed by New Chance, a project by Toronto multidisciplinary artist Victoria Cheong. The evening concludes with the sounds of Pantayo, an all-women gong ensemble. The following night, October 18, the rhythms heat up with the Absolutely Free trio, electronic artists who rap and create, in Dacks’ opinion, the most interesting hip-hop music in Toronto, particularly in how they work with words.

Dacks concludes our conversation by saying that there is no better time for the Music Gallery to exist. “People are looking for complex statements of what’s going on in their lives in this city. In a beer-driven environment you just don’t get to think about these things, or present them that often.” The Music Gallery has served as a home for experimental thinking about music and sound for several generations, creating really strong memories for so many people. And with those memories come strong viewpoints of what the MG is and what it should be. “That’s OK – better that there is creative tension rather than all smooth sailing,” says Dacks. To that end, the public is invited to contribute their voices and opinions at a Town Hall gathering on the afternoon of October 17 as the MG opens it up for input as part of their strategic planning activities.

New Music Concerts. NMC opens their new season in a similar way as last year with a concert by a touring Canadian ensemble. This year it’s the Vancouver-based Turning Point Ensemble led by Owen Underhill. Beginning the tour in their hometown on October 7, the ensemble will make stops in Edmonton, Winnipeg and Montreal, arriving in Toronto the evening of October 17. Celebrating their tenth season, Turning Point is a large chamber ensemble of top-notch performers with a commitment to presenting Canadian music and the commissioning of new repertoire.

And the programming for this tour is no exception. It includes the music of one of Canada’s most internationally respected composers, Alexina Louie, with a newly commissioned work, A Curious Passerby At Fu’s Funeral, which will be premiered throughout the tour in four of the five cities. What is unique about the Toronto concert is that the entire event is comprised of music by Canadian women composers. Knowing that TPE has commissioned many works by women, New Music Concerts requested a program comprised of a selection of these pieces. When I initially saw the program list, I couldn’t help but think of my September column in which I spoke about the rising presence of women in contemporary music programming. Here is yet another example of that trend. Alongside the work by Louie, the Toronto concert presents compositions by Ana Sokolović, Jocelyn Morlock, Dorothy Chang, and Linda Catlin Smith.

Louie’s new work is structured in three movements, which she says in her program note “create a dramatic composition full of highly charged emotions and extreme ranges of heightened activity.” Part of the inspiration for this piece comes from the sounds of the sho – a multi-reed Japanese mouth organ that requires the performer to inhale and exhale through the instrument, creating clouds of sound. The sho-like chord clusters are featured in the second movement, while Asian drumming inspires the third. Overall, Louie is creating an imagined scenario between both mysterious and explosive elements.

Linda Catlin Smith’s piece Gold Leaf was originally commissioned in 2010, with a revised version just recently completed for the Turning Point Ensemble. In the piece, Smith creates a rich tapestry of sound that reminds one of a painting – some parts are thickly layered with colour, while others are thin and almost transparent, with the percussion adding a shimmering quality, like a gold leaf applied to the surface. Another TPE-commissioned work in the program is Dorothy Chang’s Three Windows, inspired by the far-western coastline of Vancouver. While in town, Chang will be interviewed by composer Paul Steenhuisen for his podcast series of in-depth conversations with composers. This series also include conversations with Morlock, Catlin Smith and Louie and is available for free download or streaming on iTunes (apple.co/1OVGJtF).

Eve Egoyan and Linda Catlin Smith. If you’ve been paying close attention to the composers listed above, you’ll note that the music of Linda Catlin Smith will be performed at the MG Encore concert on October 16, and at the NMC on October 17. In addition, the weekend offers another occasion when her music will be performed – at the recital and CD launch of Thought and Desire, a new release by pianist Eve Egoyan comprised of world premiere recordings by Catlin Smith. The event will be presented at the intimate Small World Music Centre housed in Artscape’s Youngplace and will run for three nights, from October 16 to 18 where Egoyan will also perform music by John Mark Sherlock and Nick Storring. Egoyan is renowned for her intensely focused performances that bring audiences into an intimate connection with music they may not be familiar with.  This makes for a potent partnership in the interpretation of Catlin Smith’s piano works which are born out of her own intuitive connection with the instrument. As for the multiple performances of her music within one weekend, Smith says: “It will give me a chance to hear how these works are in conversation with each other and in what way there might be some kind of common thread.”

TorQAdditional October Concerts. Two notable events presented by the Canadian Opera Company this month include the world premiere of Barbara Monk Feldman’s opera Pyramus and Thisbe running October 20 to November 7, which I have written about in depth elsewhere in this issue. And as part of the COC’s Piano Virtuoso Series on October 8, a performance by John Kameel Farah of his compositions mixing a wide variety of styles and influences – early music, electronic dance, world and contemporary classical.

The TorQ Percussion Quartet presents world premieres on October 28 by Michael Oesterle and Andrew Staniland, and arrangements of works by composers Oesterle, Tim Brady and John Psathas (New Zealand). Early on in the month, on October 8 and 9, you can catch a workshop performance of Selfie, an opera composed by Chris Thornborrow presented by Tapestry Opera. Another early month event happens in Kitchener in celebration of the 30th anniversary of NUMUS on October 2 – the performance of Ghost Tango, a new chamber opera by Tim Brady with libretto by Douglas Burnet Smith. Also in the Kitchener-Waterloo area on October 17 at the Perimeter Institute, an homage to Italian minimalist painter Giorgio Morandi will take place combining improvised music with drawing gestures. The bass clarinet and percussion will recreate the voice of the Euphonopen, an instrument created for the live performance of drawing.


Two not-to-be-missed concerts in early October, already covered in the September In with the New column:

October 4: Esprit Orchestra. Compositions by Zosha Di Castri, Jörg Widmann, Omar Daniel and Thomas Adès.

October 7 and 8: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. “Barbara Hannigan Sings & Conducts” includes works by groundbreaking 20th century composers Luigi Nono and György Ligeti.

And also take note of:

October 8: Canadian Music Centre. Piano works by Canadian composers performed by Moritz Ernst.

October 10: 5 at the First’s chamber music concert includes a work by John Weinzweig (Beyond GTA).

October 15: Canadian Music Centre. Allison Angelo and Simon Docking perform and launch the CD Loves Its Light.

October 24 and 25: Aga Khan Museum. Performance of the multi-disciplinary OYAN! Project (Awakening), a work inspired by the music of internationally acclaimed Azerbaijani composer Franghiz Ali-Zadeh.

October 28: Canadian Music Centre. Ensemble Made in Canada, a rising piano quartet, performs works by John Burge.

October 30 and 31: Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony’s concert includes Steps to Ecstasy by Marjan Mozetich. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

As things go, the sweet sounds of summer are winding down as we gear up for the beginning of a new concert season. Three highlights of the summer for me personally were joining with 1000 other performers as a choir member in R. Murray Schafer’s Apocalypsis, singing with the Element Choir backing up the mind-blowing Tanya Tagaq at Nathan Philips Square and experiencing the purely delightful piece DIVE, featuring singer Fides Krucker and the music of Nik Beason. In all three, the voice was a predominant player. As I looked over the listings for this coming month, I couldn’t help observing the number of concerts and events featuring music by women composers and leading performers. One can question whether a point should be made about this, but given the long struggle for gender equality in both composition and conducting, it is worth noting that something is shifting. One element that appears in common among several of these events is the presence of the female voice.

New_1_-_Thierry_Tidrow.jpgMonk Feldman and Caitlin Smith: On September 29 Arraymusic is collaborating with the Canadian Opera Company to present the works of two women composers – Barbara Monk Feldman and Linda Caitlin Smith – for the free noon hour series at the COC’s Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. Monk Feldman’s piece, Love Shards of Sappho, originally commissioned by Arraymusic in 2001, is being presented in celebration of the COC’s premiere in late October of her opera Pyramus and Thisbe. The piece is built around texts written by the Greek lyric poet Sappho, who lived during the 600s BC on the Greek island of Lesbos. Renowned during her time, only a few fragments of Sappho’s writings remain. The texts used by Monk Feldman are clear and full of musicality. The words begin: Harmony clear voiced/I shall go/Clear voice I go/Clear voice/Garlanded/Adorned/ Delightful choir. Feldman’s music has been described as quiet and full of an intense intimacy. One can easily imagine the inspiring pairing these words and musical style will create, particularly in the hands of soprano Ilana Zarankin.

The other work on the program is Hieroglyphs, written in 1998 by Linda Caitlin Smith. Smith’s music is characterized by great attention to the sensuous qualities of sound and is a perfect concert companion in this program. Hieroglyphs consists of definitions of nine words drawn from dictionaries dating from 1859, 1906 and 1939. The list of words and definitions was assembled by Elissa Poole and Linda C. Smith and will be sung by Danielle MacMillan. The Arraymusic ensemble accompanies both works. 

Hannigan conducts: In the February issue of TheWholeNote, I interviewed soprano and conductor Barbara Hannigan regarding her upcoming vocal performances in the TSO’s New Creations Festival. During the interview, Barbara spoke about breaking new ground as a conductor, another field predominantly occupied by men. Part of her own unique twist on taking up this new professional path was to do away with the traditional conductor attire and wear clothing that allowed her to be fully expressive with her bare arms as she conducts. On October 7 and 8, she returns to Toronto to conduct the Toronto Symphony in a program of works that span from Mozart and Haydn to Stravinsky and Ligeti. She will begin the program by singing Luigi Nono’s Djamila Boupacha before turning to the orchestra to conduct Haydn’s Symphony No. 49 “La Passione.”

Lorca to Lludgar: Another Canadian soprano who has been making international waves with her “impeccably pure and iridescent” voice is also returning to Toronto to perform in Soundstreams first concert of the season on September 29. In “Beyond the Aria,” Adrianne Pieczonka will take the stage along with Toronto-based mezzo-soprano Krisztina Szabó to perform a collection of works, including one of my personal favourites, George Crumb’s virtuosic Ancient Voices of Children, composed in 1970.  Drawing on the evocative poetry of Federico García Lorca, the piece uses a variety of sonic techniques, such as the soprano singing into the piano strings, and incorporates temple bells, musical saw and toy piano to convey Crumb’s essential vision: a request to God to “give me back my ancient soul of a child.” Other pieces on the program include selections from Crumb’s American Songbook, Luciano Berio’s arrangements of songs by Lennon and McCartney and a world premiere by Argentinian-Canadian composer Analia Llugdar. A Jules Léger Prize winner in 2008, Llugdar’s works frequently incorporate singing and speaking voices while pursuing her aesthetic vision of a search for “the core of the sound.” Her piece in this program, Romance de la luna, luna is inspired by the Lorca poem of the same name. Soundstreams’ press release is in sync with the theme of this month’s column: a concert celebrating the soaring voices and talents of Pieczonka, Szabó and Lludgar, three exceptional musical women.”

Companion events: At a companion event to the September 29 concert, Soundstreams will present one of their popular Salon evenings on September 18 further exploring the poetry of Lorca as interpreted by poet Beatriz Hausner. Krisztina Szabó will perform new compositions by Anna Atkinson, Juliet Palmer, James Rolfe and Christopher Thornborrow, each of which was written using the same Lorca excerpt. Other events that offer insight into the concerts mentioned above include a discussion of the sources that inspired Barbara Monk Feldman’s opera on September 24 at U of T’s Faculty of Music. Arraymusic will present a talk on Linda Smith’s Heiroglyphs and the extended piano techniques in the work of Barbara Pentland on October 3 as part of the Toronto Public Library’s Music 101 series. In addition, at the Canadian Music Centre, September 26 will see the launch of Pioneers of Electronic Musica new book by Norma Beecroft, as well as a special performance by the Canadian Electronic Ensemble. David Dacks, artistic director of the Music Gallery, will interview Beecroft about her research covering both international and Canadian composers working in this medium.

ACWC: As is evident from these numerous events, the focus on the musical artistry of women is rising fast and strong. It wasn’t always this way, and in 1981 a group of women met to find a way to address the absence of women composers in concert programming across the country. The Association of Canadian Women Composers was formed the next year and is currently working to actively promote the organization and present concerts. On September 18, their “Earth Music Concert in Waterloo will feature music by 12 ACWC composers.

New Beginnings: With the Labour Day weekend marking the end of the summer, I want to bring your attention to an event that occurs each year at Yonge-Dundas Square – the New Music Marathon and Musicircus! produced by Contact Contemporary Music. Because Labour Day falls a bit later this year, you just might be reading this in time to go and check it out. On Saturday, September 5 there will be a series of performances and interactive installations, including John Oswald’s epic composition Spectre recreated for 1000 string instruments. Then on September 6 in an intimate setting in an east-end loft space – The Jam Factory – Montreal’s ensemble Shalabi Effect will be performing, among others.

Continuum Contemporary Music begins their season on September 19 with their program “At the Seams.” On centre stage will be the awarding of the Jules Léger Prize to Thierry Tidrow for his composition Au fond du cloître humide commissioned by Continuum. The program will go on to feature world premieres by three other former Léger Prize winners: Chris Paul HarmanAndré Ristic and  Alec Hall. Rounding out the program will be a work for Gergory Oh by New York-based composer Caroline ShawEsprit Orchestra starts off with their “Con Brio” concert on October 4 with a newly commissioned work by Omar Daniel, a thriller inspired by the Nordic myth of the husband killer that uses Estonian folk idioms. The other Canadian composer represented on the program is Zosha Di Castri whose piece is treated as an evolving narrative recreating the sounds of a fictitious culture. Two other works by Jörg Widmann from Germany and Thomas Adès from England complete the theme of musically creating other worlds.

New_2_-_The_Visit.jpgThe Music Gallery season gets underway on September 25 with a program of contrasting cellos. The Visit, a group comprising cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne and vocalist Heather Sita Black, will perform and launch their new CD Through Darkness Into Light. Europe-based Tristan Honsinger joins Montreal’s In The Sea, an improvising trio formed by Nicolas Caloia.  Honsinger has returned to his former home of Montreal where he got his start improvising more than 40 years ago to join up with the younger Montrealers of In the Sea.

Quick Picks:

September 19: Canadian Music Centre. ∆TENT New Music Ensemble. Tsurumoto and others.

September 21: “Hybridiana: Canadiana Music from the Modern Era.” Works by Somers, Palmer, Buczynski, Archer, Kunz, Lustig and Coulthard. Featuring Hybridity (Shaelyn Archibald, Daniel Wheeler, Emily Hill and Michael Bridge).

September 24: “Hogtown Brass at the CMC.” Music composed especially for brass quintet.

September 5: Music Gallery /Bicycle Opera Project. “Shadow Box.” Works by Thornborrow, Burge, Höstman, Rolfe, Burry, and others.

September 13: The Oratory. Missa Septem Dolorem. New composition for two sopranos and organ by music director Philip Fournier.

September 20: Shrinking Planet Productions. “Canadian Visionaries I.” Works by Schafer, Glick, Buczynski, Coulthard and Pentland.

September 25: Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts. “New Music Kingston Series: Dynamic Percussion/Piano Duo,” Kingston.

October 4: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. “Moveable Feast.” Two Bach cello suites plus two newly commissioned works related to them. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

New-Element.jpgThere’s a big show coming to town in June – and it’s all about the apocalypse. The piece I’m referring to – Apocalypsis by Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer – is an epic work divided into two parts, the first being a dramatic retelling of John’s vision from the biblical Book of Revelation and the second a serene multi-choir Credo that leads the listener from chaos into order. The performance of this monumental work, which runs from June 26 to 28, has been taken on by the Luminato Festival and involves an interdisciplinary cast of 1,000. Originally performed in 1980 in London, Ontario, this version will be vastly different in its staging and artistic vision with all sorts of gender-bending happening with the main characters. What I will focus on in my column is the role of the Element Choir and its director Christine Duncan in this production.

I sat down with Christine to talk about Apocalypsis as well as other performances she and the choir will be involved in this summer. Christine defines the Element Choir as “an improvising choir that uses a sonic vocabulary based on a system of hand cues to create instant compositions.” In Apocalypsis the choir will perform the role of The Choir of the Lost which in the 1980 version was performed by drama students. “The choir was a perfect fit for this text-based role, as they are already very comfortable in moving freely in the world of sound texture and non-sung elements,” Duncan said. Their role functions like a Greek chorus, commenting, responding and reacting to the main drama. And even though choir members can utter the text however they like, the structure of both the timing and dynamics of their utterances is very specific, with word comprehensibility being key. This departs from the usual Element Choir practice which is usually “anything is possible.” Before the performance begins however, some members of the choir will be improvising and babbling bits of biblical texts in multiple languages in both the lobby and the hall.

The story of how the Element Choir came into being is fascinating and a testament to the creative and innovative spirit of both Duncan and her partner, drummer and recording producer Jean Martin. Back in 2006, Duncan and Martin were creating an album on the Montreal label Ambiances Magnétiques. For the release concert, Martin came up with the idea of putting together a group of singers to expand and support the voices of the CD’s vocal performers – Duncan and DB Boyko. It was a brilliant move, as this more choral element added possibilities for textural changes and polytonality, giving a counterpoint to the voices and percussion. Inspired by this experience, Duncan pursued her own research on how to develop an articulate vocabulary for an improvising choir. Rather than re-inventing the wheel, she studied the “conduction” methods used in the London Improvisers Orchestra as developed by Butch Morris, as well as picking up ideas from John Zorn’s Cobra, Anthony Braxton, Phil Minton’s Feral Choir and Sarah Weaver’s Soundpainting system. She consulted with various composers to get a better sense of which musical elements this language would need; and she studied different world music-based singing techniques. This wealth of material was workshopped with a volunteer choir in the original Somewhere There space and her own unique language and approach was born. It’s a language that is shared among the choir members, with new ideas for hand cues often coming from the singers. She also credits Jean Martin, who is constantly envisioning new ideas and directions for what is possible, with playing the strongest advisory role. However, Duncan adds, years before any of this began, it was Western Front’s DB Boyko (in Vancouver) who first introduced her to the idea of conducting a vocal improvising ensemble at one of the WF’s community block parties.

The Element Choir’s reputation and performing schedule continues to grow, and this summer’s schedule is no exception, particularly as part of the cultural activities surrounding the Pan Am Games. After the Apocalypsis performance, the choir is right back at it with their involvement in the Singing River project, an interdisciplinary site-specific piece directed by composer Juliet Palmer and her Urbanvessel company. Running on July 4 and 5, the piece is a Pan Am Path event that is all about restoring our relationship with the Wonscotonach (Don) River. Both the Element Choir and Christine Duncan are part of the core performers’ team, along with the TorQ Percussion Quartet. The choir has played a role in developing improv-based material for the piece through a series of community-based workshops with members of Native Earth’s emerging artists program Animikiig, street artist Roadsworth (who will be creating a stencil installation inspired by the improvisations on the Lower Don cycling path) and the Regent Park School of Music Youth Choirs. The project also includes audio installations by Palmer and sound artist Chris Willes and a vast array of interdisciplinary performers, workshops, talks and guided walks. Check out Urbanvessel’s website for all the details.

The second Pan Am-related performance by the Element Choir is with the explosive Tanya Tagaq on August 8 as part of Panamania and the free staged events at Nathan Philips Square. Creating her own unique style based on the traditional Inuk throat singing she grew up with in Nunavut, Tagaq recently won the Polaris Music Prize for her Animism album, stunning audiences with her performance on the awards night. And the Element Choir was right there backing her up, along with Jean Martin and violinist Jesse Zubot, who produced her album. For Duncan, folding the Element Choir into this sea of sound created by Tagaq and her two-man band was not too much of a stretch, as she has performed with Tagaq and knows the arc of her shows with Zubot and Martin. However, in this type of situation, the choir sounds need to be unified and simple, functioning more like a textural device for dramatic impact. Incidentally, Tagaq will be playing the role of the Old Woman in Schafer’s Apocalypsis.

For Duncan, the Element Choir project is all about creating and maintaining relationships, building community and fostering a safe and supportive environment. It offers a playing field for experimenting with a diverse range of sounds and morphing textures, while offering opportunities for choir members to improvise their own solos. She has increasingly found an open door of support for her aesthetic sensibilities and approach to the voice as an instrument in educational environments such as the jazz program at U of T. And at the heart of it all, she is continuing to cultivate improvisational strategies that are more refined, intentional and artful.

New-Krucker.jpgMore Singing Stories: This summer is turning out to be the season of new dramatic works for the voice in various configurations. Back in the April edition of The WholeNote, I wrote about singer Fides Krucker’s role in creating vocal improvisations for the dancers in Peggy Baker’s locus plot production. This summer, Krucker is presenting and performing in DIVE, a work of sonic theatre set within a cabaret-styled environment, running from July 30 to August 9 and created in collaboration with composer Nik Beeson. DIVE is based on a play by Richard Sanger, which is in turn derived from Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s short story The Professor and the Siren. I spoke to Beeson and Krucker about their collaboration which combines electroacoustic tracks with vocal improvisations. Krucker plays the role of the Mermaid, a character who is “perfectly divine and wild,” an elemental force who shifts into a series of different characters and scenes as she interacts with the two male actors. Her shapeshifting qualities allow for a variety of musical styles to be used throughout, including composed music inspired by Greek Rebetiko protest music, and the Mussolini-era fascist anthem known as the Giovinezza used in the startling aggressive opening. An intimate setting amongst tables enables Krucker to travel around the audience, at times singing gently into their ears while her character’s nonhuman nature embodies such elemental forces as a storm and the animal spirits of whale and wolf. Beeson’s electroacoustic score ranges from recorded instrumental sounds and synthesizer textures to the use of a collection of Harry Partch-inspired cloud bowls made from glass jugs. DIVE is a story that juxtaposes the terrifying forces of fascism with those of the wild, raw and at times equally overwhelming elements of nature, set within a human story of intimacy, regret and the desire for ecstatic union.

Speaking of storms and political power, How it Storms, an erotic opera composed by Allen Cole, will be performed on June 17 and 18 featuring the sounds of the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan along with four operatic singers. The piece is inspired by a story from the Hindu epic The Mahabharata but set within Canada, with a female protagonist motivated by her desire to be free from patriarchal domination.

On June 13, the Music Gallery presents Fossegrimen,” a multi-stage event with three main sets that offer various takes on folklore, fairy tales and legend. Included are an opera composed by Chris Thornborrow based on the Grimm fairy tale The Moon, music by members of the fusion band Ensemble Polaris and the premiere of Elliot Cole’s Babinagar, a 20-minute work based on an Afghan folktale.

The final dramatically inspired new work which caught my eye in this summer’s season is Wendake/Huronia, composed by John Beckwith to mark the 400th anniversary of Champlain’s arrival in the southern Georgian Bay area. The concert on July 30 will feature the Toronto Consort, the Brookside Festival Chamber Choir and First Nations singers and drummers.

The Summer Festivals: After a long meandering walk through the voice-based performances of new works for this summer, it’s time to take a quick look at what’s happening at the various summer festivals. I promise you, this will be chronological, just to help with your planning.

Open Ears Festival (Kitchener): June 20 and 21

On June 20, Myaudia, a series of guerilla-styled sound interventions created by Peter Hatch, will take place in Kitchener’s Victoria Park, followed by the Open Ears Regatta with multiple musicians ringed around the civic square for listeners to drift between. On June 21, an offering of music/dance works with scores by Antoine Bédard, Justin Rutledge and Rodney Sharman, and improvisations by Lori Freedman.

Music Mondays (Toronto): June through August

A number of new works will be presented in this downtown Toronto series of lunchtime concerts. Here’s a summary lineup: a piano work by John Burge (June 8); composer and cellist Raphael Weinroth-Browne performing his own compositions (June 29); Jean Coulthard’s Image Astrale (July 6); works by Marjan Mozetich and Jack Behrens performed by Mary Kenedi (July 20); flute and piano works by Marchettini, Beaser and Schafer (July 27) and finally, a specially commissioned work for Music Mondays – Benedicite by Peter-Anthony Togni (August 24).

Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival: July/August

Interspersed amongst the festival concerts are the following premieres and new works: a performance by Dutch cellist, composer and improviser Ernst Reijseger (July 24); a remount of the mixed-media piece Illusions from the recent 21C Festival that intermingles new music by Canadian composers with Charles Ives’ enigmatic Piano Trio (July 26); a performance of James Rolfe’s contemporary masque Aeneas and Dido (July 27); the premiere of Andrew Staniland’s The Ocean is Full of its Own Collapse (July 29); and the performance of Czech composer Sylvie Bodorová’s Three Sonnets (August 2).

The festival also offers their regular six-concert New Music Now series on August 3 and 4. Composers represented in these concerts include Canadians Michael Oesterle, Paul Steenhuisen, Marc Sabat, Nicole Lizée, and Claude Vivier, along with internationally-based Nicolaou, Zorn, Rzewski and Birtwistle, among others.

Summer Music in the Garden (Toronto): July/August

Down at Harbourfront’s Music Garden, the outdoor performances include composer Barbara Croall (Odawa) performing a new commissioned work for pipigwan, a type of cedar flute (July 2); newly commissioned works by Canadian composers Scott Godin and Isaiah Ceccarelli performed by Elinor Frey on her five-string cello (July 5); Toronto’s Ton Beau String Quartet performing Bill Rowson’s String Quartet No.1 (July 30); and the Blythwood Winds performing new works by Lau and Estacio (August 13).

Stratford Summer Music: August 7 to 9

R. Murray Schafer’s music is often featured at this festival and this year, audiences can enjoy three outdoor morning concerts from August 7 to 9 featuring works from his choral nature-themed repertoire works. On the evening of August 7, a number of professional choirs will join together to sing some of his more spiritually-based music within a specially choreographed setting at St. James Anglican Church.


Improvised Music at Array Space:

June 9 and 27: Audiopollination

June 14: Somewhere There/Arraymusic: In Concert

June 19: Evoid Collective

June 28: Toronto Improvisers Orchestra

Canadian Music Centre:

June 4: Opus: Testing Workshop and Concert. Compositions created using sounds from the NASA Audio Archive.

June 11: Jacques Israelievitch/Christina Petrowska Quilico CD Launch, with works by Rolfe and Kulesha.

June 13: A Journey Inwards: Iranian-Canadian Composers of Toronto.

June 24: Elaine Keillor CD Launch. Works by Cardy, Morawetz, Weinzweig, Louie and E. Miller.

July 6: Gryphon Trio CD Release. Works by Current, Oesterle, Staniland and Wright.

July 24: Regent Park SongBook Premiere. Works by Gervais, Hamidi, LeBel and Daniel.

Additional Picks:

June 4, 6 and 7: Toronto Symphony Orchestra – John Adams’ Short Ride in a Fast Machine.

June 13 and 14: Toronto Symphony Orchestra – Gary Kulesha’s Torque.

June 17: Opera by Request – Tremblay’s A Chair in Love.

June 20: Rough Idea – Michael Snow and Ken Vandermark.

July 9: Music and Beyond Festival (Ottawa) – Voces8 concert including works by David Blackwell and John Tavener. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

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