One thing that has been consistent with the University of Toronto’s annual New Music Festival over the years is the presence of a visiting composer from another country or Canadian city. During last year’s festival in January 2019, it was Toshio Hosokawa, a leading composer from Japan, and the year before that in 2018, Canadian Nicole Lizée was given the honours. This visitorship is named the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition, and was established by Roger Moore, a longtime supporter and philanthropist of new music. Sadly, Moore passed away in March of this year, and there will be a concert, as part of the festival, to honour him on January 21. More about what is on the program for that night below. This year’s visiting composer is André Mehmari, a leading Brazilian composer, pianist and arranger in both classical and popular music. Because of his diverse artistic accomplishments many of the events of the festival span both the jazz and contemporary music worlds, with the opening concert on January 12 combining electronic jazz, visuals and live electronics.
Beat Columns (Live Music)
For this month’s column, I’ll be taking a look at two different events during the month of November that involve large-scale forces. The first involves the mainstay of communal soundmaking – the symphony orchestra, while the second is a significant new amalgam of voices coming together to create two operas.
I’ll begin with what’s happening with the Toronto Symphony and their affiliate composer, Emilie LeBel, who is currently in the second year of her position. One of the benefits of this position is that she is given the opportunity to compose one new piece each year for the orchestra. This year’s work, unsheltered, will receive its Toronto premiere on November 13, after performances on November 11 in Ottawa and November 12 in Montreal, part of an upcoming TSO tour. I spoke with LeBel about her new work, as well as another of the projects she is involved with at the TSO, titled Explore The Score.
Currently living and teaching in Edmonton, Alberta (when not engaged in her TSO commitments), LeBel says that she began composing unsheltered during the spring of 2019, while all around her wildfires were blazing north of Edmonton, amidst various public conversations and controversies about building more pipelines. She spoke about the general uneasiness and tensions that exist right now everywhere in the world and how her composition took on that atmosphere. She stressed that “the piece is not about politics or climate change in an overt way, rather I’m picking up on an uneasiness that feels very palpable right now.” In juxtaposition to this, LeBel said, is the natural beauty of the area she is currently living in, how different that environment is for her personally, and how it helps her aspire to be hopeful as well.
In her own note on unsheltered, she quotes a poem by Joanna Doxey as inspiration – speaking, as it does, to the importance of human connection during those moments we have with people, as well as to our experience of time, particularly when we look back on such moments in a more nostalgic way. The poem is from Doxey’s Book of Worry and begins “…in this humming and doubled land, hold worry, only me”.
It is the word humming that LeBel frequently referenced while speaking of the piece, to describe the overall atmosphere being invoked in her composition. Musically, it started off as a bass line from a Baroque piece that she has been studying with her students. “I was thinking about Baroque bass lines and how everything on top of it is like a textural landscape. This is often what I do in orchestral pieces. There are sections with slippery glissandos and high string harmonics that create an atmosphere where things feel tenuous.” The poetic except from Doxey continues: “and I get older or I grow farther from myself and I always most love the moment before now…” It is a sentiment that is also reflected in LeBel’s piece; she chooses to end it on a note that, while part of the humming atmosphere, is both nostalgic and hopeful.
LeBel’s responsibilities as TSO affiliate composer have also entailed involvement in another hopeful venture. This year is the eighth season in which the TSO has supported opportunities for composers to have their works read by the orchestra. Last year, along with Matthew Fava from the Canadian Music Centre, they devised a new approach to the project. They changed the jury process from being anonymous to asking people to send in their scores, along with informational statements outlining what they wished to get out of the program. This way, composers who would get the most from this opportunity would be selected, regardless of age or stage in their career. Around the same time, there was a conversation at the TSO about opening up the process to the public, to offer them an experience of how a new orchestral work is rehearsed. A new name was given to the program – Explore the Score – and they have received great feedback from both the public and the composers about the experience. This November 30 will mark the second year for this new approach, and will include works by composers Ian Cusson, Matthew Emery, Fjóla Evans, and Jared Richardson. In advance, the composers will have received guidance from the orchestra’s librarian on how to prepare the score and parts, with the new compositions being conducted by Gary Kulesha – the TSO’s composer advisor. After the performance, feedback from both Kulesha and LeBel will be given to the composers and during a lunch with representatives from the different sections of the orchestra, the composers will receive additional feedback from the musicians’ point of view. They will also have access to LeBel for a follow-up session for both compositional and/or career advice.
Beyond her TSO commitments, LeBel remains an active composer within the Toronto music community and she will be premiering a new work with Continuum on November 3 as part of their 35th anniversary celebration concert, alongside works by Canadians Jason Doell, Christopher Goddard, Cassandra Miller and Michael Oesterle.
The second project that caught my eye this month is the upcoming production of Two Odysseys: Pimooteewin/Gállábártnit running from November 13 to 17 at Daniels Spectrum. Produced by Soundstreams with partners Signal Theatre and the Sámi National Theatre, the performance will present two operas that are the first such works to be sung and narrated in the Indigenous languages of both Cree and Sámi (the language of the Sápmi people, whose territory today encompasses large northern parts of Norway and Sweden, northern parts of Finland, and the Kola Peninsula within the Murmansk Oblast of Russia. Both works will be directed collaboratively by Michael Greyeyes from Signal Theatre and Cole Alvis from lemonTree creations.
Pimooteewin (The Journey) was first premiered in 2008, a performance that initiated a collaboration between Soundstreams and Greyeyes. Since that time, through a series of performances, connections, meetings and creative thinking, the initial venture has now evolved to the current production that has expanded to include a second companion opera, Gállábártnit, written in the Sámi language. The libretto for Pimooteewin was written in Cree by the celebrated Indigenous playwright and novelist Tomson Highway. Canadian composer Melissa Hui was selected to compose the music for the libretto and this task demanded her full commitment to understanding how to work with the Cree language. The librettist for Gállábártnit is Norwegian and Sámi playwright/author Rawdna Carita Eira. Swedish composer Britta Byström, who received the Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award for Female Composers in 2015 from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, was selected to bring her unique artistic language to bear in the creation of the music.
In the casting of Two Odysseys, great care was taken to reflect diverse Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives. The performers include two narrators—Yolanda Bonnell and Heli Huovinen, each fluent in their respective languages of Cree and Sámi, as well as vocal soloists Melody Courage, Asitha Tennekoon and Bud Roach. The musical performers also include a choir assembled by Soundstreams as well as a chamber ensemble. Métis soprano soloist Melody Courage provides a quick peek into her experience of the rehearsal process in a short excerpt from the promotional video available on the Soundstreams website, in which she reflects on “…the amount of pride I feel performing with so many ridiculously talented Indigenous artists that I’ve met for the first time … It’s in the stages of coming together and it feels very magical.”
Both works examine the question of how we live together as a human community on this earth, and how we journey on to the land of the dead. Each piece is based on ancient stories from the two traditions. The Cree story tells the tale of the Trickster character Weesageechak (coyote) and Migisoo (eagle) and their desire to be reunited with loved ones. The Gállábártnit of the Sámi story are the “sons of the son of the sun,” hunter/inventor star beings who come to earth from the “belt” of the constellation known in European cosmology as Orion. This mix of Indigenous stories, languages, directors, librettists, narrators and soloists intermingle here in an art form with European roots, in music created by two composers who bring their own sensibilities and artistic voices to the project. It is a dialogue that explores the edges of the possibilities available when people of diverse cultures are able to work collaboratively with sensitivity, respect and a willingness to listen to each other. Soprano Melody Courage sums it up this way: “You can expect to be moved and transformed, musically and spiritually.”
IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS
NOV 12, 8PM: New Music Concerts/Faculty of Music, U of T. Kasemets@100. Palestrina: Tu es Petrus; Kasemets: Trigon; Märt-Matis Lill: When the Buffalo Went Away; Kozlova-Johannes: Horizontals; Kasemets: 4’33” Fractals; Future is past…is…now. Ensemble U:; Stephen Clarke, piano. Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building.
NOV 17, 8PM: The Music Gallery. History Series: Celebrating Casey Sokol. An evening with one of the Music Gallery’s co-founders as he moves on from a storied career teaching improvisation at York University. The evening will be part improvised soirée/part interview with food and drinks.
NOV 24, 8PM: The Music Gallery. Emergents I: Sarah Albu & Mári Mákó + Anoush Moazzeni. Blend of electronics, improvisation and notated works. Sarah Albu, vocalist; Mári Mákó, composer/sound artist; Anoush Moazzeni, piano/improvisation/composer.
NOV 24, 8PM: Toronto Improvisors Orchestra. TIO Celebrates Casey Sokol. Casey Sokol, piano; Eugene Martynec, laptop; Rod Campbell, trumpet; Bill Gilliam, piano; Ambrose Pottie, percussion. Array Space
NOV 26 AND 27, 8PM: Confluence Concerts. “An Evening with Marion Newman: What Is Classical Indigenous Music?” Marion Newman, mezzo; Rebecca Cuddy, mezzo; Evan Korbut, baritone; Gordon Gerrard, piano; Ian Cusson, composer. Heliconian Hall.
DEC 1, 8PM: Esprit Orchestra. “Sustain.” Andrew Norman: Sustain, for orchestra; Adam Scime: Afterglow, concerto for violin and orchestra; José Evangelista: Accelerando, for orchestra. Véronique Mathieu, violin; Alex Pauk, conductor. Koerner Hall.
Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. email@example.com.
With the arrival of the fall season in the world of new and experimental music comes the next installment of the X Avant New Music Festival at the Music Gallery. Over the years, this festival has organized itself around various themes, many of which have focussed on different challenges inherent in the artistic practices of those who engage in the creation of adventurous ideas in the arts of music and sound. This year is of course no exception; the festival will be exploring the notion of how artists move forward in their careers and the various challenges and risks involved in that. Sometimes, as the Music Gallery’s David Dacks told me, the artist’s life is all about daily survival, which creates a tension when pursuing “the next big idea.” As Dacks notes, the political parties in the upcoming Canadian federal election have adopted the idea of “moving forward,” as a slogan, but what does this really mean for the creator and how should this idea which our culture takes for granted be challenged? It is, after all, the motivating concept behind capitalism – the idea of limitless growth, but, as Dacks points out, the current ecological crisis is forcing the culture to rethink the limits of growth – and to create new models of cooperation and collective action. This is needed in the arts too.
This month’s column delves more deeply into two curatorial visions: first, this year’s X Avant, and, second, a fall series of “Quiet Concerts,” at the Cedarbrae Public Library in Scarborough, curated by composer, musician and researcher Christopher Willes, as part of an artist-in-residency hosted by the Toronto Public Library. Willes’ series is an examination of the experience and practice of listening and performing in public spaces; the unique aspect of these performances is that they explore the use of headphones as an aspect of listening in a quiet public space.
To begin though, let’s return to this year’s lineup for the X Avant Festival, which opens on October 17 with a concert featuring the world premiere of Still Life by composer and percussionist Germaine Liu. The piece is a composition/sounding installation activated by five players: Susanna Hood, Julie Lassonde, Germaine Liu, Heather MacPhail, and Sahara Morimoto. Liu describes this work in the following way: “The installation is made up of a collection of found objects which will be prepared or left as they are and brought to life through sound and movement by the five players. The goal of the performance is to create an opportunity to honour these found objects with an attempt to focus on the exchanges and negotiations of partnership between object and human.” Liu states that she is “particularly interested in exploring play and imagining objects in fresh ways through living our processes rather than performing them. I have a deep curiosity for relationships like stillness and movement, negative space and positive space, silence and sound.”
Liu has an intriguing approach to the X Avant theme of moving forward: a desire to be still and take on the role of observer. From this position she seeks to learn “to listen and take mindful actions from inspiration.” Over the last year she has been revisiting scores by Pauline Oliveros, and has been particularly drawn to a direction given in one of Oliveros’ scores: “All that is required is a willing commitment to the given conditions”. Combining these words and her love for found objects that she has recently experienced in her work with composer Juliet Palmer, she states that she wants “to make living creations that have the goal of being inclusive and a space for any players to thrive in, with the only requirement being a willingness to participate.”
(Readers may recall my September 2019 column where I spoke about Palmer’s piece Ukiyo, floating world that was created from improvisations using floating ocean debris in Japan. Liu was part of the live interactions with these ocean objects along with Palmer and Sonja Rainey.)
On the Friday night of the X Avant Festival (October 18), Lido Pimienta will be performing songs from her new album – her next step after winning the 2017 Polaris Prize. However, these songs will be presented in a completely different way at the festival from how they appear on the album, being performed by brass ensemble and choir. Dacks quoted Pimienta’s description of this festival version as “the wind in the background” of the new album. Saturday’s concert on October 19 will feature a collaboration that Dacks himself was pivotal in setting up. He has brought together one of Toronto’s senior reggae and dub artists, Willi Williams, to perform with indie electronica artists New Chance. For Dacks, the inspiration behind this pairing was that mixing performers from different generations and different forms doesn’t happen much in Toronto, so this is an experiment to see what will emerge. The final concert on October 20 will highlight a 90-minute work by Ithaca, NY composer and percussionist Sarah Hennies, The Reinvention of Romance (2018), performed by Nick Storring on cello and Hennies on percussion. Toronto audiences will have heard the Thin Edge New Music Collective perform Hennies’ film and sound work, Contralto, at TIFF in 2018; her appearance at this year’s X Avant is a perfect example of artistic “next steps.”
In preparation for interviewing Christopher Willes about his Quiet Concerts Series, I attended the first of five headphone concerts in this series on September 15, with the remaining four concerts scheduled over the months of September and October. This concert featured Toronto-based vocalist/songwriter Robin Dann whose performance centred on the phenomenon known as ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. This practice has a cult-like following on YouTube whose practitioners focus on the close miking of sound, with the intention of creating sounds to stimulate the body with therapeutic results. In Dann’s concert she combined whispering, singing with electronic keyboard accompaniment, performing on such items as combs, brushes, and a foldout fan, the process of boiling water for the making of tea, and reading a children’s story. I experimented with taking off my headphones at several points to see how audible the acoustic sound was and to my surprise discovered I could barely hear what was happening. With the headphones on however, it was a completely different story – very close-up and intimate.
For Willes, curating this concert series is an opportunity to explore how listening can free one to have a different understanding and experience of a given space, and how listening functions in a public space to create a different type of gathering together. Using headphones in a traditionally quiet environment offers a uniquely individual way of experiencing the sounds being performed, and Willes is interested in what kinds of effects this has on the listener. For him as curator, these concerts are also a good way to meet people who use the library, and are part of his overall residency at Cedarbrae, a residency that will also include sound-based workshops for children and teenagers. Part of the challenge of the concerts is figuring out how to involve people as listeners, and he is devising various strategies to encourage the library patrons to listen in, including walking about as the concert unfolds. Although listening through the wireless headphones in the vicinity of the performance taking place is the main way of listening, the concert is also available for online listening for people working at their laptops while in the library, thus creating an invisible audience.
As I mentioned, there are four more concerts in this series, with three of them during the month of October. All the remaining concerts will feature a collaboration between a musician and a poet, thus mixing two types of sound making – textual sound and a musical/soundscape performance. On October 6, the concert will feature the work of Philippe Melanson and Christopher Dela Cruz. Both performers work strictly with electronics, so there will be no acoustic sound present. Melanson works with his own chance-operated synthesizers while Dela Cruz will be using one of his sound sculptures to operate a turntable to play poetry records from the vinyl archives of the library. On October 20, Germaine Liu will bring her fascination with the relationships between objects and with different forms of kinetic interactions to her collaboration with Aisha Sasha John. Likewise, John has an interest in presence and works with silence in her poetry. How they will approach performing quietly will be revealed during the performance. The final event of the series is on October 27, featuring Karen Ng and Fan Wu. Ng will be performing on her woodwind instruments using extended techniques and wants to create a close mike system for the performance. Wu is a prolific poet with a dry sense of humour and Willes is anticipating quite an entertaining afternoon between the two of them. The other concert will have already occurred before this issue is published – on September 29 Gayle Young performed on one of her stringed instruments in collaboration with poet Tom Gill.
With each concert offering a very different approach to the overall concept of listening together in a more isolated way through the headphone experience, this series is essentially an experimentation and exploration of how togetherness can be experienced in new ways in a public space we associate with quiet and internal focus. It could get a bit raucous and even quite political, Willes suggests.
More information about each concert can be found on the individual Facebook event pages, accessible through this link: tiny.cc/quietconcerts. Details about van transportation from both the downtown area and U of T’s Scarborough campus to the Cedarbrae library can also be accessed on these event pages.
IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS
OCT 3, 8PM: Soundstreams begins their season with “Top Brass,” a concert mix of classical and jazz genres featuring three trumpet performers performing world premieres by Anna Pidgorna (The Three Woes), Brian Current (Serenade for Three Trumpets) and Heather Schmidt (Titanomachy). For details see David Jaeger’s “Soundstreams and the Trumpets of October” elsewhere in this issue.
OCT 5, 7PM: Leaf Music/Gillian Smith. A CD launch of Into the Stone, featuring works for violin and piano by Alice Ping Yee Ho (Caprice), Veronika Krausas (Inside the Stone), Ana Sokolović (Cinque danze per violino solo), Canadian composer Carmen Braden, Belgian composer Ysaÿe (1858-1931), and Baroque-era composer Telemann.
OCT 6, 8PM: Esprit Orchestra launches their new season with I Hit My Head and Everything Changed, which is also the title of a new commissioned work by Brian Harman to be premiered at the concert. Compositions by Alexia Louie (Love Songs for a Small Planet), English composer Thomas Adès (Overture to The Tempest) and Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen (Left, alone) complete the program.
OCT 19, 7:30PM: Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts along with Full Frequency Productions in Kingston present “Orchestral Virtuosity” with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. A new work by Jessie Montgomery will be on the program.
OCT 20, 3:30PM: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s 125th Anniversary Gala Concert, “Singing Through Centuries,” includes a newly commissioned work by Andrew Balfour, Mamihimowin (The act of singing praises), to represent the third of the three centuries the TMC has been active in.
DEC 6, 8PM: Music Gallery and Bad New Days present “Melancholiac: The Music of Scott Walker,” an event that is part concert, part spectacle, part existential talk show. Also on DEC 7, 4PM.
Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. firstname.lastname@example.org.
September has arrived and with it comes a new season of new music performances. The boundaries and edges of what I cover in this column are continually expanding, offering up a diverse array of perspectives and sounds. One of the contributing voices to this sonic smorgasbord is the Thin Edge New Music Collective (TENMC). It was founded in 2011 by co-artistic directors pianist Cheryl Duvall and violinist Ilana Waniuk, and includes an additional 15 performers listed on their website as part of the larger collective. Their new season begins early this year with a mini three-day festival running from September 20 to 22, comprised of three performances at the Music Gallery, 918 Bathurst, and a live-streamed workshop held at the Canadian Music Centre. The title of this festival is ONGAKU – a Japanese word meaning “music,”and true to its name, the performances will present a spectrum of compositions by both Japanese and Canadian composers. I spoke with Cheryl Duvall about what audiences can expect to hear during this three-day feast.
Duvall and Waniuk originally met while students at Wilfred Laurier University and became very involved with performing contemporary music and working with the various student composers studying there. That’s where they met composer Daryl Jamieson who moved to Japan a decade ago, and in the intervening years, the three artists have been organizing various cultural exchanges between the two countries. In September 2018, Duvall and Waniuk travelled to Japan to perform a series of solos and duos with electronics from the repertoire they had built up since the beginning of TENMC. They presented pieces by Kaija Saariaho, Linda Catlin Smith, Kotoka Suzuki, and Brian Harman, as well as music by young Tokyo composers Yuka Shibuya and Takahiro Kuroda. This year’s ONGAKU festival in Toronto is a continuation of that cultural exchange.
The first concert on September 20 will be an evening of chamber works featuring guest Japanese artists Miyama McQueen-Tokita who plays bass koto, Ko Ishikawa who performs on the shō, and Akiko Nakayama, a visual artist who performs alive painting using different types of liquids to create images inspired by the music and projected during the performance. The evening will include world premieres by Japanese composers Hiroki Tsurumoto, Takeo Hoshiya and Yuka Shibuya as well as works by Tōru Takemitsu, Miya Masaoka, and the Canadian premiere of Malika Kishino’s Qualia for bass koto and ten-channel electronics.
On the afternoon of September 21, the free workshop, at the CMC’s Chalmers House, will be an opportunity to meet with some of performers and composers. Ishikawa and McQueen-Tokita will demonstrate their respective instruments – the shō and bass koto, and talk about the challenges in composing for them, followed by a panel discussion amongst the various Japanese and Canadian composers whose works are part of the festival. The evening concert, back at 918 Bathurst, will feature members of TENMC performing works by Jo Kondo and Yoshiaki Inishi; improvisations by McQueen-Tokita; and an improvisation set featuring Ishikawa on shō, Ami Yamasaki’s experimental vocals and Nakayama’s alive painting.
The festival will conclude on September 22 at 918 Bathurst, with Canadian premieres of works by Yuka Shibuya and Toshia Watanabe, along with world premieres of two large-scale multimedia works by Daryl Jamieson and Juliet Palmer. Jamieson’s work is titled Utamakura 5: Mount Kamakura. The word utamakura refers to the practice of using place names in Japanese poetry to honour and recognize specific locations with spiritual significance. Over time, many Japanese composers, poets and playwrights have reused these place names in their works. Jamieson’s piece focuses on Mount Kamakura, just south of Tokyo, a location that has been associated with the sounds of lumber being harvested, grass being cut, and birdsong. This new work is a reflection on both the ancient and contemporary associations with Kamakura and will include references to a Shintō shrine located in the area. The work is scored for piano, cello, violin, flute, clarinet, percussion, bass koto, electronics and video, and will include soundscape recordings from the area. The other large-scale work on this program is Ukiyo, floating world, created by Urbanvessel’s artistic director and Toronto-based composer Juliet Palmer. The work arose from a recent research trip to the beaches of Ojika-jima in Japan where large amounts of ocean garbage wash up. Palmer, along with Urbanvessel members interdisciplinary artist and designer Sonja Rainey and percussionist Germaine Liu, created improvisations with elements of this floating debris for the new work, which is essentially a dialogue between the live musicians and video footage of these floating-world improvisations. Performers include Aki Takahaski on shamisen and voice, McQueen-Tokita (bass koto), percussion (Liu), violin (Waniuk) and piano (Duvall).
I asked Duvall about TENMC’s interest in exploring contemporary Japanese music. She said that what draws her is the “beautiful balance in the music, in particular how the instruments are balanced against each other. Rhythms are complicated but don’t sound that way, rather there is a sense of floating and of pureness. Often there is a counterpoint, a passing of one voice to another creating a beautiful line in the music.” She mentioned also that the legendary Japanese composer Jo Kondo was a huge inspiration to many of the Japanese composers she has met, and his legacy lives on in their music. As in Toronto, there is a supportive community for contemporary music culture in Japan, but in comparing the two countries, she stated that audiences there are not that accustomed to hearing music by Canadian composers; in fact, there is more of a European influence in Japanese contemporary music since many young composers go to countries such as Germany and the UK to study. This opportunity for exchange between the artists of Canada and Japan will no doubt foster more opportunities for creative interaction with audiences as well.
Back in 2016, TENMC produced a remarkable event titled “Balancing on the Edge” that combined contemporary music with contemporary circus arts. The well-attended run of this production at Harbourfront spoke to the ways modern humanity is precariously balanced on the edge of survival and evolution. This challenging production that included a total of 40 artists will now see a new incarnation, with TENMC undertaking the development of four new works, all to be created collaboratively between the circus performers, musicians, composers and choreographers, and due for final production in June 2021. The first work for this future production, Study in Exile: Home is not a place on the map, featuring First Nations dancer Amy Hull, has already been workshopped and performed in 2018. Another recent performance from this past July that demonstrates TENMC’s love of interactivity and movement included Triptych, a new work by composer Peter Hatch, which saw the musical performers walking, talking, and creating exaggerated movements.
In their upcoming seasons over the next three years, TENMC’s vision is to create space for more diverse voices, working with composers from under-represented groups. In February of 2020, the Japanese theme continues, with a concert of solos and duos by Dai Fujikura in a concert co-presented by Arraymusic and the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Their concert in March 2020 will present five world premieres by emerging Canadian composers, while in June 2020, a newly commissioned long-form piano quartet by Linda Catlin Smith will be performed. In September 2016, TENMC performed Morton Feldman’s final work, Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, which has a duration of 75 minutes, and this experience of playing longer duration works is the inspiration behind the Smith commission. During Duvall and Waniuk’s time at Wilfred Laurier, Smith was an important mentor to them, and has given them guidance over the ensuing years. Now they are able to work with her, and appropriately, Smith has important ties to Feldman’s music. Two other works on that program include a premiere by Canadian composer Alex Sang and Iranian Nasim Khorassani. Stay tuned as the Thin Edge collective continues to grow and evolve.
Contemporary Orchestral Music
On September 19 and 21, the TSO brings together two dynamic musicians who both perform and conduct. Soprano Barbara Hannigan returns to conduct classical works by Beethoven, Haydn and a Dutilleux nocturne featuring John Storgårds on violin. Storgårds in turn conducts a work by Sibelius and British composer Brett Dean’s And once I played Ophelia, with Hannigan as soloist. Dean was the featured composer during the TSO’s New Creations Festival in 2016, while Hannigan appeared as a soloist in both the 2015 and 2016 iterations of the same festival.
On October 6, Esprit Orchestra launches its new season with a concert titled “I Hit My Head and Everything Changed,” which is also the title of a newly commissioned work by Brian Harman that includes video art projections by Moira Ness. This concert will also be the venue for the presentation of the 2019 Canada Council Molson Prize in the Arts to composer Alexina Louie, whose 1989 composition, Love Songs for a Small Planet, for chamber choir, harp, percussion and string orchestra, will be performed. Works by English composer Thomas Adès and Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen will complete the program.
Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. email@example.com
The summer season is always full of a remarkable array of opportunities to hear cutting-edge music in a variety of settings, and the Luminato Festival that takes place in June in Toronto is no exception. For this year’s edition, I decided to take a look at The Cave, a new work created by composer John Millard, lyricist Tomson Highway and dramaturge Martha Ross, which runs from June 18 to 23 at Soulpepper’s Tank House Theatre. An additional exciting feature of this performance will be the opportunity to experience it across the country through webcasting. Through partnerships with about 25 different institutions in places like Inuvik, Rumble Theatre in Vancouver, the Banff Centre, Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, and the Gander Institute for the Arts in Newfoundland, people will be able to gather together in theatres to watch a simultaneous live webcast. Home live streaming will also be possible.
I spoke with the composer of the project, John Millard, to get an inside look at what to expect from this project. He began by emphasizing that the piece is not based on any particular story, but is rather created from a premise. A group of animals find themselves trapped together in an unnatural environment – a bear’s cave – with a forest fire raging outside. What are their individual stories and what brought them to this place? What do they think about the human beings responsible for this fire? In the end Millard says, “we are trying to figure out something about ourselves by using the voices of animals,” with a particular focus on addressing the growing environmental crisis we are facing. Millard also emphasized that traditional Indigenous stories and legends are not used, but the lyrics come from Highway’s imaginative crafting of the dilemmas and issues that arose during the collaborative creative phase. One interesting example is the use of the Garden of Eden story, what Millard calls “an expulsion myth,” a type of myth that doesn’t exist in Indigenous mythologies. In one of the songs of The Cave, the snake character speaks about the tragic outcome that this myth has had culturally, a myth that has demonized women and led to a separation and banishment of the concept of paradise.
The piece is structured in the form of a cabaret with approximately 20 songs sung by both soloists and a quintet ensemble. The singers are from diverse backgrounds and include Neema Bickersteth (classical), Derek Kwan (opera), Andrea Koziol (cabaret/folk) and Alex Samaras (popular/jazz), as well as Millard whose musical influences include bluegrass, cabaret and classical. Each singer performs about two or three solos and they also come together to form a quintet at times. Instrumentation includes bass, percussion, reeds, accordion, keyboard and banjo, and Millard has composed various instrumental sections for this unusual ensemble. Since much of Millard’s work has been composing for theatre and its requirements, he told me that this piece is the first time he has written a through-composed piece that is primarily music-focused. Although there is some text in the role of the narrator who introduces the animals, this piece “is all about the songs”, Millard said. Working with musical director Gregory Oh and dramaturge Martha Ross, an emotional arc becomes the structure for the piece, rather than a plot arc, with the goal of discovering who these animals are, what’s important to them, and what the critical issues are for these creatures. The set design will be constructed as both a cave and a cabaret environment with the audience experiencing what it’s like to be inside this environment with fires raging outside. Sound designer Christopher Ross-Ewart will play an important role in creating this sonic world, and various elements of haute fashion will be incorporated into the costume design.
The Something Else Festival is Hamilton’s four-day festival of jazz and experimental music that runs from June 20 to 23 presented by Zula Music & Arts Collective Hamilton. It features an eclectic lineup of performers and improvisers including Czech virtuoso violinist/vocalist Iva Bittová who will be performing solo in a free/by donation concert on June 21 in the afternoon, before teaming up in the evening with drummer Hamid Drake. On Saturday June 22, the afternoon begins with a performance by bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck from Brooklyn, followed in the evening with another solo performance by Bittová, followed by a set featuring clarinet master Don Byron collaborating with Indigenous Mind (Joshua Abrams, Hamid Drake and Jason Adasiewicz). Many more cutting edge performances will occur, so do check out the schedule both in our listings and at zulapresents.org.
Summer Music Residencies
The Toronto Creative Music Lab once again takes up residence for a week in June at the Music Gallery. The TCML is an artistic and professional development workshop for early-career musicians, ensembles and composers committed to risk taking. This year they will engage with members of Montreal’s Quatuor Bozzini to present the Toronto premiere of legendary French electronic composer Eliane Radigue’s Occam Delta XV on June 14. Other pieces on the program include new works from Cléo Palacio-Quintin and Andrea Young, along with Jason Doell’s …amid the cannon’s roar.
The Westben Performer-Composer Residency occurs in southeastern Ontario’s Northumberland County near Campbellford and is an important milestone in Westben’s ongoing evolution from a summer festival to a multifaceted year-round centre. Their mandate for the residency is to encourage 11 young composers and performers from diverse countries and backgrounds to take creative risks by participating in a process of inter-generational exchange. Participants are expected to offer workshops to their peers featuring their own specialized approaches, with some of these workshops open to the public. This year’s residency features participants from Canada, the US, Chile, Argentina and Cuba, and the workshops will include explorations in four-handed piano, experimental luthiery, strings, dance, voice and custom-built electronics. The entire process will culminate with a performance on June 15 that will feature the collaborations and experiments that have taken place throughout the week.
Toronto Summer Music Festival
This year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival celebrates the various cultural influences on classical music from as far back as Mozart’s day up to today’s living composers. Two established Toronto composers will have world premieres at Walter Hall during the festival: Christos Hatzis’ String Quartet No.5 (The Transforming) will be premiered by the New Orford String Quartet on July 12; and Alexina Louie’s new (as yet untitled) work will be performed on August 2. I asked each of the composers to write a short description of their pieces for this column.
Hatzis writes that his String Quartet No.5 is “the closing statement of a cycle depicting a psychic development spanning 25 years (1994-2019) which is best described by the subtitles of each quartet: Awakening, Gathering, Questioning, Suffering and finally Transforming.” This final work of the cycle is written in three movements and is intended “as a psychological hermeneutic (or explanation) of the story of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.” Psychologically there is a “strong resonance that radiates from these well-known events,” he says, which have left their spiritually transformative imprint upon humanity.
The inspiration for Louie’s new work began during a conversation with Jonathan Crow in his capacity as TSO concertmaster, while they were discussing her new piece, Triple Concerto For Three Violins And Orchestra, which premiered in 2017. Crow, as artistic director of Toronto Summer Music, suggested that she write a new piece for the same instrumentation as Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire – flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano. Louie was inspired and got to work on it immediately. She describes the new work in this way: “The two outside movements are virtuosic and effervescent. In the middle movement, in order to evoke the mysteries of the night, I instruct the pianist to play on the inside of the piano, strumming and stopping the strings. The movement unfolds with quiet twitterings and undulating sounds played by the remaining musicians.”
Summer Music in the Garden
Celebrating its 20th season, this well-loved series, curated by Tamara Bernstein, is held along the waterfront at Harbourfront Centre’s Toronto Music Garden and offers several opportunities to hear new music. The dynamic TorQ Percussion Quartet will perform four works on July 21 by contemporary composers: Adam Campbell’s El Mosquito Marron; Steve Reich’s Drumming, Part 1; ensemble members Richard Burrows’ and Daniel Morphy’s Elements Suite; and Dinuk Wijeratne’s Ersilia from Invisible Cities. On August 22, the cello duo VC2 combines works from 18th-century Europe with contemporary works, including a commissioned world premiere by Kelly-Marie Murphy and two pieces based on Beethoven cello sonatas: Five Little Pieces by Andrew Downing and Entsprechung by Matt Brubeck. Towards the end of the summer on September 8, percussionist Aiyun Huang and violinist Mark Fewer join forces to present world premieres by Michael Oesterle and John Hollenbeck, with Huang performing Javier Alvarez’s Temazcal for two maracas and pre-recorded tape.
IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS
JUN 5, 8PM: Canadian Music Centre. The Canadian Piano Left Hand Commissioning Project features new works for piano left hand by Christopher Butterfield, Taylor Brook, Anna Hostman, Emilie LeBel, Adam Sherkin and others.
AUG 7, 6PM: Festival of the Sound’s Discovery Concert. Continuum Contemporary Music’s artistic director, Ryan Scott, invites three young composers to participate in a residency under the mentorship of composer Gary Kulesha. This concert will feature their works.
Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. firstname.lastname@example.org.
The dictionary defines a conflagration as an extensive fire that destroys a great deal of land or property. (The recent Notre Dame fire in Paris on April 15 can be considered such an event.) It is also the very word that the beloved Toronto-born poet and novelist Gwendolyn MacEwen (1941-1987) used, metaphorically, to describe Nikola Tesla, the Serbian-American inventor and electrical engineer who brought us alternating current (AC) – the electricity system we use every day. In the last paragraph of the opening section of Tesla, MacEwen’s verse-play for radio, she states: “He set the entire earth in electrical vibration with a generator that spouted lightning that rivalled the fiery artillery of the heavens….Tesla was a conflagration.”
Tesla was one of two MacEwen verse-plays that were commissioned by and broadcast on CBC’s Anthology program in the early to mid-1960s. The Tesla piece explores Tesla’s achievements and his AC current that was used in the hydroelectric plant at Niagara Falls, the first of its kind. It also covers the highly controversial “War of Currents” he was engaged in with Edison and his direct-current (DC) system to determine which system would power the world. Tesla won. The second was Terror and Erebus, the names of the two ships used in the Franklin expedition to discover the Northwest Passage. Franklin’s Arctic expedition, had a less auspicious outcome: the two ships became icebound for three years, and despite several attempts to find them, the entire crew eventually died. Only the Inuit knew where they were.
TIO at Array: May 26 at the Array Space, the Toronto Improvisers Orchestra (TIO) will present a performance of both of these radio verse-plays, featuring actors Rod Campbell and Randi Helmers with an original score by composer Eugene Martynec for the Tesla piece, in an event that promises to be something of a conflagration of mixed art forms. Using the wireless technology that Tesla himself foresaw, I had a Skype conversation with TIO members Martynec and Campbell to hear more about the TIO in general and about this upcoming performance which is part of a series of events that the TIO has initiated to celebrate great artists and improvisers from Toronto.
The orchestra itself is the inspiration of Martynec who started it up about seven years ago after returning from a three-year stay in London UK where he played several times with the well-seasoned London Improvisers Orchestra. One of the hallmarks of that ensemble is the use of conduction cues, a series of hand signals used by a conductor to guide the musicians through an improvisational performance. These were originally designed by American cornet player and composer Butch Morris and have become a standard system used by many improvising ensembles in Europe and North America.
Currently, the TIO performs twice a month – at the Tranzac Club and the Array Space – and is a very musician-centric ensemble. These gatherings consist of a one-hour rehearsal beforehand to warm up and go over the cues, and then the actual improvisational performance begins. “The hand signals are there to help us out, not to tell people what to do” Martynec explains. The basic guidelines are that players are asked not to play in their usual genre (jazz, classical, blues, etc), melodies are to be atonal only and extended techniques on one’s instrument are highly encouraged.
Listening is key to making the music work, and for improvisers this includes not playing too much or louder than everyone else, enhancing what is happening, and knowing when to stop. Sometimes doing nothing at all can be the most appropriate contribution to the whole. There is a core of about six to eight players; for special events, such as this one in May, the orchestra grows to about 18 players. Instrumentation varies according to who participates, but usually consists of trumpet, piano, classical guitar, zheng (Chinese zither), flute, banjo, soprano sax, electric guitar and Martynec’s unique and custom-made laptop instrument that emulates an old Atari computer. He has designed several digitally based instruments that can be accessed through different types of controllers and mouse gestures.
For the Tesla piece, as I mentioned above, Martynec has created a score, which may seem contradictory for an improvisational ensemble. Martynec, though, describes the score as “a series of cues that are constrained improvisations.” Campbell will be conducting it and although the musicians will have seen the score before arriving, they will not have read the radio scripts and so it will truly be an improvisatory interaction. One aspect Martynec wants to include is the electronic sounds created when one unplugs a guitar from an amplifier, for example. These sounds are at 60 Hz, the frequency of alternating current (AC) and he is also requesting players tune to 60 HZ if possible, which is between B flat and B. The plan is to create a drone-like effect at one point during the Tesla performance. There will be no score for Terror and Erebus, and players will be asked to be ready to play sounds that reflect the ideas of ice and the North. Of course for Tesla, other encouraged sounds will be electronic and crackling in nature. Interestingly, in the original CBC production of Tesla, MacEwen had an instruction in the script that stated: “Wherever sound effects are indicated in the play, I have assumed these would be electronic. Oskar Sala’s Five Improvisations on Magnetic Tape would be an ideal record, although not necessarily the sole possibility.” Apparently, that’s not what was used in the end, and Campbell said when he listened to the archival recording, there were a lot of oscillator-like sounds used.
To conclude our conversation, I asked both Campbell and Martynec why they are drawn to improvisation. Campbell said he enjoys both listening to and playing improvised music and feels it is a natural thing for musicians to want to engage in. He is particularly curious about where it can go and especially those occasions when everyone stops at the same moment. “How did that happen?” they both exclaimed in chorus. Martynec enjoys the conversation that occurs along with the surprises, and due to the nature of his digital instrument, it’s the only situation he can play in, he said. They also both spoke about how sometimes things can go wrong, but that’s okay because it’s improvised music. For example, Campbell said, “The conductor can give a cue to a player, and then it goes somewhere different. It’s not wrong but different enough that everyone will then switch to accompany that person. It takes its own direction and eventually things work out.”
No doubt there will be plenty of surprises, and alternating currents, taking place during the performance of these two legendary radio verse-plays by MacEwen, whom author Michael Ondaatje referred to as “the last great bardic poet” since all her readings were done by memory.
IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS
MAY 2, 8PM: Spectrum Music presents Coding Chaos with compositions inspired by the Creator archetype, with a pre-concert chat with software artist Ryan Kelln at 7:30. New compositions exploring artificial intelligence and a deeper look into the digital world by Spectrum composers Mason Victoria, Chelsea McBride, Jackson Welchner, Suzy Wilde with guest composers Nebyu Yohannes and Harrison Argatoff.
MAY 3, 8PM: The Music Gallery. In this final Emergents concert of the season, the experimental music theatre group Din of Shadows will present their newest project Material Mythology with a team of performers, composers, dancers and visual artists. The piece speculates about the hidden meanings and mythologies behind everyday actions, objects and spaces.
MAY 9, 12PM: Canadian Opera Company presents “Between Sound and Silence,” in their chamber music series, featuring Movement by German composer Helmut Lachenmann. Performed by the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble directed by Brian Current. Free.
MAY 10, 7:30PM: Upper Canada Choristers mark their 25th anniversary with the world premiere of Teasdale Love Songs by Canadian composer Stephen Chatman, a song cycle in six movements set to the poetry of Sara Teasdale. The evening includes Five Hebrew Love Songs by American composer Eric Whitacre and performances by the Cantemos Latin Ensemble performing the music of Venezuelan composer César Alejandro Carrillo.
MAY 10, 8PM: Continuum Contemporary Music presents “RADIOfänik” filled with music from various new genres including Sub-Club Drone, Indie Crossover and Gen-X Jams. Canadian works on the program include a new commission by Maxime Corbeil-Perron, two by Nicole Lizée including the world premiere of her Marsh Chapel Experiment and Doubt Is a Distance by James O’Callaghan. Pieces by Israeli composer Yair Klartag, Danish composer Simon Steen-Andersen and Polish composer Jagoda Szmytka complete the program. The Continuum Ensemble will be joined by Rob MacDonald on electric guitar.
MAY 26, 8PM: New Music Concerts presents “Iridescence,” their last concert of the season, featuring works by three Canadian composers: Matthias McIntire’s Cathedral Grove (and the Gray Jay) for solo violin with electronics; Samuel Andreyev’s Iridescent Notation for soprano and ensemble; and Ana Sokolović’s Evta for solo violin and ensemble. Violin soloists Matthias McIntire and Andréa Tyniec will join the New Music Concerts Ensemble directed by Robert Aitken.
Back in November 2018, I wrote about a conversation I had with David Schotzko, Arraymusic’s new artistic director. One of the things he told me about at the time was his plan to continue Arraymusic’s community-based focus through co-productions as well as the presenting of mini-festivals that highlight the music of specific composers. On the weekend of April 12 to 14, one such co-produced mini-festival will come to fruition, bringing together Arraymusic, the Music Gallery and Native Women in the Arts to present the music of Raven Chacon.
I had a chance to speak with Chacon about the music we’ll be hearing during the festival as well as acquaint myself with some of his other artistic projects and his thinking about music and composition. What I discovered was an intriguing body of work that was coming from a unique perspective: one that not so much pushed against established new music norms, but rather one that originated from a different place, a different mind.
Before we began our conversation, Chacon handed me a large-sized postcard with an image from Canyon de Chelly on the front, with recording grooves, playable on a turntable, imprinted upon the cardboard paper. It was a field recording he had made in 1999 from the Canyon de Chelly, located in the state of Arizona, east of the Grand Canyon – a visually stunning place close to the Navajo Nation home where he grew up. Later in our conversation he spoke about this recording: “It was made in a quiet place at a quiet time of day. In the studio, I turned the volume up to the max. It’s not about the pristine anthropological capturing or listening to this place. It’s about letting this place scream. Speak and scream,” he said.
Even though we were sitting in a Toronto café for our conversation, I felt the presence of this other space as we spoke about his chamber music compositions, noise-based pieces, score notations, installations, films and his various collaborations.
The mini-festival begins on April 12 with a concert of Chacon’s chamber music performed by the Array Ensemble. One piece on the program will be his solo cello work Quiver, commissioned by Michelle Kesler in 2018 and one of a three-part series of pieces connected to hunting. This hunting series began with his piece Taa’go Deza [Three Points], three songs for singing cellist commissioned by Dawn Avery in 2007. During that piece, the performer sounds like an animal being chased while having to sing and play simultaneously. Invisible Arc for solo cello, written in 2017, is inspired by a traditional Navajo hunting song and reflects the process of waiting for the animal as a prayer for the life of the animal about to be killed.) Quiver, Chacon explains, is about conflicting actions, much like what happens when one tries to rub one’s stomach in a circular motion while patting the head. During the hunt, the conflict comes in the trading of one life for another, the need to hunt and kill an animal so one can survive. One instance of this occurs musically when the cellist is asked to perform circular bowing in one direction while drumming with their fingers on the bow.
Other works on Friday night’s concert include Lats’ aadah, for solo violin (2004), a word which means the number 11 in Navajo; Naakishchiin Ana’i, for flute and marimba (2004) which includes a lot of silence during the piece; and a newly commissioned work titled (Bury Me) Where The Lightning [Will] Never Find Me for violin, cello, clarinet and percussion. In this piece, he is experimenting with zigzag forms within melodies, rhythmic patterns, timbral shapes and tempo accelerations; it is a continuation of a previous work, Atsiniltlishiye, from 2003.
The Saturday concert will feature four works that are part of Chacon’s ongoing project For Zitkála-Šá. Each piece in this series is written for a specific performer, and during the festival, we will hear the pieces he created for Cheryl L’Hirondelle, a Toronto-based singer of Cree descent; Suzanne Kite, a Lakota composer and performer currently based in Montreal; Laura Ortman, a White Mountain Apache violinist and improvisor from New York City, and Carmina Escobar, a Mestiza experimental vocalist and composer living in Los Angeles. Chacon originally wanted to write a large symphonic-like work about Zitkála-Šá whom he discovered while researching to find out who might have been the first recognized native composer. Zitkála-Šá was a Dakota woman who was an activist and writer of fiction and non-fiction, including political op-eds and essays, Chacon told me. She was also a composer and violinist, co-composing The Sun Dance Opera in 1913 with William F. Hanson. It is hard to know precisely what her contributions were to the creative process, Chacon says, but he speculates that she played or sang melodies that Hanson transcribed. “The more I researched her life, the more I realized she was a polarizing and controversial figure, even today, with how she had to navigate herself as a Native woman in the early 20th century. I abandoned the idea of writing about her and instead decided to write a series of solo pieces using graphic scores for 13 contemporary Indigenous women composers.” Besides the four pieces we will hear on the April 13 concert, pieces for two other local composer/performers – Barbara Croall and Ange Loft – are part of the ongoing project, as well as plans for a lecture series and a book. During the second half of Saturday’s concert, Chacon will perform with the trio c_RL (Allison Cameron, Nicole Rampersaud and Germaine Liu), whom I also wrote about back in November.
Sunday’s concert will begin with an opening set by Anishinaabe-Irish (Nipissing First Nation) saxophonist Olivia Shortt, followed by Chacon performing an electronic noise set. The main instrument he will use is a pair of hyper-directional speakers that will beam sound on audience members. The sounds being played back are field recordings he made at Standing Rock during the Dakota Access [oil] Pipeline protests.
Chacon’s ideas about music and composition are intriguing and inspiring. “I’m always trying to think of what I’m defining as music. For me it shifts. Sometimes there is a clear difference between music and sound art. Music is something that doesn’t ever need to be explained or spoken about, it’s already doing that. It doesn’t need to be justified. The more I think about music, the less I’m confident that it requires sound.” That seems contradictory, so I asked him to elaborate, and he spoke about time, positions in time and about how the events that arise in time are more important than the actual sound. He painted a picture of how a performance could be likened to the situation of he and I sitting in the café, engaging in actions along a timeline.
“We are syncing up,” he said, “because we are consciously connecting, or placing ourselves in the context of this space together. I think what’s interesting is how the events that you do and the events that I do might align or not align. Within such a situation, artifacts will arise – artifacts such as sound or moving image, a meditation or prayer or some other experience we don’t know how to define. When I say artifacts I mean the leftovers of the real-time experience which might not be the main guts of the thing.” Most of the chamber works we will hear in the first concert on Friday night are pieces coming from this point of view, works “that are primarily written for the people who are playing them and nobody else. The audience just happens to be there,” he said. With the solo works, there is a feedback loop built into the piece. “In Quiver, for example, this happens a lot, with the performer interacting silently with the audience. Dynamics are written on the rests to show how the performer might interact, to indicate the intensity of the way they manage that feedback loop.”
In the course of our conversation, we also spoke about a work composed for the Kronos Quartet as part of their Fifty for the Future project (something Toronto audiences were introduced to in 2016 when Kronos performed during the 21C Festival). In Chacon’s Kronos piece, The Journey of the Horizontal People (2016), he worked with the idea of a future creation story, “an alternate universe creation story” with people dispersing from a place to find other people like them in order to survive. “This could be related to the need to create diversity in philosophy, world view, or genetics,” he explained. “The music is written in such a way that the players will get lost, even the virtuosic players of Kronos. For example, at one point, the first violinist is asked to speed up, the cellist to slow down, the second violinist to stay at the original tempo, and the viola to speed up immensely.” Another aspect of the piece, he says, is that it stipulates that a woman must be in the quartet, as she is the one called upon to realign the other performers when they get lost. “And if no woman is in the quartet?” I asked. “Two options are possible: the eldest person in the quartet takes on that role, but more preferable would be for the man who most identifies as a woman. If more than one woman is in the quartet, the oldest one is chosen.” In this way, the matriarchal worldview found in many native traditions becomes an integral aspect of the piece, but as Chacon adds, “This should reflect everyone’s worldview.”
Another significant aspect of Chacon’s creative work has been his involvement in Postcommodity, a collective of Native American artists that began in 2007 and with whom he worked from 2009 to 2018. Much of Postcommodity’s work is installation-based with sound being one of the main mediums used. One of Chacon’s favourite pieces with the collective, he says, is the four-act opera The Ears Between Worlds Are Always Speaking, from 2017, a site-specific work using LRADs (Long Range Acoustic Devices) to project hyper-directional sound upon the ruins of Aristotle’s Lyceum in Greece. Each day, the installation performed music from Greece and the Southwestern United States, with a libretto both spoken and sung that told stories of long-walk migrations. Another collaboration is a performance art film created with Postcommodity member Cristóbal Martínez that tells the story of two characters searching for the mythological cities of gold which the conquistadors believed were in New Mexico. The piece has been showing this past winter at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston as part of an exhibition titled Soundings that explores the question of how a score can be a call, and tool, for decolonization.
Currently, Chacon is feeling the pull back to composing chamber music, finishing pieces already started or developing ideas he has been working on for a while. One major project due to be performed this November is Sweet Land, an opera with American composer Du Yun. They will be working with Yuval Sharon, the artistic director of The Industry, a company dedicated to new and experimental opera located in Los Angeles. The opera is an alternate history of the United States focusing on encounters such as ships arriving on a shore, railroads cutting through the country, and feasts or welcomings that turned out one way or the other. The opera will be telling of these encounters and contacts between Indigenous people and others coming to visit.
Overall, the weekend of April 12 to 14 provides an excellent opportunity to hear a body of work that combines many refreshing ideas and creative strategies from someone relatively new to local audiences. I for one look forward to having a unique experience of engagement with the musical imaginings of Raven Chacon.
Raven Chacon: Mini-Festival takes place at 918 Bathurst Street, Friday to Sunday April 12 to 14.
In with the new Quick Picks
APR 5, 7PM: Esprit Orchestra presents “New Wave Reprise” with world premieres by five emerging composers. The evening includes a keynote address by Montreal composer John Rea.
APR 6, 8PM: Spectrum Music presents “Jests in Time!” with compositions inspired by the Jester archetype and a pre-concert monologue by an emerging Toronto comedian. New pieces by Spectrum composers Chelsea McBride, Mason Victoria, Jackson Welchner, Graham Campbell, Tiffany Hanus and Noah Franche-Nolan will be presented by performers Simone Baron, accordion, the Odin String Quartet and Alex Pollard, dancer.
APR 28, 3PM: The Music Gallery presents “Sounding Difference,” another in their Deep Listening experiences with Anne Bourne performing the text scores of Pauline Oliveros. Free.
APR 28, 8PM: New Music Concerts. Their “Luminaries” concert remembers the music of two friends of NMC over the years: Gilles Tremblay and Pierre Boulez. The evening includes the performance of Tremblay’s work Envoi for solo piano and ensemble, and Boulez’s iconic masterpiece Le Marteau sans maître poems by René Char for voice and six instruments.
MAY 3, 8PM: The Music Gallery. In this final Emergents concert of the season, the experimental music theatre group Din of Shadows will present their newest project Material Mythology with a team of performers, composers, dancers and visual artists. The piece speculates about the hidden meanings and mythologies behind everyday actions, objects and spaces.
Community-engaged arts practices have experienced tremendous exponential growth over the last few decades with many musical presenters taking on this mandate alongside their usual concert production activities. At the heart of this artistic practice is a dialogue between professional artists and community organizations with the outcome being a collective artistic expression. The process involved is considered as important as the final artistic result. In this month’s column, I’ll be looking at a cross-section of different community-based projects to give you a bird’s-eye look at different community-focused events in March.
First though, a very preliminary view of an intriguing work in progress being co-produced by Soundstreams and Jumblies Theatre. Anishinaabe composer Melody McKiver has been commissioned by these two organizations to compose a work for string quartet and recorded voices.
As synchronicity would have it, I was introduced to McKiver in a local restaurant, in early February, by Jumblies’ artistic director Ruth Howard, just before Soundstreams presented a performance of Steve Reich’s Different Trains, also a work for string quartet and pre-recorded tape. (My concert report of that evening can be viewed on The WholeNote website). Little did I realize at the time McKiver’s upcoming connection to what we were about to hear that night.
Wanting to find out more about the project, I spoke recently on the phone with McKiver who was just ending a residency at the Banff Centre that brought together various Indigenous composers and performers. In our conversation, McKiver told me that Reich’s music has been a major influence and inspiration, particularly while studying for an undergraduate degree in viola performance at York University where they spent endless hours listening to Different Trains –.“at least 100 times,” they said. The new commissioned work is titled Odaabaanag, which means trains or wagons in Ojibwe, and is their response to Different Trains, composed in 1988. They will be using Reich’s methodology but looking at a different subject. Different Trains is Reich’s reflection as a Jewish-American composer on the Holocaust which he, living in the USA during the war, did not personally experience. McKiver’s work will also be for string quartet and recorded voices and will be McKiver’s reflection as a young Anishinaabe composer who did not live through the residential school era, but lives with the impact of what happened.
In much the same way that Reich created his work from the speech rhythms of various interviews he conducted, McKiver will be interviewing Indigenous elders from their community—the Lac Seul First Nation—as well as others from Sioux Lookout in Northern Ontario, the home of a large Indigenous population. They will use excerpts from these recordings to form the melodic and rhythmic content of the work. Currently, McKiver is in the beginning stages of the compositional process, conducting the interviews and transcribing and reviewing the recordings to find those key phrases to use in the composition. The first elder they interviewed was Garnet Angeconeb, a well-known residential school advocate. I was shaken up when McKiver told me the story that Angeconeb spoke about in the interview. During the 1930s, the Lac Seul First Nation community was flooded causing the loss of their entire land base. The cause of this flooding was a hydro dam project which the community was not told of and almost overnight, up to 40 feet of water appeared, destroying people’s homes and livelihoods. It was an apocalyptic moment, McIver said, that continues to have an ongoing impact on the community.
While Jumblies and Soundstreams are based in Toronto, McKiver has been given the opportunity and flexibility to work from their own land base. “This is so integral to being an Indigenous composer, to still live on my ancestral homelands and to be able to share this work.” They’ll be providing excerpts from the interview tapes as well as Skyping in to dialogue with Jumblies’ community groups in Toronto. “There will be a long discussion process throughout the creation of the work,” McKiver said. “People won’t just be meeting the voices of my elders through the format of a string quartet, but the community will be able to listen to a 20-minute story rather than just a three-minute excerpt used in the string quartet. This way they can become acquainted with the stories and teachings that are being shared with me in multiple ways.” Working with these stories has profound meaning for McKiver and navigating the transition point between the recorded stories and the string quartet form is challenging. McKiver seeks to “honour the stories that have been shared with me and this process is giving me a moment to deeply reflect on the teachings that I have been gifted. An important part of the process for me is to find a way where I can amplify these voices in a manner that is respectful.” A work-in-progress performance is planned for May 2019 with the premiere performance scheduled for November 2019. Additional plans include a potential tour to Sioux Lookout as well as possible inclusion of interdisciplinary elements arising from the overall process. As well, there will be a companion choral piece composed by Melody’s mother, Beverley McKiver, using the same themes and source material to be performed by the Gather Round Singers, Jumblies’ mixed-ability, mixed-age community choir.
History of Bathurst Street Sounds
The History of Bathurst Street Sounds is another community-based partnership project, bringing together the Music Gallery, A Different Booklist, 918 Bathurst and Myseum of Toronto. On March 24, people can learn about the history of Bathurst Street soundscapes during a panel discussion and photo gallery launch at A Different Booklist to be followed by a parade to 918 Bathurst St. for an exhibition of Bathurst St. music archives. The history of music on Bathurst St. largely centres around various clubs, shops and the prominent Western Indian community historically located on Bathurst around Bloor. The extensive cluster of influential clubs in the Bathurst area included The Trane Studio, Lee’s Palace, the Annex Wreckroom/Coda, and even Sneaky Dee’s, originally located across from Honest Ed’s. Clothing stores such as Too Black Guys helped supply the apparel for many golden-age hip-hop videos, and even Honest Ed’s was once a destination for record buyers before its tenant Sonic Boom moved elsewhere. Various calypso mas ensembles were associated with spots in the area and the bookstore A Different Booklist has hosted a variety of Afrocentric cultural activities over the years. With all the changes happening in the neighbourhood and with the reconstruction of the Bloor/Bathurst intersection and much of Markham St, this event offers a rare opportunity to listen in to soundworlds both past and present.
Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan
Gamelan music originates from Indonesia where its unique and complex sound textures have provided an essential and vital role in Indonesian community life with every town having its own gamelan and local musical traditions. The word gamelan refers to an orchestra of mainly percussion instruments crafted of metal arranged in rows on the floor including gongs hung from carved wooden racks. Other instruments include voice, a wind instrument called the suling and solo string-based instruments.
Canadian composer Colin McPhee (1900–1964) is well known for being the first Western composer to study the music of Bali and Java, and his associations, with American composers Henry Cowell and Lou Harrison for example, helped to usher in what became known as world music. Despite current sensitivities about cultural appropriation, this phenomenon of bringing non-Western influences into Western concert music has had far-reaching impact.
In 1983, composer Jon Siddall, with the assistance of Lou Harrison, established Canada’s first ensemble performing on Indonesian gamelan instruments in Toronto – the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan. The ECCG will be celebrating 35 years of commissioning, performing and recording contemporary music for gamelan with a concert on March 7 featuring music by master musician-composers Ade Suparman and Burhan Sukarma from West Java, Indonesia; Gilles Tremblay and Estelle Lemire from Quebec; as well as Peter Hatch and Bill Parsons from BC and Ontario. Playing on a grouping of instruments indigenous to West Java known as a gamelan degung playing in the Sundanese style, this pioneering Canadian ensemble has made a significant mark on the global gamelan scene and is committed to including Indonesian musicians and their music in their repertoire, as this concert demonstrates. One of ECCG’s distinctive characteristics is the pursuit of a hybrid sound, combining gamelan, electroacoustics, minimalism, field recordings and elements of acoustic ecology, for example. Currently, they provide opportunities for the larger Toronto community to play their instruments at an ongoing meetup that happens on the second Sunday of the month at Arraymusic.
On March 31, a newly commissioned oratorio, Miziwe… (Everywhere… ), by Odawa First Nation composer and musician Barbara Croall, will be premiered by the Pax Christi Chorale and sung in Ojibwe Odawa with surtitles. In October 2018, I had the great honour of attending another one of Croall’s premieres in Montreal – Saia’tatokénhti: Honouring Saint Kateri. I attended two performances of this work – the first at the Kahnawake Catholic Church located on Kahnawake Mohawk Territory, and the second at St. Jean Baptiste Church in Montreal. The music was performed by the McGill Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Boris Brott, who played a key role at various stages of the work’s gestation, both in terms of his mentorship of Tara-Louise Montour, the work’s solo violinist, and in suggesting that Croall consider composing the music for the project. The texts (by Darren Bonaparte) were spoken in Mohawk by a member of the Kahnawake community. The piece also included traditional Mohawk music sung by community members. The work told the story of Kateri Tekakwitha, a17th-century Mohawk young woman who converted to Catholicism after a traumatic exodus from her traditional homelands in upstate New York due to her villages being razed by fire. She ended up with the Jesuit mission on the south shore of the St. Lawrence River and was believed to have extraordinary healing abilities. She was eventually canonized as a saint.
To create that work, Croall spoke at length with elders from Kahnawake and Kanasatake, as well as elders in her own community, particularly about their Catholic faith and how they understand that in light of the church’s treatment of Indigenous people in residential schools. In an interview she gave before the performance, she spoke about how these elders understand their Christian faith as being different from the European form, and in their mind they have transformed Catholicism into a matriarchal belief system, blending Mary with the traditional corn goddess.
In this latest commissioned work, Miziwe… (Everywhere…), Croall will be performing on cedar flute and voice along with Rod Nettagog, an Ojibwe (Makwa Dodem/Bear Clan) performer from the Henvey Inlet First Nation who also performed in Croall’s orchestral work Midwewe’igan (Sound of the Drum). Other performers include Krisztina Szabó, mezzo soprano; Justin Welsh, baritone; and the Toronto Mozart Players. Croall has recently been appointed artist-in-residence and cultural consultant by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony.
IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS
MAR 16, 8PM: Array Space, Arraymusic. The latest in the Rat-drifting series curated by Martin Arnold features artist and improviser Juliana Pivato. This performance will include various experiments on popular song.
MAR 19, 7:30PM: Canadian Music Centre. Pianist R. Andrew Lee performs Ann Southam’s Soundings for New Piano.
MAR 24, 8PM: Esprit Orchestra’s “Grand Slam!” concert features Trompe l’oeil, a world premiere by Canadian Christopher Thornborrow; Japanese composer Maki Ishii’s Afro-Concerto; and Unsuk Chin’s (Korea) Cello Concerto.
MAR 29, 8PM: Music Gallery. The latest concert in the Emergents Series with pianist Jana Luksts and the ensemble Happenstance who will present recital projects shaped around reimagining how classical music can sound, transforming the chamber music format into something new.
APR 5 7:30: Esprit Orchestra presents their New Wave Reprise Festival featuring world premieres by five emerging composers: Emblem by Eugene Astapov; Music about Music by Quinn Jacobs ; Foreverdark by Bekah Simms; as within, so without by Christina Volpini; and Temporal by Alison Yun-Fei Jiang. A keynote address by Montreal composer John Rea will round out the evening.
In early December of 2018, the Canadian Opera Company announced that Ian Cusson had been newly appointed composer-in-residence. A composer of Métis heritage, his work has largely focused on writing vocal music – both art song and opera – as well as orchestral music. Currently he is in residence with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and will begin this new appointment at the COC in August 2019. I spoke with him about what this new position will mean for him, and also about the broader issues he explores in his creative work. Being composer-in-residence will not only offer the opportunity to compose an opera for the COC, but also the opportunity for an inside look at the inner workings of an opera company: observing and participating in rehearsals for main productions; as well as observing vocal coaching and diction sessions. The commissioned opera will be a 50-minute work with librettist Colleen Murphy whom he met this past summer during Tapestry Opera’s Composer-Librettist Laboratory. They connected so well that Cusson invited her to participate in this opera project that will be geared towards families and young audiences. It will be a lively adventure story, he says, based on an urban tale of two young people trying to rescue a mother who has been taken captive.
On March 5, three of Cusson’s vocal works will be presented at the COC’s noon-hour Vocal Series held in the large Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre lobby space. The first work will be a song cycle for mezzo and piano quintet, Five Songs on poems of Marilyn Dumont, a Cree/Metis poet from Edmonton, and sung by mezzo Marion Newman, whose heritage combines Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations, English, Irish and Scottish. The other two works on the program will be sung by Marjorie Maltais, with Cusson at the piano: J’adore les orages, a concert aria with text by Michel Marc Bouchard; and the premiere of Le Récital des anges, a song cycle based on poems of Émile Nelligan, a Quebecois poet whose life straddled the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.
For Cusson, finding the natural dramatic arc within the texts he is working with is key, and he makes it a priority to write for the specific singer who will be performing the piece. “I have a great respect for singers and their ability to use their bodies in front of people, and I keep the fact that they are human beings, not machines, in mind while writing,” he said. He chooses to work with texts that are in either English or French, the two languages he speaks. He feels it’s essential for him to know the specific cadences of the language he is working with in order to write well for the voice.
He is also drawn to working with Indigenous texts and stories from his own tradition, seeing this as both an opportunity and a challenge. One topic we explored more deeply was how he approached integrating his classical background with his Métis heritage. He spoke about his current orchestral project, Le Loup de Lafontaine, to be performed by the National Arts Centre Orchestra in late September, and based on a particular personal story from his own community. “As I’m writing it, I’m thinking of the fiddle tradition – how it’s used and how it could exist or be referenced within a larger orchestral piece. This is the most direct connection I’ve had to my own Metis tradition in my composing.” In the past, one key way he has approached Indigenous culture is through texts and story and he has incorporated one such story in this piece. It tells of “a wolf coming to town and terrorizing farmers and people from a community comprised of Métis, First Nations and French settlers, none of whom communicate with each other. Although the wolf is killed in the end, the animal succeeds in bringing the community together.”
This question of integrating Indigenous tradition and classical concert music requires Cusson to think deeply both about how those stories are being told, and about what story his own participation tells. “It sounds wonderful to create an Indigenous opera,” he says, “but as you move into that work, many questions start to reveal themselves, such as the depiction and representation of people, and what it will sound like.”
Many of these pressures are internal and self-imposed. “I want to do this successfully and in a way that honours and doesn’t demean. It takes a process and appropriate consultation, patience, conversation, learning and growing. I’ve been doing that, and will probably continue for the rest of my life, as I think about how to create works within this classical tradition that touch on very difficult, sensitive, painful places, and often involving people who are still alive and have been traumatized by events in the past.”
So the question becomes, what stories should be put on stage, and how should they be told? “These are very complex questions with no quick answers. Also, it’s important to become more aware of the protocols and processes related to specific types of traditional music, like ceremonial songs for example, which are only to be sung at specific times, by specific people, for specific purposes, and not by anyone else. I’m also learning about this, especially within other Indigenous traditions that are not my own. There are many different nations and they all have different processes and protocols.”
Coming up in February, Cusson will be participating in a special ten-day gathering at the Banff Centre for the Arts that will bring together various Indigenous musicians involved in classical music. The goal is twofold: first to have some co-creation time together and second, to think through best practices and protocols for artistic companies, presenters and other artists, when working with Indigenous musicians. “It will be an opportunity to think through how things are, where things could go, and how we can be a part of leading that,” Cusson said. The goal is to come out of this meeting with a tangible document that will outline starting places for the entire classical musical community who want to have better information on how to integrate and support Indigenous culture in their concert productions and creative works. “What are the good steps we can take to insure that we are making well-informed projects that are acts of reconciliation? This seems to be missing in a formal sense, so this document will be helpful in continuing that dialogue.” From my birds-eye perspective of writing this WholeNote column focused on the contemporary music world, I envision that this will be a very rich and valuable conversation that I hope will having lasting impact on how we think, create and engage in building musical culture.
Pauline Oliveros in February:
The Music Gallery will be co-producing three events in February centred around the music of Pauline Oliveros, the well-loved composer, performer and pioneer of the Deep Listening process. For a special Valentine’s Day event on February 14, Oliveros’ longtime partner, IONE, will be presenting a reading titled Today With All Its Hopes And Sorrows where she will reflect on the topics of community, lineage, and the potency of text and sound as forms of remembrance. Two days later on February 16, IONE will join cellist and improviser Anne Bourne for an afternoon workshop experience exploring Oliveros’ text scores. And finally, on February 17 there will be a concert performance of Oliveros’ To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation, written in 1968 as a response to the turbulent political events of the time. Appropriately, it will be performed by a group of local musicians in the City Hall council chambers. In order to give the reader a more personalized account of the impact of these events exploring the ideas within Oliveros’ music, I am planning a follow-up concert report which should be available on The WholeNote’s website during the third week of February.
IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS
FEB 2, 8PM: Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Soundstreams offers up a special performance of Steve Reich’s Different Trains with the Rolston String Quartet performing in tandem with a video realized by Spanish filmmaker Beatriz Caravaggio. Reich wrote this Grammy Award-winning work in 1988 as a musical meditation on the Holocaust. Perhaps the most personal of his works, Reich calls Different Trains a “music documentary” bearing witness to his childhood train journeys across the US in the 1940s, and the realization that as a Jew, had he grown up in Europe, his train journeys would have been very different. The concert will also feature Quartet #2 (Waves) by R. Murray Schafer, Swans Kissing by Rolf Wallin, and Streams by Dorothy Chang.
FEB 13 AND 14, 8PM: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra conducted by Barbara Hannigan. For lovers of the virtuosic contemporary music soprano, this will be an opportunity to experience her work as both conductor and vocal soloist. On the program is a series of mainly early 20th-century works by Debussy, Sibelius, Berg and Gershwin, as well as a classical period work by Haydn.
FEB 15 AND 16, 8PM: Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. The Toronto Consort concert, “Love, Remixed”, offers a program of contemporary music written for early instruments and voice. James Rolfe’s Breathe uses texts by the 12th-century abbess, composer, poet and healer Hildegard of Bingen. Her texts often speak of rapturous experiences with the divine as well as of the greening life energy of nature. The Consort’s artistic director David Fallis will be presenting his Eurydice Variations, the story Monteverdi’s Orfeo tells, but from the point of view of Eurydice.
FEB 17, 7PM: Gallery 345. New Music Concerts offers this special fundraising event featuring the acclaimed German keyboard virtuoso Moritz Ernst performing the masterpiece Klavierstück X by Karlheinz Stockhausen, along with works by Mike Edgerton, Arthur Lourié, Miklos Maros and Sandeep Bhagwati.
FEB 22 AND 23, 8PM: Factory Theatre. The Music Gallery and Fu Gen Theatre present Foxconn Frequency (no.3) – for three visibly Chinese performers. This interdisciplinary work of “algorithmic theatre” combines real-time game mechanics, piano pedagogy, 3D-printing and the poetry of former Foxconn worker Xu Lizhi. The creative team includes the members of Hong Kong Exile – Natalie Tin Yin Gan, Milton Lim, Remy Siu, and musical performers Vicky Chow, Paul Paroczai and Matt Poon. The goal is to expand awareness beyond the musical instrument itself and bring attention to the performer’s identity by engaging both the eyes and ears, and thereby shifting the audience’s perception to multiple modalities.
FEB 23, 8PM: Gallery 345. Spectrum Music presents “The Rebel: Breaking Down Barriers” with the premiere of seven new works by Spectrum Music members Hanus, McBride, Victoria, Welchner, Wilde and others. This concert will be the second of five concerts this season that are exploring five prominent Jungian archetypes. Continuing in Spectrum’s tradition of pushing genre boundaries, the concert will combine classical and jazz elements.
Change is not the only measure of a new music festival’s success, as witnessed by the eagerly anticipated visit to this year’s 21C of Terry Riley (now 85 years of age), an individual who for more than
60 years has helped define the course of new music.
The 21C Festival, produced by the Royal Conservatory of Music, is now in its sixth year and is, by definition, committed to presenting new sounds and ideas. That being said, opening up the flyer for this year’s 21C Music Festival was like a breath of fresh air. I couldn’t help but compare it to last year’s experience – a gasp of disbelief, even despair, when I realized that there was barely a female face to be seen or name to be read. Not so this year. The gasp this time round was more of delight, surprise and yes, relief. Finally! There is definitely a huge sea change occurring this year and for that reason alone, all the more incentive to attend and listen to what is percolating with creative innovators in music. Not only are there a significant number of works and premieres by women, but also by culturally diverse composers as well.
Another key change is the move to a January timeslot from the previous one in May, with this year’s festival happening January 16 to 20, dovetailing with the U of T New Music Festival, a short stroll away, which runs from January 16 to 27.
Change is, however, not the only measure of a new music festival’s success, as witnessed by the eagerly anticipated visit to this year’s festival of Terry Riley (now 85 years of age), an individual who for more than 60 years has helped define the course of new music.
Riley’s music has had a significant influence not only on contemporary classical composers but also on rock composers such as Lou Reed and Peter Townsend. His attitudes and approaches to music making have contributed to the radical sea change in compositional ideas and practices that began in the 1960s. He was a key player in the experimental traditions that originated in the USA which filtered across the border.
In Toronto, it was the Arraymusic Ensemble that picked up on these currents, making it a priority in their programming to feature composers who were part of that scene, including people like Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, Steve Reich, Jim Tenney and of course, Riley himself. I had a chance to talk with Robert Stevenson, former Arraymusic Ensemble member and artistic director about his memories and experiences working with Riley and his music.
One of the big festivals that occurred throughout the 1980s in the USA, he told me, was called New Music America and in 1990 it had travelled to Montreal as New Music Across America. That year the festival organizers partnered with Arraymusic to commission a work from Riley titled Cactus Rosary. (The piece appears on Array’s New World CD released in 1993.)
Stevenson remembers well the collaborative process involved in the creation of Cactus Rosary. “Most composers in the Western art music tradition aren’t strong in collaborating. It’s not part of the tradition and you’re not trained in that when you study composition. Rather, you’re learning how to tell people what to do. When we got the score for Cactus Rosary there was hardly anything on the page. ‘Where is the music?’ we wondered. There were a few notes, some pitches, no metre. Some of the notes were whole notes, others filled in but no stems. There were no rhythmic details, no dynamics, and no explanation of the tuning system, which was in just intonation (rather than the standard equal temperament). All we had that indicated the tuning was a DX7 synthesizer patch. Once Riley began to work with us, though, you began to realize that what was on the page was there to be fleshed out. A lot of what we did is not in the score.”
Stevenson gave the example of the vocal part he performed that was more like speak-singing a text. “I started reading and he said: ‘Can you change the harmonic content by changing your throat shape? Can you move the pitch around? There’s a delay line on the voice so we should set that up.’ Everything happened collaboratively in a very subtle yet determined kind of way. It was never, ‘This is what I want.’ He was clear about what he didn’t want and gave us instructions that would lead us in a direction to what he would like without having to say anything. It’s a different approach to composition. There’s not a blueprint but an invitation to a process.”
Using just intonation tuning is an important aspect of Riley’s work. Stevenson described the difference that it made for Cactus Rosary. “At the first rehearsals the acoustic piano had yet to be tuned to just intonation, so all we had was the DX7 patch. The ensemble was tuning itself to the DX sound but with the acoustic piano in equal temperament, everything was quite chaotic. When the piano was finally tuned it was extraordinary what happened to the music. Suddenly there was this resonating thing happening – the tuning was in the air.”
The staging of the piece was also a change from the usual. “There was an old-style wingback chair that conductor Michael Baker sat in facing the audience. He played two peyote rattles which Riley acquired specifically for the piece from a Wichita tribe member who made them himself. Baker made occasional hand gestures to signal when to move to a new section, but otherwise he played these rattles, coming in and out of the piece, often when the texture was less dense. From an audience point of view, you got the sense that you were watching someone’s aural meditation being made manifest, an internal experience being made external.”
Array took the piece on tour when they visited Europe spanning the years 1993 to 95. “That’s when the piece really started to take shape,” Stevenson said, “and the duration shifted from 33 minutes to close to 50. It became more expansive and we developed the trance meditative aspect. Tour organizers in Europe didn’t want Array to come and play European music, they wanted music they didn’t have a chance to hear. They went nuts over things like the Claude Vivier music we played and with the Riley piece, we were a big hit. People went crazy and were trancing out. They didn’t have many people in Europe who were authentically connected to the music who could play it.”
At the time in Toronto, there weren’t other groups performing his music, except his classic hit In C, which was much more of a communal experience for open instrumentation. Stevenson himself played that piece several times, often with people from Array, and once at a concert by New Music Concerts at The Copa, a massive dance club in Yorkville whose heyday was in the 1980s. In C appealed to some performers because of its collaborative nature, and it was devoid of the extreme demands made by composers like Boulez and Stockhausen, for example. With any number of ways to play it and the outcome undetermined, players could relax and enjoy the moment. “This type of process was very new to people at the time.”
Stevenson concluded our conversation by saying that “Riley had a light touch. Nothing was too serious or worth breaking a sweat about. That’s why it was easy to collaborate with him. He wasn’t stuck on an idea but rather always asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ He was always confident that things would be accomplished and I never got the idea that he was dissatisfied with how the process was going.”
The January 18 21C concert celebrates Riley: On the first half of the evening, Tracy Silverman on electric violin will perform excerpts from Riley’s Palmian Chord Ryddle and Sri Camel, both arranged by Silverman. On the second half of the evening, Terry and his son Gyan will perform five of his works including Mongolian Winds and Ebony Horn, along with selections from Salome Dances for Peace.
This year’s 21C
Surrounding that January 18 Riley celebration concert, there is much else to enjoy in this edition of 21C.
The opening concert on January 16 features the Toronto Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tania Miller and Simon Rivard. Since there will be no New Creations Festival at the TSO this year, this is one way for them to continue to support the work of contemporary composers.
Their 21C concert features two world premieres – one by Emilie Lebel (who has been appointed the TSO’s new affiliate composer) and the other by Stewart Goodyear. (Goodyear will also be performing in a full concert of his own works on January 17, including Variations on Hallelujah and other takes on various pop and rock songs.) Other composers featured in the TSO concert are Dorothy Chang, Dinuk Wijeratne, Jocelyn Morlock and Terry Riley.
Other Toronto-based presenters offering programs at this year’s 21C festival include Continuum with an all-female program featuring compositions by Cassandra Miller, Monica Pearce, Linda Smith, Carolyn Chen, Unsuk Chin and Kati Agócs. On the weekend, the performing ensembles of Cinq à Sept and Sō Percussion (both on January 19) as well as the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble (January 20) will be performing entire programs of new compositions, again featuring an abundance of works by women. Check the listings for a full rundown of all the composers you can hear.
Esprit bridge to U of T
As mentioned previously, the U of T’s Contemporary Music Festival picks up where 21C leaves off. On January 20 there will be an Esprit Orchestra concert which, fittingly, closes one festival and opens the other with works by Claude Vivier, Toshio Hosokawa, Alison Yun-Fei and Christopher Goddard. The two festivals are partnering to present the North American premiere of Hosokawa’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, performed by Wallace Halladay. Hosokawa is Japan’s pre-eminent living composer, creating his musical language from the relationship between Western avant-garde art and traditional Japanese culture. His music is strongly connected to the aesthetic and spiritual roots of the Japanese arts and he values the expression of beauty that originates from transience.
Hosokawa, who is this year’s Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition at the U of T Festival, will also be offering composition masterclasses on January 21 and 22, and his music will be presented in a concert by faculty artists on January 21, in a concert of Percussion and Electronics on January 23 and as featured composer for the New Music Concerts performance on January 25.
In with the New Quick Picks
DEC 11, 7:30PM: Gallery 345. PAPER: New Compositions and Improvisations by Nahre Sol, a pianist and composer who creates music that combines a unique blend of improvisation, traditional Western form and harmony, jazz harmony and minimalism. She teams up with clarinetist Brad Cherwin for this free concert.
DEC 14, 8PM: Music Gallery, Rejuvenated Frequencies. A showcase of music curated by Obuxum featuring groundbreaking music by women of colour, music that is “progressive and healing all at once.” Performers include VHVL from Harlem with her thumping beats and bright melodies, Toronto-based YourHomieNaomi with roots in spoken word, and Korean-born, Toronto-based classically trained pianist Korea Town Acid whose DJ sets create an avant-garde journey.
JAN 17, 7:30PM: Canadian Music Centre. A mixed-genre evening of jazz-inflected works by Alex Samaras, one of Canada’s leading jazz vocalists, and Norman Symonds, a leading figure in the third-stream movement in Canada that combines jazz and classical forms. The concert will include works by the CMC’s 2018 Toronto Emerging Composer Award-winner Cecilia Livingston, who specializes in music for voice and opera.
JAN 29, 7:30PM: Tapestry Opera presents Hook Up at Theatre Passe Muraille. This opera by composer Chris Thornborrow, libretto by Julie Tepperman, raises questions of consent, shame and power in the lives of young adults navigating uncharted waters on their own. Content warning: Contains explicit language and discussion of sexual violence. Runs to February 9.
In last month’s column, I wrote about the Music Gallery’s X Avant festival and the vision of the Halluci Nation. From both my personal experience of attending some of the concerts and from talking to other concertgoers, it was an inspiring and exciting four days of listening to a wide and diverse array of music which also helped to further expand the Halluci Nation community. The last set on the Sunday evening (October 14) saw A Tribe Called Red performing together with other featured musicians to bring the whole festival to an exhilarating close. For this month’s column, I’d like to pursue this thread of building community further, and talk about other ways this is happening amongst presenters, composers and performers of new music in the city.
Starting this fall, Arraymusic has appointed a new artistic director, percussionist David Schotzko. He succeeds Martin Arnold who stepped down to pursue a wonderful opportunity to teach at Trent University. Fortunately, Arnold will be staying on as artistic associate as well as continuing to curate his Rat-drifting series which will happen on December 7 and January 11 of this current season. I had a chance to speak with Schotzko about his vision moving forward for Arraymusic, and also to Allison Cameron whose music will be the focus of a mini-festival occurring on November 23 and 24.
Schotzko moved to Toronto in 2011 and has had an active career as a performer for several new music ensembles including Esprit Orchestra, New Music Concerts and also as a member of the Array Ensemble. Prior to 2011 he performed in New York City where he was a founding member of the acclaimed International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). In addition to performing, he also has been involved in composer advocacy work throughout his career.
We spoke about where Array has been in the past and the direction that Schotzko would like to take in the future. Historically, the ensemble has generally had composers or composer-performers as artistic directors, and was focused around specific individual performers developing repertoire for a quirky instrumentation of two percussion, piano, violin, double bass, trumpet and clarinet. Once these original players moved on in their careers, it’s been challenging Schotzko said, to replace them.
With both Arnold and Rick Sacks (AD from 2011 to 2016), the process of moving away from the original instrumentation began. Coming from a performing background, Schotzko would like to create an ensemble with a regular group of individuals who are able to perform more and more without a conductor. Essentially, he wishes to move the group towards becoming a true chamber ensemble – an ensemble similar to a string quartet who perform together for years without a conductor and have a unique way of both rehearsing and performing together. This is challenging to achieve with an ever-changing group comprised of freelance musicians.
Schotzko sees adding more artistic associates such as Arnold in the future and broadening the range of voices coming out of Array. One step in this direction has been the signing of the Canadian League of Composers Gender Parity Pledge. The issue of balanced programming has surfaced in several of my columns over the last year or more, making this recent initiative by the CLC all the more welcome. The pledge is intended for presenters across the country to adopt and can be read in full on their website. It begins with these words: “We pledge to achieve or maintain gender parity in our programming and commissioning by our 2022/23 season. We welcome the opportunity to add our voice to a growing international movement that acknowledges artistic choices must be representative of the gender diversity within the community of creators.” This is a direction that Array has already taken on and their programming is already at 50/50, Schotzko said.
Array will also continue its community-based focus through a commitment to co-productions with several resident artists and organizations, such as the Thin Edge New Music Collective, the Evergreen Club Gamelan and Frequency Freaks, amongst others, as well as presenting mini-festivals highlighting the music of specific composers, such as the one featuring Allison Cameron’s music, an event planned during Arnold’s tenure as artistic director.
The mini-fest will present a variety of pieces that Cameron has created over the years, including composed works as well as improvised music. Her current group c_RL will perform both nights, first with the Arrayensemble on November 23 and on their own on November. c_RL is an innovative improvising trio featuring Cameron, electronics/found objects/keyboards; Germaine Liu, percussion; and Nicole Rampersaud, trumpet. The composed works on November 23 will include a newly commissioned piece from Array (which for now is remaining untitled), Kid Baltan, and In Memoriam Robert Ashley. Kid Baltan was written for Dutch composer Dick Raaijmakers in 2013; its title is the alias that Raaijmakers gave himself during the late 1950s when he was creating some of the first electropop music ever written. It is a graphic score for mixed ensemble and was first performed at The Music Gallery’s X Avant festival with Trio 7090 and others from Toronto and Amsterdam. Cameron wrote this piece for Louis Andriessen’s 75th birthday and has reworked the piece for the current instrumentation of the Array Ensemble plus c_RL.
We spoke at length about the aesthetic vision behind both the newly commissioned work and the more recent pieces that use graphic scores, and she told me about one inspiring experience she had a few years ago in Amsterdam that has significantly influenced her thinking. It occurred when she met with the performers for a rehearsal of one of her works. The performers had all received their parts ahead of time, but had not had a chance to practise on their own. Cameron was quite surprised by how the music unfolded. “It was like they were coming to the score without preconceptions. It was very refreshing and innocent-like.”
Cameron realized she had structured the score in a more open way, allowing each player to make their own unique contributions. This experience inspired her to create pieces with more flexibility. “I used to write things where everything had to be perfect, where this note had to happen at this time.” With so little time and money for extensive rehearsals, this became a very frustrating experience and she wanted to find a way of moving away from the constraints of the rehearsal environment in order to create pieces that allowed players more freedom to contribute to the overall work.
The newly commissioned piece we will hear on November 23 has several short movements that can be changed around and played in no particular order. Some aspects are fixed and others are mobile, and the graphic score allows the players to make their own decisions. Over the years, Cameron has created various performing ensembles that have given her a platform to develop her own performing skills and to create work for a consistent instrumentation. Participating within the improvisational community in Toronto and developing relationships with performers has been a key aspect of her creative process that has also influenced her compositional practice. The second night of the festival will be dedicated to her improvised music with one set featuring c_RL and one solo set.
A Mini-Tour of Upcoming Concerts
Continuing with the theme of community building, here is a short walk through some of the events happening in November within new music.
First of all, it’s noteworthy to see the influence of Array’s contribution beyond their own activities as two of their resident ensembles will be presenting concerts this month. The Thin Edge New Music Collective are performing at the Canadian Music Centre on November 8 and the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan will be appearing at the Aga Khan Museum on November 25 with a premiere of a new work by Canadian composer Peter Hatch. Also, c_RL member Germaine Liu will be teaming up with Sarah Hennies for a concert of percussion pieces on December 6 at the CMC.
Veteran composer and influential educator John Beckwith has a new work titled Meanwhile, for marimba and piano, which will be played by percussionist Zac Pulak (who commissioned it) and pianist Edana Higham at the CMC on November 22 at 5:30pm [not in our listings]. The piece, which received its first performance this past July in Ottawa, can be viewed on YouTube.
Esprit Orchestra’s concert on November 28 will feature works by Alexina Louie and Murray Schafer, as well as a piece by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, who was chosen in 2015 as the New York Philharmonic’s Kravis Emerging Composer. She is currently composer-in-residence with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Esprit will be performing Dreaming, her work from 2008. Schafer’s 1973 composition, North/White, sets the stage for an North-inspired evening, with Louie’s Take the Dog Sled capturing the essence of life in the Arctic.
Early in the month on November 2, Continuum Contemporary Music begins its new season with “Super Hot Sax,” featuring saxophonist Wallace Halladay in a number of works. This new season Continuum’s programming features 60 percent female composers, works that engage with new technologies and their newly expanded ensemble. The November 2 concert is dedicated to the memory of Daniel Cooper, a longtime supporter of contemporary chamber music in Toronto. Cooper’s commissioned work The Wind Wrests My Words by composer Jimmie LeBlanc will receive its world premiere.
On November 11, the Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal will be performing in Toronto as part of their Generation2018 Canadian tour presenting works by four emerging composers. Toronto’s New Music Concerts will be hosting this project as they have since 2000. The featured composers selected from across the country will be interviewed as part of the performance and audiences will be able to vote for their favourite work.
NMC will then continue their season on December 2 with a program of works selected by Michael Koerner who has served on their board since 1978. The concert includes works by several key composers from the 20th century: Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Charles Ives, Elliott Carter and Murray Schafer, whose String Quartet No. 6 “Parting Wild Horse’s Mane” was a commissioned work from Koerner.
And finally, a community building workshop on November 25 hosted by the Music Gallery will feature composer-improviser Anne Bourne guiding participants through various text scores by Pauline Oliveros. This will be the first of four opportunities this season to experience Oliveros’ Deep Listening process through listening and sounding and is aimed towards cultivating a shared creative expression.