Spring’s Synesthesia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Picks:

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

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

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

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

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

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


In the Spirit of Gaudeamus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Noteworthy Concerts (see Listings for Details) :

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

March 6: AIM Toronto, Musideum.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Dialogue With History

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Concerts:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Re)Generations of the New

1904 in with the newAs the waves of the new and the experimental in sound continue to unfold in the life of Toronto’s music scene, it’s worth taking a look back at the institutions that brought us to this point. Certainly one of the most influential in the creation of this legacy has been the Music Gallery, which first opened its doors on St. Patrick Street in 1976. I know I’m not alone in having fond memories of all that went on within those walls. It was an experimental hub, an incubator and laboratory for the most cutting-edge musical developments. It also had an educational focus, serving the community by providing an accessible recording studio, launching Musicworks magazine, and starting its own recording label: Music Gallery Editions. And all that history over the years has been recorded. Just thinking of all the gems housed in their archives would be enough to make any aficionado salivate.

Monica Pearce: The latest news at the gallery is that they have just hired a new executive director — Monica Pearce. Monica comes with a background as a composer in the contemporary classical tradition, a concert presenter (Toy Piano Composers Collective) and an administrator (The Canadian League of Composers). She joins the Gallery’s current artistic director David Dacks; their combined distinctive musical backgrounds promise to provide inspiring leadership for the next generation of innovation. When I spoke to Monica about the Music Gallery’s current vision, she affirmed their ongoing commitment to building community and collaboration among artists of diverse genres and artforms. She sees the Music Gallery playing an important role in fostering this dialogue and sees that the time is ripe for camaraderie and mutual support amongst the eclectic range of new music presenters and artists in the city. She pointed to the creation of the New Music Passport as one sign of this collaboration. For a small fee, passport-holders are offered one discounted ticket to one concert by each of the 11 participating organizations. (This would make a great holiday gift by the way. See newmusicpassport.wordpress.com for details.) The New Music 101 series of talks at the Toronto Reference Library is another example of this growing solidarity.

The gallery also involves the artistic community by engaging different curators for the various concert series. This is evident in their current Emergent series, which is curated by all the featured artists of last season’s Emergent concerts. The December 12 Emergent concert “Strange Strings” explores diverse string theories for new music mixed with DIY electronics and progressive rock while the January 17 event brings together Toronto-based sound artist Christopher Willes and the Ensemble Paramirabo from Montreal.

And just as Monica begins her new position, the current curator of the Post-Classical series, pianist Gregory Oh, presents his last concert on December 20, a production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning Little Match Girl Passion by American composer David Lang. Performed by a vocal quartet accompanying themselves on percussion, the piece is based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic Christmas story that illuminates the dichotomy between a young girl’s suffering and hope. It draws much of its musical inspiration from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion. The Washington Post’s Tim Page said of the piece that it is “unlike any music I know.”

As I mentioned above, part of the Music Gallery’s vision is to collaborate with other new music presenters. On December 8 they will co-present a concert with Contact Contemporary Music titled “The Most Relaxing of All Instruments” in which listeners will experience an otherworldly program of solo and chamber works featuring guitarist Rob MacDonald and guests Stephen Tam (flute) and David Schotzko (percussion). And of course, the Music Gallery is often the preferred concert venue for many of the city’s new music groups. On January 19, New Music Concerts will present “From Atlantic Shores” featuring the New Brunswick-based Motion Ensemble performing an eclectic mix of works by Maritime composers. The program includes a newly commissioned piece by Lucas Oickle, a recent graduate of Acadia University, along with two works connected to the historical Acadian area of Grand-Pre.

James Tenney: Another aspect of the Music Gallery’s legacy from its early days in the 70s was the close relationship that was fostered with the music department at York University. Visiting artists at the gallery would often visit York and student ensembles would often perform at the gallery. James Tenney was one such York professor, composer and music theorist who fostered this relationship. On December 6, Arraymusic will celebrate Tenney’s music with a concert of several of his works, including two pieces he write for the ensemble. In the words of former Arraymusic artistic director Robert Stevenson “Tenney shook up this city’s music community, making us more aware of such experimental American composers as Conlon Nancarrow and Alvin Lucier. Through his devoted commitment to the music of our time, Jim provided us with the courage and determination to give our lives over to the music we believe in.” This concert will be a chance to listen to Jim’s brilliant visionary music, including works for different tuning systems and intriguing composition processes.

1904 in with the new 2Gabriel Prokofiev: Over at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music, this year’s edition of their New Music Festival gets underway on January 25 with a concert of symphonic works by two generations of Prokofievs: the famous one — Sergei — and his grandson Gabriel, who is this year’s invited visitor in composition. Gabriel Prokofiev’s distinctive sound is informed by his background as a producer of hip-hop, grime, and electro records as well as his training as a composer in the classical and electroacoustic traditions. His critically acclaimed Concerto for Turntables and Orchestra, to be performed in the opening concert, is one example of how he mixes these two worlds.

The fact of his being the featured composer of the festival means that there will be multiple opportunities to hear the full range of the dynamic composer’s music. Two concerts of his chamber works will be performed on January 29 and 30, along with a concert of his choral music on February 2. Included in the programming will be a recently released work Cello Multitracks, originally conceived as a multitrack work to be recorded by one performer, but also playable live for cello nonet. This is yet another example of how he combines influences from both dance music and more traditional classical forms.

On January 31 during a noon-hour concert of electroacoustic music, listeners will be treated to more of his works in this genre alongside recent pieces by graduate students. Later that evening, the Karen Kieser Prize Concert will present the 2013-winning piece Walking by Chris Thornborrow, as well as works by G. Prokofiev and others. Esprit Orchestra is also getting into the spirit of the festival action, and their January 26 concert will feature a movement from G. Prokofiev’s Cello Concerto. This concert will also feature guest conductor Samy Moussa conducting the premiere of his own new work as well as a piece by German conductor Peter Ruzicka. Compositions by Canadian Zosha Di Castri and Berlin-based Unsuk Chin round out this concert titled “Strange Matter.”

Walter Buczynski: Returning to the U of Toronto’s New Music Festival, there will be an 80th birthday celebration afternoon concert in honour of professor Walter Buczynski on January 26 followed the next day by a guest piano recital by Roberto Turrin. A work by David Lang (composer of Little Match Girl Passion) will also be presented in an unusual concert pairing of bassoon and percussion music on January 29. Student composers will be presenting works on January 30 (miniature operas), February 2 (jazz) and February 4.

In brief: The theme “(Re)Generations of the New” shows up in yet another configuration over these next two months with nine different concerts that mix classical and contemporary music together:

December 3, works by Colin Eatock and Jean Papineau-Couture appear in a unique Canadian Day Revisited event at the Lula Lounge. Syrinx Concerts Toronto celebrates Canadian composers Harry Somers at their December 8 concert and Kelly Marie Murphy at their January 12 event, both at the Heliconian Hall. The Amici Chamber Ensemble includes a work by Tōru Takemitsu in their December 1 concert while the Annex Singers perform a piece by Arvo Pärt on December 14. And the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society mixes in pieces by John Zorn (January 10) and Marjan Mozetich (January 12) while the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony plays Stravinsky’s Jeu de cartes on January 18.

To close out, we cannot forget the invaluable contribution the Canadian Music Centre has made in facilitating the growth of new music. Events such as their piano series keep Canadian music alive. Check out the January 13 event when Chris Donnelly will perform his Metamorphosis: Ten Improvisations for Solo Piano and their “Nonclassical Night” with Gabriel Prokofiev January 28.

Quick picks

Canadian Opera Company, lobby concerts: “Power Chords” features a new work by Scott Good on December 3; A Soldier’s Tale by John Gzowski is February 6.

Soundstreams: Canadian Choral Celebration on February 2 pairs Gorecki’s Miserere with the world premiere of R. Murray Schafer’s Hear the Sounds go Round. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. Her own concert, “A Winter Solstice Celebration CD launch,” December 21, features selections from her recently released Sound Dreaming: Oracle Songs from Ancient Ritual Spaces. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Fusion Times Ten. Count Them!

Going through the listings, I noticed that this month Continuum Contemporary Music offers an interdisciplinary work, Nuyamł-ił Kulhulmx/Singing the Earth, and Esprit Orchestra features an entire concert of hybrid music. Noticing how these two events reflected the theme of blurred boundaries between musical genres and artforms I’ve been exploring in this column, I then noted no fewer than eight similar instances of fusion in the new music on offer this month.

in with the new - fusion times ten1. Esprit: Their “O Gamelan” concert on November 17 marks another collaboration between this country’s only orchestra dedicated to new music and the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan, a Toronto-based ensemble who perform on a series of bronze and wooden instruments from Indonesia, otherwise known as a gamelan. And they too are dedicated to the commissioning of new works from composers alongside performing both traditional and contemporary Indonesian repertoire.

Looking back historically at the rise of the gamelan’s influence within western-based concert music, one can easily see what an enormous effect this music has had. It was Montreal-born composer Colin McPhee’s orchestral work Tabuh-Tabuhan from 1936 that really got the ball rolling. It combined both Balinese and traditional Western elements, but at its core is a small gamelan-like ensemble comprised of western-based percussion instruments. The shimmering timbres and interlocking rhythmic patterns of the gamelan sound also captured the imaginations of pioneers John Cage (prepared piano) and Steve Reich (minimalism). The first western composer to build his own gamelan-inspired instruments and compose for them was Lou Harrison. And that brings us full circle to the Evergreen Club. It was when ECCG founder Jon Siddall met Harrison while a student at Mills College that a vision was spawned to form a gamelan in Canada. Through Harrison’s Indonesian connections, the Evergreen Club eventually was able to acquire their instruments in the early 80s.

By bringing both an orchestra and a gamelan together, the Esprit concert is a perfect reflection of this history and appropriately, is presenting a work that Harrison wrote in tribute to Carlos Chávez, the man who conducted the premiere of McPhee’s groundbreaking work. Alongside this historical piece will be a premiere of O Gamelan, a newly commissioned work by José Evangelista, who followed in McPhee’s footsteps by studying in Bali, and is also responsible for bringing a gamelan to U de Montréal’s Faculty of Music. We will also hear two works originally written by composers Chan Ka Nin and André Ristic for a 2005 concert inspired by the birdsong themes of Olivier Messiaen, as well as a 1983 work by Esprit conductor Alex Pauk.

It should come as no surprise to learn that Pauk himself also studied gamelan music and his work Echo Spirit Isle is a reworking for orchestra of a piece he originally wrote for Gamelan Pacificia based in Seattle. The program rounds out with an orchestral arrangement of Claude Vivier’s Pulau Dewata, composed in 1977 as a tribute to the Balinese people.

2. Continuum Contemporary Music: On December 4 and 5, CCM will present a new work by composer Anna Höstman, Nuyamł-ił Kulhulmx/Singing the Earth, an interdisciplinary piece that arose from the composer’s love of history and storytelling. Rooted in her deep personal connection with the land and communities of Bella Coola, a gem of natural beauty along the central coast of British Columbia, her creative process began with extensive research to discover the deeper layers of the area. And perhaps even more importantly, what guided her in this labyrinthian journey to uncover the stories of people from different cultural origins living side by side was her connection to the land itself. The forest is “never far away in my imagination,” she told me. In fact it is this relationship with the forest’s expansiveness and quiet that helps her find her way with music making. It is like the slipping on of a different jacket, a sensation she keeps close to herself while composing. And just as the nonhuman world of nature permeates Höstman’s creative process, it is also a “North Star,” a navigational guide, for all the peoples of the area — a mixture of the indigenous Nuxalk Nation and the descendents of Norwegian settlers.

Höstman’s piece is structured as a series of 11 modules, each one an artistic response to the beauty and isolation of the area, the changes and losses of its people. During the performance, the audience will be immersed within an installation environment, thus creating a spatial counterpoint between people, objects, video projections and displayed texts. These texts originate from a variety of sources and are in four different languages — Nuxalk, English, Norwegian and Japanese. One source is fragments from anthropological field notes published in the 1940s, while another is a list of words in both English and Nuxalk denoting the area’s flora and fauna. The work is scored for Continuum’s ensemble along with mezzo-soprano, bass, saxophone and accordian. Prior to the 8pm performance will be a 7pm screening of a film.

3. NAISA: Another take on similar themes will occur during New Adventures in Sound Art’s annual SOUNDplay series which presents new fusions between the boundaries of sound art and new media. Fitting into their 2013 programming theme of Sonic Geography, this year’s installations and performances will address concepts of home, space, land, migration, love and the human condition. The main performances are on November 7, 9, 16 and 23 in Toronto and on November 8 in Hamilton. An audio installation, “Whispering Rain,” runs from November 9 to 30 in the NAISA space.

4. 416 TCIF: As always, the improvisation scene is hopping with crossover possibilities. This month is the 12th edition of the 416 Toronto Creative Improvisers Festival with “the best music you’ve never heard.” For four nights from November 6 to 9, at the TRANZAC, the programming includes hand-signal-directed orchestra, laptop mash-ups by the McMaster University-based Cybernetic Orchestra, ambient dreamscapes and free jazz virtuosity with both local and visiting guest artists.

5. and 6. Soundstreams and KWS: Extemporizing even further on the subject of fusion, the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony is programming an evening of rock-inspired music for orchestra on November 7 and 8 in Kitchener and November 9 at Koerner Hall, including Nicole Lizée’s Triple Concerto for Power Trio: Fantasia on Themes by Rush, a virtuosic blast for guitar, bass and drum. And on November 13, you’ll have an opportunity to experience “Reimagining Flamenco” with Soundstreams’ presentation of contemporary perspectives on flamenco works. Blending fire and passion, this concert will offer reinventions for guitar, piano and flamenco singer of the old master Manuel de Falla and Paco de Lucia, among others. Alongside these pieces will be the premiere of a new work by Canadian composer André Ristic, whose music also appears in Esprit Orchestra’s gamelan concert.

7. and 8. Piano virtuosi: On November 24, “Music She Wrote: A Tribute to Canadian Woman Composers” will be another opportunity to hear new orchestral music. This time it’s the Koffler Chamber Orchestra with conductor Jacques Israelievitch featuring pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico, one of Canada’s leading interpreters of contemporary music. She will perform two piano concertos written by two Canadian women composers — Heather Schmidt and Violet Archer. The orchestra, comprised of professional, community and music students, will also perform orchestral works by Ann Southam and Larysa Kuzmenko. Ms. Petrowska Quilico has had a connection with all four composers, having previously given the premiere performances and released CD recordings of the Schmidt and Archer works, as well as a CD release of Southam’s music. Both recordings resulted in JUNO nominations for the three composers. On the same evening (November 24) Eve Egoyan, another virtuosic pianist and interpreter of contemporary music who also enjoyed a close artistic relationship with Ann Southam, will perform works by James Tenney, Piers Hellawell, Linda C. Smith and Michael Finnissy as part of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society series. This program will repeat in Toronto on November 26 presented by Music Toronto.

9. Arraymusic has a busy month with two concerts on November 9 and 10 of “Small Wonders,” their popular minatures series. Numerous composers have written these short moments in time for the ensemble over the years, and this concert will feature several ensemble pieces from the past along with eight new premieres. The Array ensemble will also perform short works by Webern, Feldman and Carter alongside two longer compositions by Jo Kondo and Canadian Ruth Guechtal. I also want to mention an important Array concert on December 6, “The Signal Itself,” a celebration of the music of James Tenney. Tenney was a visionary and a beloved composer of this city who taught at York University for over two decades. More to come on this in the December issue, but I just wanted people to know well in advance.

10. Additional new music events:

Thin Edge New Music Collective: November 21.

Canadian Music Centre: November 9 – Rosedale Winds; November 13 – junctQin Keyboard Collective.

Canadian Opera Company: November 13 – Piano Virtuoso Series.

Royal Conservatory/Toronto Harp Society: November 10 – Works by Buhr, Schafer and others.

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir: November 20 – Britten at 100. 

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


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