New_1.pngAs I sit to write this column, I’m still feeling the after-effects of the May 25 concert with the Kronos Quartet and guest performer Tanya Tagaq at the Royal Conservatory’s 21C Music Festival – an event that was featured in last month’s WholeNote. It was a truly sublime moment in time, making it difficult to find words that encapsulate the experience of being transported into a kaleidoscope of global musical styles and then beyond into uncharted territory – and all within the scope of the two violins, viola and cello, plus voice. The anticipated commission from Tagaq for the quartet was, as first violinist David Harrington said during his introduction, “unlike anything you’ve ever heard for the string quartet.” With a string quartet score created from transcriptions of recorded improvised vocalizations made by Tagaq in a studio a few months ago, and Tagaq adding a live vocal layer, it was as if the earth itself was opening up to reveal new layers and aspects of what’s possible. It began with creaking string tones and subterranean vocal tones which started out so low in range that I couldn’t help be reminded of another vocal pioneer, Roy Hart, whose principle of the eight-octave voice was at the heart of his company’s research throughout the 1960s and 70s. It was this push into stretching vocal boundaries that opened up possibilities for composers to write for the extended voice. The performance of Nunuvut, the second work performed by Tagaq and the quartetin the concert, was more improvisational in nature, with a series of intense, intimate and sensual duets that Tagaq engaged in with each individual performer before turning to the capacity audience to deliver a sonic portrait of our collective presence. It was a spectacular beginning to the upcoming summer season.

Launching into the summer season usually means it’s festival time, which often translates into opportunities to experience music that pushes at the far outer edges. Certainly with the Luminato Festival this year, this will be the case, and not just with its music programming since this year’s primary venue, the Hearn Generating Station, will be making its own artistic statement. Situated on the waterfront, it’s the site of a de-commissioned power station that will be turned into a temporary cultural venue for the next ten years of Luminato. With a series of interlocking areas designed for performances and exhibitions, along with restaurant and club spaces, the building will take on the air of an architectural installation. Another in-house feature of this environment will be a state-of-the-art surround sound system and projection space with multiple screens. Which, as it turns out, is the perfect venue for the fully immersive music and visual concert piece created by composer Rose Bolton and filmmaker Marc de Guerre being performed on June 22.

The piece, Song of Extinction, is just as its title suggests – a work that raises the critical issue of species extinction through the combination of melody, word and image. And although songform is at the heart of Bolton’s compositional language for this piece, the musical scale of the project is extensive, combining youth and adult choirs, an instrumental chamber ensemble, percussion, two keyboard players, and electronics. The work was originally initiated by Music in the Barns under the direction of Carol Gimbel whose specialty is in creating multimedia and site-specific installation concerts.

Despite the focus on the difficult and critical theme of what is happening to the mass disappearance of species on our planet, the work is not activist in nature. As de Guerre explained in a recent conversation both he and Bolton had with me about the piece, “I believe in the power and beauty of images. In the same way that music gets under your skin and moves you, and you don’t really know why or what it means or what it’s doing to you, the images are functioning in very much the same way.” He continued to reflect on this topic by saying “I find it odd given what’s happening on the planet that there hasn’t been a body of work with this theme from a more art perspective rather than it just being about political activism.”

And that’s why using song is so important for both of these creators. They think of the piece as “a heartbreak song in the same way that songs are about heartbreak. This is about our heartbreak because of what we do to the earth, to the planet.” Their ultimate priority is to make a work that is emotionally powerful, to lead people into an experience of “feeling what we are doing to the earth.” In fact, de Guerre says, “If I don’t feel anything when I experience a work of art, then I don’t consider it to be successful.” Thus the nature of the piece is a poetic, impressionistic and non-literal approach to the theme, with the film images conceived around the music.

Bolton’s approach to song was to create melodies that people would love to sing and love to hear – melodies that would “stick in people’s heads after the performance.” For inspiration, she first turned to the songs of Robert Burns and his way of writing that asks universal questions. The next step was to ask the Order of Canada-appointed poet Don McKay to become involved. She asked him if he could write in a similar way, creating texts that addressed her questions related to the theme of extinction. The Newfoundland-based McKay is a poet whose strong personal connection to the land infuses his work, creating poetry that both Bolton and de Guerre described as “grounding.” His way of using precise language to create images that are sweeping and allegorical in nature was a perfect fit, and with these texts, Bolton was able to take their essence and turn them into lyrics for the songs. The texts will also be published as a book of poems that will be available at the concert.

The songs will be performed by both the VIVA! Youth Singers of Toronto and Tafelmusik Chamber Choir, with the adults representing the current generation and the children the generation of the future. Both choirs will be engaged in conversations between the present and the future. The keyboard players will also perform on the harpsichord as well as electronic keyboards, with the composer performing the electronics on her laptop as well as triggering the spatial movement of the sound amongst the multiple speaker sound system. The electronics are more ambient in nature, like a wash, and will include live processing of the instrumental sounds with simple delay effects. The overall arc of the piece begins with an air of innocence in the first half, with almost a feeling of reverence towards nature and nonhuman species. Then at a pivotal point, things take a turn for a more solemn and desperate view towards our world and the reality of extinction. Song of Extinction promises to be a powerful and evocative meditation on those realities that are often difficult to cope with. No doubt however, we as audience members respond, we will be left with more stirring questions than solid answers.

One of the other boundary-pushing musical events of Luminato is the return of Unsound Toronto, a two-night sonic playground on June 10 and 11 combining ambient, drone, noise and other forms of experimental soundmaking. As well, a giant listening party is being planned on June 16 for all those who want to experience the recording of last year’s Apocalypsis performance composed by R. Murray Schafer and performed by a cast of 1000 or more.

Parallel to these events at the festival is the concert celebrating 40 years at the Music Gallery on June 11. Combining new music, video, performance and site-specific installation works, the evening promises to be a sonic portrayal of past, present and future. Starting the evening off will be a performative walking tour of St. George the Martyr’s courtyard highlighting oral histories, followed by performances with Mridangam master drummer Trichy Sankaran, Tenderness (aka Chrissy Reichert) alongside dancer Allison Peacock, and turntable artist SlowPitchSound (Cheldon Paterson) who will mine the Gallery’s sound archives to create new visions out of past performances. And while on the topic of summertime wild and untamed sound events, I must mention the Electric Eclectics festival that takes place from July 29 to 31 in the countryside near Meaford. Directed by Gordon Monahan and Chris Worden, the festival combines experimental music, sound art, DJ artists and sound installations in a relaxed camping environment. Check out their website for the extensive lineup, which includes two noteworthy duos: Not the Wind, Not the Flag, and the duo of Jennifer Castle and Mary Margaret O’Hara.

New_2.pngThe Rest of the Summer: Here are my listings of what else to look out for during the hazy and hot months ahead.

JUNE

One highlight early in the month is Spectrum Music’s Tower of Babel concert on June 4 with new compositions evoking various interpretations of this iconic story which appears in Christian, Islamic and Jewish religious texts. The pieces will explore the question of whether this ancient story can shed any light on contemporary divisons amongst nations and religious groups. Globally acclaimed oud player, Amos Hoffman, will be one of the performers. For improvised music lovers, there is DroneDoctor, a drone music meditation concert on June 5; the CCMC performing at Gallery 345 on June 11; and Audio Pollination on June 25.

Sounds of the Next Generation (SONG) will be performing Spirit Garden: Spring Planting by R. Murray Schafer, an outdoor music drama, running June 11 and 12 on a farm in Cold Springs, near Cobourg. The piece involves planting a garden, and will be followed up by a harvesting concert on September 25. On June 25 the Canadian Music Centre presents new works by Chris Paul Harman including his Five Japanese Children’s Songs and the world premiere of his Five Pieces for Clarinet and Piano. Other new and traditional works inspired by Japan will also be included.

JULY

On July 17, Soundstreams Salon presents the premiere of Emilie Lebel’s collaboration with Jumblies Theatre and community participants. Over at the Stratford Summer Music Festival, TorQ Percussion will perform Strange and Sacred Noise by John Luther Adams, on July 26. The work is a visual and aural exploration of the sonic geography of Alaska, answering the composers question “What would it sound like if the wilderness could sing, and I could hear it singing?”

One of the largest summer festivals to include an extensive amount of new concert music is the Ottawa International Chamber Music Festival. I’ve compiled a summarized overview, but I also recommend checking the listings for more details. On July 22, there is a concert of seven Canadian works for oboe and piano. Two events for new music lovers take place on July 26: a performance of Reciprocity, a multidisciplinary work by UK composer Patrick Cohen is followed later in the evening by a series of boundary-crossing works performed by Jesse Stewart, David Mott and Ernst Reijseger. On July 29 the Cecilia String Quartet performs works by four Canadian women composers, while on July 31 Morton Feldman’s masterwork, Clarinet and String Quartet, will be played by James Campbell and the Quatuor Bozzini.

AUGUST

Continuing with the Ottawa Chamberfest, their special New Music Miniseries comprised of three concerts spread throughout the day on August 1. The first includes works by Canadians Palmer, Di Castri and Murphy, followed by a second concert of seven works by Canadian composers for violin and piano. The miniseries ends up with a more international concert, with two works by Pierre Boulez among others. The final new music work of the festival is a performance of Christos Hatzis’ landmark multidisciplinary spectacle, Constantinople, on August 2.

Mr. Shi and His Lover, a contemporary Chinese language music theatre work composed by Torontonian Njo Kong Kie will be presented as part of this year’s SummerWorks Performance Festival, running from August 5 to 8 and 11 to 13. The Classical Unbound Festival which occurs in Prince Edward County has a Living Canadian Composer Stream of concerts, with pieces by Morlock Buczynski and Mozetich spread throughout their concerts on August 19, 24 and 26. And finally, Summer Music in the Garden’s September 1 concert will feature works by Ann Southam.

Have an enjoyable and relaxing music-filled summer and keep your eyes posted for details of Contact Contemporary Music’s annual extravaganza on Labour Day weekend at Dundas Square.

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


New_1.jpgIf you are a fan of minimalist music and are craving more after the recent performances of Steve Reich’s music in Toronto, you’ll want to experience Surface Image, performed by Vancouver-born pianist Vicky Chow and composed by American Tristan Perich. The hour-long piece characterized by a constant pulse of repetitive rhythmic patterns for piano and electronics will be performed at the Music Gallery on May 14 and at the Open Ears Festival in Kitchener on May 28. Chow commissioned the work in 2013 and already there is a recording on the New Amsterdam label along with a growing list of live performances. As she said in a recent phone interview, “It just happens to be a piece people are interested in, and I end up performing it a lot.”

The piece begins for solo piano, with patterns based on one harmony and simple rhythms. As the first section unfolds, the electronics slowly enter, and before you know it you’re immersed in a huge sea of piano and electronics. Throughout the piece, the relationship between the live piano part and the electronics changes, as human and machine dance with the other. Accompanying, supporting, leading, following and departing from one another, each of the sections highlights different ways the piano and electronic sounds interact with one another. Each section is like a different planet with a completely different mood, becoming almost like its own island in the larger ocean of sound.

The electronics component consists of 40 speakers, each individually connected to an electronic circuit board. Each of these boards has its own program which generates lo-fi 1-bit electronic sounds through its attached speaker. Once the entire system is turned on, it runs on its own. Chow likened the process to an electronic greeting card, where once you open it, the piece turns on and just goes. Unlike Reich’s Music for Eighteen Musicians for example, where the number of repetitions of patterns can be varied, Surface Image is precisely notated from beginning to end. The main variations that occur happen due to the type of acoustic space the work is performed in and the way the sound is reflected. Usually the 40 speakers are set up flanking the piano, but if the space is narrow, a different arrangement will be needed, with the speakers closer together. Chow told me, “Every time I play the piece, I hear different parts of the electronics. Depending on the space, the sound bounces in different ways and there have been times when I’ve wondered if I was in the right place in the score, since I hadn’t heard that part before.”

Chow is the pianist for the well-known Bang on a Can All-Stars ensemble based in New York City. She initially met Perich through a Bang on a Can summer festival, and was drawn to his work because of his ability to combine 1-bit sound technology with writing for the acoustic piano. It is this mix of piano and electronics that lies at the heart of her musical passions. And although Surface Image can be defined as being part of the minimalist aesthetic, she doesn’t consider herself a minimalist pianist. She’s more interested in finding ways that push at the boundaries of the piano repertoire and canon, rather than just a specific genre of music.

Besides her work performing with the All-Stars ensemble, Chow has a flourishing solo career and is increasingly finding herself working with Canadian composers such as Eliot Britton from Winnipeg and Adam Basanta from Montreal. In this context, she is able to pursue her interest in piano and electronics. For example, in a work by Basanta created for piano and hand-held mini transducers, devices that needs a resonant body in order to make sound, Chow performs the work by manipulating the transducers on different areas of the piano strings and frame. Her forthcoming album on the New Amsterdam label will feature six works for both prepared piano and piano with different forms of electronics, including tape, prerecorded piano sounds and live processing. One upcoming venture will be a collaboration with Montreal-based drummer Ben Reimer. Together they have commissioned works from Canadians Vincent Ho and electronics wizard Nicole Lizée to be premiered at next years PuSh Festival in Vancouver.

New_2.jpgOpen Ears Festival: From May 26 to June 4 the Waterloo region will once again be taken over by the sounds of the Open Ears Festival. At the heart of this festival is the act of listening to a diverse range of musics – including new classical, electroacoustic, musique actuelle and sound installations. As mentioned, Surface Image will be performed on May 28, and the composer and media artist Tristan Perlich will be in attendance on May 29. He will be presenting an artist talk at 1pm covering the range of his work, including his Machine Drawings which will be on display, and his explorations into 1-bit music and other sound-based technologies.

Continuing on with the theme of electronics, the concert June 2 will focus on works for the theremin, the world’s first motion sensor music instrument patented in the United States in 1928 after being originally developed by Léon Theremin when he lived in Russia and was working on a government research program. The concert at Open Ears will begin with author Sean Michaels reading from his historical novel, Us Conductors, to set the scene for the theremin’s beginnings. Next, an influential work for the theremin and chamber ensemble, composed in 1944 by Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů will be heard, followed by a new work for Karlax – a new-motion sensor instrument designed and performed by D. Andrew Stewart. The highlight of the evening will be the opportunity to hear Carolina Eyck, the world’s foremost theremin virtuoso. She will perform several works, including the ones previously listed, as well as a new work by Omar Daniel involving Nicola Tesla’s high voltage coil invented in 1891. And because Open Ears is all about listening, the appearance of three Listening Choir events makes complete sense. From May 27 to 29, the Listening Choir project by Christopher Willes and Adam Kinner will invite participants on group walks through urban spaces to experience collective and individual ways of listening. The walks will also include the recording of different places, objects, language and ideas within the soundscape using homemade recording devices. Thus the act of listening becomes an act of performance. For a complete overview of the full range of the festivals program, definitely check out their website: openears.ca

Sounds of Finland, Japan and the Indonesian Gamelan: This month offers opportunities to tune into the sounds coming out of these three distinctive cultural traditions. First of all, the music of Finnish composer Tomi Räisänen will be performed on May 19 at a concert presented by the junctQin keyboard collective. Finnish-Canadian pianist Heidi Saario will join the junctQin collective in the performance of two world premieres by Räisänen: Falls, for piano six hands, and Superdodecaphonium for solo piano, as well as others of his works.

On May 24, two days before their Japan: NEXT concert at the 21C festival, Continuum Contemporary Music will be presenting another event at Gallery 345 to celebrate the Japanese concept of Ma. In music this concept translates into the idea that what you don’t play is as important as what you do play. It’s the space or tension between sounds, and to take it further into the nonmusical domain, the space between two people or two objects. Lining the walls of Gallery 345 will be an exhibition of 30 prints courtesy of the Japan Foundation, some of which deal with Ma in graphic design. Beginning with a film on how Ma is expressed in woodblock art, the concert will then showcase the Okeanos ensemble, a UK-based group of westerners who will perform both traditional works for the koto and sho and contemporary works, all focused on the communication of Ma.

Finally on May 19, the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, will perform a concert of works from their recent CD, Higgs Ocean. Evergreen Club is an ensemble committed to the performance and commissioning of contemporary music for the gamelan, an ensemble of bronze and wooden instruments from Indonesian culture. In this concert they will team up with the Bozzini string quartet to perform five works by Canadian composers especially written for this collaboration of strings and gamelan sounds.

Additional New Music Performances

May 1: Royal Conservatory. Kaija Saariaho: Changing Light for soprano and violin.

May 4 and 5: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. John Adams: Scheherazade.2 – Dramatic Symphony for Violin and Orchestra.

May 4 to 8; 11 to 15: Coleman Lemieux et Compagnie. Against Nature/À Rebours. Music by James Rolfe.

May 5: Royal Conservatory. Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble; works by Boulez, A. Norman and Sokolović.

May 13: Canadian Music Centre. “Fantastic! Barbara Pritchard in Recital”; works by Beckwith, Pentland, McIntyre, Hatch, Pearce and Parker.

May 25 to 29: Royal Conservatory’s 21C Music Festival; seven concerts with 28+ premieres.

May 26: Music Gallery. Emergents IV: Kiri Koto Ensemble and Boomwhackers.

May 26: Canadian Music Centre; premiere of a new work by Chris Paul Harman, Julia Den Boer, piano.

May 28: Array Music Young Composers’ Workshop Concert 2016.

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


This month’s column takes a behind-the-scenes look at two quite different upcoming events in April – the Curiosity Festival presented by the Toy Piano Composers and an upcoming concert by the independent pianist/improviser/composer Marilyn Lerner which while different in nature from the TPC event was also surprisingly similar to it, in some very interesting ways. There was the piano connection of course; but also the artists’ interest in combining different elements, influences and genres to create their own unique creative statements. This is certainly a theme that comes up regularly in this column, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting to find this commonality when I set out to interview both parties.

BBB-New1.jpgMonica Pearce: Beginning early in April, the TPC’s first festival, the Curiosity Festival, aims – in the words of co-founder Monica Pearce – to “bring together three unique musical explorations that go beyond what the collective already does.” Known primarily for their chamber concerts highlighting music written by their composer members, this festival has three strikingly different components: a series of operas performed in collaboration with the Bicycle Opera Project on April 1 and 2; a sound installation at the Canadian Music Centre created by TPC member Nancy Tam on April 6 and 7; and a chamber concert on April 9 that highlights all things metal, including the presence of metal music, that genre of rock that developed in the late 60s and 70s with the rise of bands such as Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple.

The TPC, now in their eighth season, began from a desire by co-founders Pearce and Chris Thornborrow to create opportunities for their music to be performed once they had completed their music studies. At the same time, Pearce acquired a used toy piano and started writing pieces for the instrument. They both agreed that calling their new collective Toy Piano Composers would be a playful and imaginative name. Although the toy piano does not always appear in all their concerts (a risk, Pearce admits, in terms of managing audiences’ expectations), they have decided to stick with a name that reflects so clearly the group’s spirit of playful adventure.

The first concert of the festival, “Travelogue,” celebrates TPC’s ongoing vigorous collaboration with the Bicycle Opera Project. Bicycle Opera cycles from concert to concert as a way to make the operatic art form more relevant, intimate and accessible. Their environmentally friendly approach to travel merged with their vision of showcasing emerging talent has won them enthusiastic crowds wherever they happen to go. At the Curiosity Festival, they will be performing four operas – three composed by TPC members Pearce, Elisha Denburg and August Murphy-King, and the fourth composed by Tobin Stokes on recommendation from the Bicycle Opera directors. All four pieces include aspects of travel – from the bicycle to the space shuttle – with each work tapping into the terrain of human struggle with life’s circumstances.

Playback, the sound installation by Nancy Tam at the Canadian Music Centre’s Chalmers House home, features her expertise and interest in sound art and theatre. It’s a site-specific work for ten participants at a time who will be guided around the CMC space listening over headphones hooked up to individual portable audio players. Tam’s audio walk will contain excerpts from interviews she conducted with composers across Canada, as well as recordings of Tam’s music and soundscape elements. For the interviews, composers were asked such questions as “What is Canadian music, what is your relationship to composition and to the CMC?” as well as being asked to try to remember what the Chalmers House used to look like before the renovations.

The “Metal” concert includes works by TPC members Fiona Ryan, Chris Thornborrow, Bekah Simms, Daniel Brophy, Ruth Guechtal and Alex Eddington. Both Brophy and Guechtal have incorporated the metal genre influence into their overall compositional style, and this concert will give them an opportunity to let this influence become an integral part of a chamber concert. Other thematic approaches to the idea of metal include Thornborrow’s exploration of the metals of industry, Ryan’s interest in metal at a chemical level, and of course the use of metallic instruments. And, in keeping with their name, music for the toy piano will also appear on this concert.

The inaugural Curiosity Festival takes its place among the other new music festivals in the city, and although not as big and well-funded as New Creations or 21C, it is the first festival coming from the younger generation of presenters, Pearce told me. As for its future, TPC will assess the impact of the festival to see if it has made a positive contribution and if so, how often to repeat it. Other future visions include recording, touring and collaborating with ensembles such as Chamber Cartel from Atlanta who also present music for the toy piano. And even though they now have a core ensemble made up of flute, clarinet, piano, percussion, piano, double bass and conductor, they are committed to remaining composer-focused, despite the various challenges such as lack of sustainable funding opportunities that this presents.

BBB-New2.jpgMarilyn Lerner: No stranger to collaboration with a wide variety of ensembles and individual artists, pianist/composer and improviser Marilyn Lerner decided to take a leap into solo performance for her upcoming concert at Gallery 345 on April 16. For those not familiar with Lerner’s music, she has created her own unique and dynamic blend from a variety of influences, the most central ones being jazz, free improvisation, contemporary classical and klezmer. Within her current ensemble, The Ugly Beauties, with cellist Matt Brubeck and drummer Nick Fraser, she is able to navigate these various genres and bring a compositional style that combines the notated with the improvised. This way of working is in fact, she says, a genre unto itself, with the main question being “How do we get from one composed section to another?” That’s where the improvisation kicks in. The art of lieder combined with Yiddish poetry is another love of hers and has been behind her collaborations with singers such as Toronto’s David Wall and New Yorker Adrienne Cooper.

So what to expect on April 16? I suspect it will be a fine blended soup of all of it. In our interview, Lerner told me her plan is to pull out many pieces she has previously written but which haven’t yet been performed. “I love harmony, and even though I play a lot of improvised and free music, this side of me doesn’t get to come out of the closet. I’ve written a lot of beautiful songs, and would like a chance to play them, as this seems truer to my own sensibilities.” She used the phrase “abstract lyricism” to define her approach, with an interest in an unfolding, restless harmony much like that which you find in the music of Wagner and Strauss. Influences from French impressionists Ravel and Debussy also find their way in there, as well as her love of playing Bach.

And even though these pieces have a composed element to them, she will bring her improviser self into the mix. In her preparation for the concert, she will practise various improvising approaches, but in the moment of the performance it will be a spontaneous treatment. “I strive to play the piano as a horizontal multi-voiced instrument, no matter what I’m playing. Interesting, considering that I love harmony,” she comments. No matter what style or genre she embarks upon however, ultimately, “my heart is in writing pieces that express how I’m feeling.”

Ensemble Goings-on:

New Music Concerts concludes its busy season on Apr 24 with “Flutes Galore,” a concert featuring 24 flute players performing several works and premieres by Canadian composers. NMC artistic director and flutist, Robert Aitken, has three works on the program, including the world premiere of his latest work Caracas. Other world premieres include Impulse, a NMC commission by Alex Pauk and Two Fancies by Robert W. Stevenson. Works by Bruce Mather and Christopher Butterfield complete the extravaganza concert in what promises to be a unique sound event with the presence of multiple flutes on stage.

Kitchener-Waterloo: This year marks the 40th anniversary of the music faculty at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo and the new music organization NUMUS is celebrating this milestone with orchestral concerts on Apr 2 and 3 featuring world premieres by Stephanie Martin and Glenn Buhr. In their Apr 23 concert, SlowPitchSound presents his hypnotic rhythms and unconventional uses of the turntable as an instrument in conjunction with cinematic images and the movements of modern dancer Lybido. Also in the area, Ensemble Made in Canada performs works by Canadians Omar Daniel, Apr 8, and John Burge, Apr 9, for the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.

The Music Gallery presents “Emergents III” on Apr 8 in a show curated by Alex Samaras. The program begins with a set by the duo The Science of What? with Jessica Chen and Justin Orok performing improvisations and deconstructions of popular song. The second set presents the music of Jeremy Bellaviti, an emerging composer whose style merges contemporary classical with the rhythmical influences of folk music. The concert will also feature the premiere of his new work for violinist Sarah Fraser-Raff.

Arraymusic’s Apr 5 concert, “Four New Works,” presents world premieres by Anna Höstman, Gregory Newsome, Adam Scime and Scott Wilson, with guest soprano Carla Huhtanen. Continuum is heading west in April for a tour of British Columbia in collaboration with Ballet Kelowna and four choregraphers. Reimagined Renaissance Music is the theme that will be explored musically in works by Rodney Sharman, Jocelyn Morlock and Michael Oesterle. Toronto audiences will have the chance to see and hear this show in the fall.

Additional Listings

Apr 7: Women’s Musical Club of Toronto. Commissioned premiere by Zosha di Castri.

Apr 8: Essential Opera. Several contemporary operas, each focused on a different facet of women’s lives featuring composers Leslie Uyeda, Anna Pidgorna, Anna Höstman, Fiona Ryan, Elizabeth Raum, John Estacio and Jake Heggie.

Apr 23: mmmm Composers In Concert. New works by Michel Allard, Marco Burak, Michael Dobinson and Michelle Wells. Stratford.

Apr 27: Canadian Music Centre. Three commissions of Canadian works by Katarina Curcin, Nicole Lizée and Kati Agócs performed by the Cecilia String Quartet.

April 28 and 30: Toronto Symphony. towards Osiris (2005) by German composer Matthias Pintscher.

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


2106-New_1.pngThe month of March begins in a big way this year with the annual New Creations Festival presented by the Toronto Symphony. In last month’s issue I introduced the main features of what is being planned for the three concerts happening on March 5, 9 and 12, including the presence of guest composer, conductor, violist and co-curator Brett Dean from Australia. One of the three commissioned works for this year’s festival is a unique collaboration between composer Paul Frehner and filmmaker Peter Mettler. I had an opportunity to speak with both of these creators to find out how their piece for orchestra and film came into being and what we can expect to experience on March 9, the night of the performance.

I began by asking Frehner how the commission came to be and wondered if the two artists had worked together before. As it turned out, the project began when Frehner was approached by Gary Kulesha on behalf of the TSO with a request to be involved in the writing of a work for orchestra and film. According to Frehner, Mettler was then approached on a recommendation from film director Atom Egoyan. The two artists had never met before, so right from the beginning, they started with a dialogue that involved examples of each other’s work being sent back and forth, and engaging in conversations exploring various ideas that each were drawn to.

Writing music for film often takes a predictable path, where the composer writes to a set sequence of images. Not so with the way Mettler works. He has spent the last 12 years developing software that functions as an instrument for editing and mixing both image and sound to create a film “on the spot.” He can use this instrument to both improvise and create, providing a personal challenge that is “far more exciting than just pushing play.” In the early stages of their collaboration, Mettler sent Frehner up to 90 minutes of raw footage, some of which were extended sequences. Frehner latched onto a few of these and wrote music inspired by those scenes. Using music software to create an orchestral rendering of the music, Frehner sent his sketches back to Mettler, who then began to improvise using his bank of 2000 or more images, finding visual complements to what the music was doing. Gradually a shape began to emerge as the dynamic exchange continued and in the end, many of the image sequences that Mettler chose were not related to those that Frehner was originally inspired to write music for.

In their initial dialogues, they discovered that they shared a mutual interest in science and physics. Beginning with conversations on particle physics, they eventually decided to focus the piece on ideas of cyclical rotation – orbits, tidal rhythms, and natural cycles, ending up with the title From the Vortex Perspective. Structurally, the music has both cyclical elements and abrupt changes. Several ideas return, each time with variations in orchestration.

Frehner’s compositional style can be described as eclectic, integrating such influences as Brit and American rock, jazz pianists Oscar Peterson and Keith Jarrett, early music, as well as the music of a range of composers including Grisey, Vivier and Nancarrow. In this project with Mettler, Frehner chose to feature the brass instruments prominently in various places, incorporating unison writing and the low register instruments. In other places, the string section has the main idea, whereas at other times, strings provide a textural background. Visually, the film begins with images of an abstracted forest environment, moving into reflections on water. At one point when the music becomes heavily punctuated, the viewer is taken through a sequence of different grasses and reeds with the sunlight bursting through to create complementary accents. Some of the slowly evolving scenes created opportunities for Frehner to linger longer with some of his musical ideas, taking his time to explore them rather than looking for other directions.

For the performance, the images will be projected onto three screens – two smaller monitors surrounded by a larger screen, with the spatial aspect of the three image sources becoming an aspect of the overall composition. And just as the conductor and musicians interpret the musical score, Mettler has created his own guiding score as an aid for his real-time performance during which he will respond to the subtleties of the music to create a live version of the film. Thus this work is a true performance in both mediums of image and sound.

As mentioned above, Brett Dean is this year’s guest of the New Creations Festival. As it turns out, Frehner and Dean crossed paths over ten years ago on two different occasions – in 2002 at the Winnipeg New Music Festival where Dean was the featured composer and Frehner had a composition; and a few years later at the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra’s International Composers Competition where Dean was the judge and Frehner was one of the composers present. Dean’s role as curator for the New Creations Festival includes the programming of three of his own works, each substantial pieces for orchestra, as well as works by fellow Australians Anthony Pateras and James Ledger.

2106-New_2.pngNew Music for Orchestra: The New Creations Festival is not the only chance to hear new orchestral work this next month. The Toronto Symphony will perform works by three Canadian composers: Home” from New World by Michael Oesterle on March 31, Alligator Pie by Abigail Richardson-Schulte on April 2 in matinee performances, and Ringelspiel by Ana Sokolović, performed by the evening’s guest performers – the National Arts Centre Orchestra – on April 2. On March 31, Esprit Orchestra teams up with the Elmer Iseler Singers for their last concert of the season to perform two newly commissioned works with mythic themes: Soul and Psyche for choir and orchestra, composed by Esprit’s founder and conductor Alex Pauk, and Sirens by Canadian Douglas Schmidt. The program also includes Hussein Janmohamed’s choral work Nur: Reflections on Light, which weaves together Ismaili Muslim melodies, Quranic recitation and Indian ragas, and the classic orchestral dance score La création du monde by Darius Milhaud, infamous for its combination of jazz and classical rhythms from the early 1920s.

Soundstreams: Soundstreams is cooking this month with several events. Starting off in early March, they will present three concerts of the music of Scottish composer James MacMillan in three cites: Kingston (March 4), Kitchener (March 6) and Toronto (March 8). The program will highlight MacMillan’s masterpiece, Seven Last Words from the Cross, as well as selections from Schafer’s The Fall into Light. The Toronto concert will include additional works by MacMillan (The Gallant Weaver) and Schafer (In Memoriam Alberto Guerrero), along with a performance of James Rolfe’s When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d, a Soundstreams commission from 2006 based on Walt Whitmans’s elegy written after the assassination of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln.

Then in mid-month, Soundstreams will kick off a series of events being planned to celebrate the 80th birthday of minimalist pioneer Steve Reich culminating in a gala concert on April 14. Getting the ball rolling will be their second Ear Candy event on March 19 featuring Reich’s first major work It’s Gonna Rain, created from a surprise discovery made while fiddling about with out-of-sync tape loops. The phasing technique he developed from these experiments paved the way for the birth of his minimalist aesthetic. It’s also an opportunity to hear his Electric Counterpoint which has been recorded by such artists as Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood, whose Water will have its Canadian premiere in the New Creations Festival on March 12. The Ear Candy evening also features a diverse array of local artists, each of whom has been influenced by the minimalist aesthetic. Four of these performers, including DJ SlowPitchSound and Brandon Valdivia, will also be performing the previous evening on March 18 at the Soundstreams’ Salon 21, which offers a historical look at the development of minimalism.

Music Gallery: The performance of Reich’s music continues over at the Music Gallery in a concert on March 17 featuring composer and performer Michael Century. In his earlier days, Century founded The Banff Centre for the Arts Media Arts program in 1988, a program that helped initiate new media practice in Canada. In this concert, Century will perform Reich’s Piano Counterpoint, an arrangement for solo piano and tape of Reich’s classic Six Pianos, as well as premieres of his own works for piano, accordion and live electronics. These works use open software and an eight-channel immersive speaker array. Additional pieces by American composers Julia Wolfe, John Cage and Morton Feldman will be heard in the second half of the evening.

The Music Gallery continues to mark their 40-year history with an installation and listening salon opening on March 11 celebrating their partnership with Musicworks Magazine. The magazine has a long tradition of including recordings with their print issues, first released as cassettes and now as CDs. Past and present editors and contributors to the cassette legacy will be speaking of their memories and experiences at the opening event.

New Music Concerts: New Music Concerts is also busy with two upcoming concerts. On March 11 (in Kitchener) and March 13 (in Toronto) in a co-presentation with the Music Gallery, the Quasar Saxophone Quartet performs music by five Quebecois composers writing for saxophone quartet and electronics, including video in one of the works. The quartet is dedicated to the creation of contemporary works with their interests ranging from instrumental music to improvisation and electronics. On April 3, the electronic theme continues with their concert entitled Viva Electronica. It will be an evening of three world premieres, all of them NMC commissions from composers Anthony Tan, Keith Hamel and Paul Steenhuisen. Each of these artists has done significant research in the world of electronics, live electroacoustics and music software programming, as well as taught the ins and outs of working with music technology at various universities.

Additional New Music Events:

Mar 6: John Laing Singers perform works by Glen Buhr and Eric Whitacre.

Mar 6: Junction Trio hosts Schola Magdalena performing works by Stephanie Martin.

Mar 10: Canadian Music Centre; “Truth North Stories” with piano works by Anhalt and Morawetz.

Mar 18 Canadian Music Centre; “Canadian Art Song Showcase” with works by Alice Ho, John Beckwith, Sylvia Rickard and Hiroki Tsurumoto.

Apr 2: Nagata Shachu with TorQ, performing works for Japanese, Western and world percussion. clip_image001.png

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


2105-New.jpgDespite chilly temperatures outside, the accumulation of new music events occurring in both Toronto and the main cities of southern Ontario, in February and early March, can be likened to a pot of water coming to a vigorously rolling boil. Bookending the dates covered by this issue are two major new music festivals – the University of Toronto’s New Music Festival (January 30 to February 7) and the Toronto Symphony’s New Creations Festival, opening March 5 and concluding on March 16. Since these festivals straddle the listings period, let’s begin with them, for those readers ready to jump in early in February and for those who are planning well ahead for March.

U of T New Music Festival: As was previously mentioned in the December-January issue of The WholeNote, the highlight of this year’s U of T New Music Festival is the opportuniuties it presents to experience the music of Canadian composer Allan Gordon Bell from Calgary, as well as one concert featuring music of his former students. A key aspect of Bell’s compositional approach is the way he maps his listening experiences of the Canadian soundscape to the acoustic world of instruments, whether that be orchestra, string quartet, opera or jazz ensembles.

It also has a fine crop of workshops, master classes and guest lectures, so I suggest perusing the listings and the festival website for the full scope of what is to be experienced. (The Land’s End Ensemble will also be performing a concert of works by Allan Bell and Omar Daniel on February 5 at Western University in London.)

New Creations: Jumping ahead into March, it’s not too early to take a peek into the upcoming New Creations Festival. This year’s featured guest is Australian composer, violist and conductor, Brett Dean, who is currently artist-in-residence with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Dean spent a good part of his career in Europe playing viola for 14 years in the Berlin Philharmonic, eventually turning to composition as he approached the age of 40. One of his signature works – his Viola Concerto – will be performed by the composer at the opening concert on March 5. Festivalgoers will hear two additional orchestral works composed by Dean, along with a piece by fellow Australian Anthony Pateras. Local DJ legend Skratch Bastid, who appeared last May at the 21C festival, will be performing, along with the Afiara String Quartet in a commissioned work by Kevin Lau; Bastid has also been commissioned to create a Festival Remix for the final concert on March 12. The festival will also offer a world premiere collaboration between composer Paul Frehner and filmmaker Peter Mettler, a composition by Australian James Ledger that pays tribute to Anton Webern and John Lennon, and a piece by Jonny Greenwood of the iconic English rock group, Radiohead. A more in-depth look at some of these artists and concerts will appear in the March issue.

Pick of the Crop: February offers a broad scope for aficionados of new music no matter what your stylistic preferences may be.

These early weeks of 2016 have seen the passing of several iconic creative people from various artistic fields, among them French composer and conductor Pierre Boulez, whose artistic ideas changed the course of 20th century music. Boulez’s legacy will be celebrated in a New Music Concerts program on February 15.

At the other end of the new music spectrum, the Art of Time Ensemble offer a concert on February 19 and 20 that focuses on the music of Frank Zappa, a musician whose work ranged from rock to orchestral to musique concrète.

Somewhere in between, stylistically, Soundstreams has chosen to highlight music for instruments of the squeezebox family for their February 10 concert. This includes the accordion, the Argentinian bandoneón and the Korean saenghwang, each performed by virtuosic performers, such as Toronto’s own Joe Macerollo and Héctor del Curto from Argentina, playing compositions by several Canadian composers. R. Murray Schafer’s work, La Testa d’Adriana for soprano and accordion, for one example, features the spectacle of only the head of Adriana sitting on a table as she sings in interaction with the accordionist.

Going Home Star: The Royal Winnipeg Ballet along with the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra is making a visit to the Sony Centre on February 5 and 6 to perform a new work entitled Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation, ballet, written by Joseph Boyden based on stories that emerged during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission tour of indigenous communities. 

Contradictory as it may seem to use the European art forms of ballet and orchestra to tell these stories, the creative team has worked to bring aspects of indigenous culture into the overall mix in order to push the boundaries of the form. With a score composed by Christos Hatzis, the music includes the powerhouse vocals of Tanya Tagaq as well as the Northern Cree Singers. Tagaq’s experimentalist approach to traditional Inuit throat singing combines the influences of electronica and industrial music to create an unforgettable experience. (Looking ahead to May, Tagaq will be one of the featured artists of the upcoming 21C festival – but more on that in a couple of issues’ time.)

RoundupThe Music Gallery presents their second Emergents concert of the season on February 5 with saxophone improvisations by Linsey Wellman and a song cycle by composer Lisa Conway, based on myths from Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The literary theme continues the next evening on February 6 with Spectrum Music’s concert featuring works by members of their composer collective based on modern literary gems, including one work by Brad Cheesman inspired by the novel Infinite Jest, written by the acclaimed American author David Foster Wallace. On February 12, the Thin Edge New Music Collective performs a series of premieres by both Canadian and international composers at the Array Space. And on March 6, they will be performing in a pop-up afternoon concert there. Now in their fifth year, Thin Edge is currently in the midst of their ensemble-in-residence stint at Arraymusic, which will continue into next season as well.

The Array Space is flourishing as a home for improvisers, with several opportunities in February for fans of this scene to check it out, including Audiopollination on February 13, coexisDance on February 20, and various Toronto improvisers appearing on February 16, 19 and 28. In this vein, I want to also mention two Improv Soirées at York University on February 11 and March 3.

Mixed repertoire: A sure sign of the flourishing new music scene is the increasing appearance of new music within concerts of more standard classical repertoire and there are several examples of this in February. The group of 27 chamber orchestra performs the world premiere of Paul Frehner’s bassoon concerto, Apollo X on February 5. The Junction Trio will perform new works by Ron Korb on February 21 and by Stephanie Martin on March 6. Music Toronto performs a work by Schafer on February 4 and music by Oskar Morawetz can be heard performed by Adam Sherkin on March 3.

And then there is the Off Centre Music Salon, an organization with a tradition of providing opportunities for different musical traditions to dialogue and engage. Their concert on February 25 at the Music Gallery, inspired by the friendship between Vladimir Horowitz and Art Tatum, will pit jazz and classical pianists against each other, as well as singers from the improv, indie-folk and classical traditions.

To close things off, there is new music happening in concerts in various southern Ontario cities throughout the period, many of which also combine the new with the traditional. On February 6, the Hamilton Philharmonic Orchestra performs A Thousand Natural Shocks by Kelly-Marie Murphy. This concert also marks the debut of the HPO’s conductor and music director, Gemma New. The Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts in Kingston presents Scottish composer James MacMillan’s piece Seven Last Words of Christ as well as Schafer’s The Fall into Light on March 4The electroacoustic music of Adam Tindale will be featured at the Kingston Community Strings concert on February 19. The Peterborough Symphony Orchestra will perform the violin concerto Erika’s Violin written by Elizabeth Raum and performed by her daughter Erika on February 6.

In the Kitchener/Waterloo/Guelph area there are several concerts. As part of their Mix Series, NUMUS presents emerging pianist Jason White on February 21 performing Rzewski’s De Profundis as well as a world premiere by Colin LabadieTwo members of the junctQín Keyboard Collective will perform works by Canadian composers Emily Doolittle and Martin Lachance on February 24 as part of the K-W Chamber Music Series.

And finally, if you are a fan of the theremin, an early electronic music instrument, two early-month concerts on February 3 at the University of Waterloo and on February 4 at Guelph University will give you an opportunity to hear this music as performed by Eric Ross with video art by Mary Ross. 

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


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