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.”

Gwendolyn MacEwenTesla 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.

Eugene MartynecTIO 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.

Toronto Improvisers Orchestra at Array Space with Christine Duncan and the Element ChoirListening 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.

Maxime Corbeil-PerronMAY 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.

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

Raven Chacon bannerRaven ChaconBack 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.

Clockwise from top left: Carmina Escobar’s score of For Zitkála-Šá, Cheryl L’Hirondelle’s score of For Zitkála-Šá, Laura Ortman’s score of For Zitkála-Šá, Suzanne Kile’s score of For Zitkála-Šá“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.

Postcommodity’s From SmokeCurrently, 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.

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

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.

Melody McKiver improvising in Jumblies' touring project, Four Lands of Sioux Lookout, 2016.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.

Ade SuparmanIn 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.

Barbara Croall

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.

Jana LukstsMAR 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.

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

Ian Cusson. Photo by John AranoIn 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.

Moritz ErnstFEB 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.

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

Gyan and Terry Riley. credit Scott CrowleyChange 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.”

Bob Stevenson with Red Rhythm at Communists Daughter, 2014.  photo by Ori DaganStevenson 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.

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

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.

Arraymusic

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.

Allison Cameron. Photo by Jolene Mok.Allison Cameron

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. 

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

"We are the Halluci Nation. We are the tribe they cannot see. Our DNA is of earth and sky. Our DNA is of past and future. We are the Halluci Nation.” These words written and spoken by Indigenous poet, author, musician and activist John Trudell on the first track of A Tribe Called Red’s album We Are The Halluci Nation (2016) reverberate with strength and conviction. Based in Ottawa, A Tribe Called Red (ATCR) currently consists of musicians Bear Witness from the Cayuga First Nation and 2oolman from the Six Nations of the Grand River. Their powerful blend of music mixes traditional pow wow dance music with electronic dance music, otherwise known as EDM. Their collaboration with Trudell on the Halluci Nation album has sparked a movement that continues to grow and expand.

The poem describes “an imagined nation made up of people living within the philosophy of remembering what it is to be human, and what it is to treat other people like humans,” Bear told me during our recent phone interview. Not only do the words that articulate this vision appear as the opening track, but the entire album itself is a model of the idea of that nation. Each track is a collaboration with other musicians who by their very participation are expanding the scope of the Halluci Nation and were invited to participate “because the work they are doing already makes them part of Halluci Nation,” Bear said. Tanya Tagaq, Lido Pimienta, Chippewa Travellers, Jennifer Kreisberg and Northern Voice are some of the participating musicians. They are coming together to advocate for change, particularly around the issues of reconciliation and reparation, and to resist the mainstream, exploitative “ALie Nation.”

As Bear states: “The Halluci Nation are a group of people that break off from society to return to natural ways of life. It’s not just for Indigenous people, although it is a movement led by Indigenous people. It’s open to anyone as a mind frame and rallying point for those who understand there is something wrong with the current system.”

Bear Witness CREDIT Matt BarnesX Avant

With this year’s X Avant festival at the Music Gallery, the Halluci Nation will grow and expand even further. Artistic director David Dacks has invited Bear to be the guest curator for the 13th edition of this annual festival. Bear, in turn, has taken this opportunity to bring together a Canada-wide lineup of artists to create this next iteration of the Halluci Nation. Musically, the overall sound of this festival will be a distinct contrast to earlier festivals, as many of the invited musicians come from backgrounds in the plethora of approaches that have grown out of electronic dance music since the first devices for performing electronic music were developed at the end of the 19th century.

With the manifesto of the Italian futurists in the early 20th century, various sounds not previously considered musical began to be heard in artistic settings. Electroacoustic music as a European art form was introduced mid-20th century, with Canadian pioneers Hugh Le Caine and Norman McLaren contributing to the development of unique electronic technologies. Before the introduction of digital synthesizers and the MIDI system in the 1980s, the production of electronic music was largely limited to radio and university-based studios as the equipment was not easily transportable. Eventually, large-scale studios became somewhat obsolete with the introduction of laptops and iPads and other portable gear, making it possible for live and interactive performances. Electronic Dance Music arose in the late 1980s as music created largely for nightclubs, raves and festivals, and was produced for playback by DJs seamlessly mixing tracks. This club-based artform has mushroomed over the years, and this year’s X Avant festival will be a perfect opportunity to hear the latest innovations in these genres.

The opening concert of the festival on October 11 promises to be a visual feast with sets by Tasman Richardson, See Monsters, and Creeasian & Bear Witness. Before becoming a musician, Bear had a visual arts career that was mainly video based. Working with images that depicted misrepresentations of Indigenous people in the media, he sampled and reworked this material to create installations and short experimental films, highlighting the empowering aspects of the images and discarding the negative ones. Once ATCR began to take up more of his time, he folded his video work into his DJ sets.

Toronto-based Richardson was a huge influence on Bear’s visual work. Richardson will present two new three-channel live A/V performances, the first of which will use glitches from an Atari game console, and the second will use satellite-based images. See Monsters are a duo that come the closest to what ATCR do, using video, sound and sampling of traditional music. Being based in Northwest Coast traditions however, they have a very different aesthetic than ATCR. Bear’s collaboration with dancer and musician Creeasian will give him an opportunity to use some of his video work outside of the Tribe context and is for him another extension of the Halluci Nation idea. Sound artist and DJ, Maria Chávez, who will open the October 12 concert, was a new discovery for Bear who was intrigued by one of her signature DJ processes – using broken LPs layered on the turnable to create her unique sonic language. Bear cites Geronimo Inutiq as one artist who started working in a similar way as ATCR over 20 years ago, working with throat singing as well as electronic music and video production. The October 12 concert will conclude with respectfulchild, a solo instrument project of Gan from Saskatoon on Treaty 6 Territory. These ambient soundscapes are created from nuanced improvisations on their violin, resulting in a sound that takes the listener on an introspective reflective journey.

Saturday night’s events on October 13 will feature an all-out beat fest with Los Poetas, Above Top Secret and Ziibiwan at the Music Gallery, then wrapping up the evening with a dance party at The Mod Club. Headlining the dance party will be the sounds of El Dusty’s Colombian cumbia music, an artist with whom ATCR is currently collaborating. Following this will be mixes by two of Toronto’s most highly regarded DJs Dre Ngozi & Nino Brown; finishing off the evening is a set by Bear and his ATCR colleague 2oolman.

Narcy. credit TAMARA ABDUL HADIClosing out the festival on October 14 will be the music of veteran performers and innovators Narcy, Jennifer Kreisberg and Lillian Allen. Narcy is a pioneer of the Arab hip-hop movement working in Montreal, while Kreisberg innovates using multilayers of stunning vocal harmonies. Allen, of course, is well known in Toronto for her groundbreaking work in dub.

The festival also offers two occasions for audience members to engage with some of the festival artists. There will be a panel discussion at 6pm on October 14 about the concept of the Halluci Nation and a Sampler Café at 1pm on October 13 hosted by Creeasian where participants will have a chance to try out and play with different digital equipment. This is open to people of all ages and abilities.

Currently, Bear is developing material for the next album, and is reaching out to various artists that come across his path in Los Angeles. This album will be a contrast to We Are The Halluci Nation, although the very creating of it will be another extension of the Halluci Nation concept by bringing in other artists to collaborate. “This time the focus will be on celebration rather than dealing with the dystopian sci-fi vision of what the Halluci Nation could be,” Bear told me. When I asked the reason for this change, he replied that he feels that “people are getting stuck in the ideas of fighting and struggle. We need to start envisioning what it would be like beyond struggle.”

We concluded our interview by discussing how he would sum up the current issues facing Indigenous people, or whether that was even possible to do. “It’s a hard question to answer as there are hundreds of nations across one of the largest land masses in the world. One important thing for people to realize is that the things we talk about as Indigenous issues aren’t just that; they are human issues. Water rights, clean water, oil pipelines – we all need clean water, we all need to live on this planet. This is one of the most important things for people to realize at this point in time.”

The Halluci Nation vision is an invitation and call out for all those who find themselves seeking a more just world for all peoples and are committed to helping that come into being. 

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

OCT 12, 8PM: Soundstreams, “Six Pianos,” Koerner Hall. Steve Reich’s music returns to Toronto with a performance of Six Pianos (1973), a work that the composer originally wrote for all the pianos in a piano store and subsequently pared down to six pianos. This concert will feature the veteran Reich performer Russell Hartenberger who will be joined by five other local pianists. Other works on the program include music by Ristic, Cage, Lutosławski, Louie and Palmer.

OCT 15, 8PM: The Azrieli Music Prizes Gala Concert, Maison symphonique de Montréal. Although a bit of a drive away, this concert will feature Ottawa-based Kelly-Marie Murphy’s composition En el escuro es todo uno (In the Darkness All is One). Murphy wrote this piece after winning the 2018 Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music, one of the biggest prizes for composers in the country. An interview with Murphy about her vision for this composition can be read in the October 2017 edition of The WholeNote.

Esprit Orchestras Alex Pauk studies a score (2015)OCT 24, 8PM: Esprit Orchestra. “For Orbiting Spheres,” Koerner Hall. Esprit Orchestra opens their current season with four orchestral works inspired by the various phenomena of the cosmos. Two Canadian premieres of works by Missy Mazzoli (USA) who composed Sinfonia (For Orbiting Spheres) and Unsuk Chin (Korea) are paired with Netherlands composer Tristan Keuris’s Sinfonia and Charles Ives’ tour de force An Unanswered Question. A heavenly night of music.

OCT 26 TO 28, 8PM: Arraymusic/Exquisite Beat Theatre, Rat-drifting 2: SlowPitchSound presents: Alternate Forest, Array Space. Rat-drifting is a concept developed by Martin Arnold to bring together free improvisation, noise, psychedelic process music and DIY para-punk composition. This month’s version features SlowPitchSound’s multidisciplinary adventure into a mystical forest space combining sound, dance and video.

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

Christina Petrowska Quilico (left) and Ann Southam at the launch of the Rivers CD. Photo by André LeducFor the opening column of the new season, I thought I’d take a look at two new CDs being released by the prolific and virtuosic Canadian pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico. The first CD, Soundspinning, offers a series of older works composed by her friend and colleague, the late Ann Southam. It will be released on the Canadian Music Centre’s (CMC) Centrediscs label, with the official launch happening on September 25 at the CMC in Toronto. The second CD, Global Sirens, on the Fleur de Son/Naxos label, features the music of 15 different internationally-based composers and includes a total of 19 compositions, including two works by Canadians.

Southam: Petrowska Quilico is well known for her interpretations of Southam’s music, having already released seven CDs of Southam’s compositions including Glass Houses, Pond Life and Rivers, each one released as box sets. However, this recent CD is unique, as it consists of a number of rarely heard Southam works from 1963 to 1999. As Petrowska Quilico told me in our recent interview, Southam used to joke: “I love it when you root around in my old pieces and come up with something new.” When it came to choosing repertoire and creating an order for this new CD, Petrowska Quilico crafted it with careful attention to the flow of changes in mood and tempo between the works, quipping that in a sense she was creating a sonata in a very unorthodox way – a sonata whose contrasting movements were being fashioned from the different Southam compositions.

The album opens with Stitches in Time, composed in 1979 and revised in 1999. This work is comprised of two small collections of pieces: three pieces in Sonocycles and eight in Soundspinning. They are all short and fast pieces that reflect Southam’s love of nature, and are precursors to the larger Rivers and Glass Houses works. Petrowska Quilico spoke about how they were harder to play than they look, and have no indications regarding phrasing, dynamics or pedalling. Because of the 30-year working relationship she had enjoyed with Southam, this didn’t create a stumbling block for her. She approached them in a similar way to Rivers, accentuating hidden melodies and altering the tempos to create a more shimmering effect, making each one shine with its own unique characteristics. During their work together in preparing the Rivers CD, Southam had told her she trusted Petrowska Quilico’s musical judgment completely. And even though they are fast virtuosic pieces, they still require control, which Petrowska Quilico admits may seem like a bit of a contradiction.

She follows this intense, fast-flowing opening cycle of pieces with Slow Music (1979), a more meditative work composed using Southam’s signature 12-tone row, one that she used repeatedly for many of her pieces. One distinguishing feature of Southam’s approach to working with the serial technique was the freedom and openness she allowed herself, in comparison to the more strict approach used by composers such as Webern or Boulez. Altitude Lake is next, described by Petrowska Quilico as “massive” due to the presence of so many large chords that suggest images of immense landscapes and intense weather activity. It was written in 1963 at the same time as Southam began working in the electronic music studio at the University of Toronto. (As an aside: Southam also began teaching electroacoustic composition in 1966 at the Royal Conservatory of Music in a small studio in the sub-basement that she and composer John Mills-Cockell started up, offering drop-in classes for $10 each.) The score that Petrowska Quilico had of this early piece was handwritten and was so hard to read that she had to use a magnifying glass. Once she figured out the notes, she discovered how much she loved the piece, describing it as “a real treasure. It was written so early in such a different style, that you’d never realize it was her.”

The next few works are a series of Southam’s jazz-inflected pieces – Three in Blue (1965), Five Shades of Blue (1970) and Cool Blue; Red Hot (1980), all of which Petrowska Quilico selected due to her own love of playing jazz. The concluding work on the CD is Remembering Schubert from 1993 – a piece that also appears on the CBC album Glass Houses: The Music of Ann Southam, performed by pianist Eve Egoyan, who also enjoyed a special bond with the composer.

Petrowska Quilico spoke about how joyful and fluid Southam’s music is, and how the composer loved watching the light refracting on the water. She described playing Southam’s works as being similar to performing pieces by Chopin and Liszt, all of which require fast fingers. “If you don’t have good technique and are not in control, it will sound heavy, choppy and muddy. At the same time, you can’t think about the technique or all the notes you’re playing, otherwise you won’t be able to get through it. You have to think about the long line.”

Christina Petrowska Quilico. Photo by Bo HuangGlobal Sirens: Petrowska Quilico has spent a good deal of her career promoting the music of women composers, and this love and commitment is reflected in her second CD coming out this fall – Global Sirens. Her desire with this CD is “to show the great wealth of women’s compositions. Not to denigrate men’s compositions, but we hear more of them than we do the women,” she said. Arising out of the research she’s undertaken for her York University Gender and Performance course, she has uncovered many lost compositions and composers, a selection of which are on the CD. Primarily these are works that span the 20th century, and include composers from numerous backgrounds. One such example is the opening piece Langsamer Waltz composed by Else Fromm-Michaels, whose compositions were banned during the Nazi period because her husband was Jewish. Other composers represented include Else Schmitz-Gohr and Barbara Heller, also from Germany, Ada Gentile (Italy), Priaulx Rainier (South Africa), Peggy Glanville-Hicks (Australia) and French composers Lili Boulanger and Germaine Tailleferre, who was one of Les Six along with Milhaud, Poulenc and others. The two Canadians represented are Larysa Kuzmenko and Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté. Petrowska Quilico has included four pieces by American composer Meredith Monk, whose music she loves, as well as Wireless Rag (1909) by Adaline Shepherd, a woman who was forced by her husband to give up composing, until she was able to resume her creative life after his death (an event which made her quite happy, Petrowska Quilico remarked). Shepherd had great success with her rag Pickles and Peppers, which sold over 200,000 copies in 1906 and was used as a theme song by William Jennings Bryan during his presidential campaign in 1908.

This little slice of Shepherd’s experience offers us just a glimpse at the hostile environment many women composers faced in the past. But what about now? I asked what she thought about the current climate for women music creators in Canada and Toronto. She began by recounting the story of performing Violet Archer’s Piano Concerto No.1 in 1982. At that time, an entry in an American encyclopedia had listed it as one of the major concertos written in Canada – it had been composed in 1956 – and despite this acknowledgement, the piece had only received one performance in 1958 under the baton of Victor Feldbrill with the CBC Symphony. This was something that was quite upsetting to Archer, and so Petrowska Quilico set out to perform it again and eventually released it as a recording. It’s now available on the Centrediscs album 3 Concerti, which also includes works by Alexina Louie and Larysa Kuzmenko. On the subject of gender parity in programming, Petrowska Quilico feels that music composed by women should definitely be played more often, and concerts should include a good balance of pieces by both genders, as well as older works along with newer ones. “Let’s make sure we don’t forget the women and Canadian composers of the past, and sprinkle them through the programs.” The problem, she stated, is that the emphasis is on premieres, and it is often a fight to get women’s music played more than once.

In looking at the overall scope of Petrowska Quilico’s prolific career, the question that comes to mind is how she manages to do it all. Her discography alone is extensive – 50 CDs with four JUNO nominations. Many of these recordings are from live performances – and even when in the recording studio, her preference is to record with only one or two takes. Regarding her technique, earlier in her career she undertook a process of slowly relearning everything, which was particularly important after suffering a broken wrist. She described how she approaches her touch on the keyboard as being like Zen meditation. “The fluidity comes from the fingertip – that’s where you have to focus your energy. All extra movements such as in the elbows take away from the energy you need to play a line. The body needs to be aligned, and you need to be both flexible and strong at the same time.” Another important aspect that she learned early on was the importance of maintaining the electrical current within the music itself, a current that begins with the first note and continues up until the last one. Keeping the energy moving requires focus on the melodic line. “No matter how many chords and notes, what is important is the melodic line.”

All the training, practice and inner focus come together for the performance – and these two new CDs will be a welcome addition to her ongoing contribution to Canadian musical life.

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

Brodie West Quintet. Photo by Martin ReisSEP 8, 7:30PM: CMC Centrediscs, Bekah Simms’ impurity chains CD launch, Canadian Music Centre. In the spirit of celebrating new CDs by women creators, this launch marks the first recording of Simms’ music that abounds with the sounds of 21st-century chaos. Combining both acoustic and electroacoustic soundworlds, Simms weaves references to diverse traditions, from folk to concert.

SEP 12, 8PM: Guelph Jazz Festival. SUNG RA, Guelph Little Theatre. Rory Magill’s take on the legendary Sun Ra with his own Rakestar Arkestra combined with Christine Duncan and the Element Choir.

SEP 16, 8PM: Guelph Jazz Festival. Allison Cameron and Ben Grossman, Silence. These two eclectic composers join forces to perform improvisations on a wide array of instruments and objects, percussion, and electronics.

SEP 21, 6PM & 8PM: Music Gallery and Musicworks, The Brodie West Quintet “Clips” album release + Wow And Flutter. Join hosts Fahmid Nibesh and Joe Strutt for an interactive look-back at the 40-year legacy of Musicworks magazine & CD, to be followed by the music of the Brodie West Quintet for their Clips album release and the improvisations of the Wow & Flutter trio

SEP 27, 12PM: Canadian Opera Company, Awasaakwaa (Beyond, on the Other side of the Woods), Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. A solo recital by acclaimed Odawa First Nation composer and performer Barbara Croall, presenting her own compositions for voice and pipigwan (Anishinaabe cedar flute). Croall is currently preparing for a major performance piece about Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman who was made a saint. More details about that coming later this fall.

OCT 6, 8PM: New Music Concerts, Linda Bouchard’s Murderous Little World, Betty Oliphant Theatre. NMC begins its new season with this music and theatre performance work, directed by Keith Turnbull with texts by Anne Carson. Combining an electronic score with live performers who double as actors, this event promises an emotional experience full of artistic electricity and intellectual prowess.

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

With the arrival of warmer weather, it’s time to dive into the world of summer music festivals. One that caught my attention this year is Festival of the Sound, located in the heart of vacation country, the town of Parry Sound. This year’s festival, which runs from July 20 to August 11, is offering two unique contemporary music events, both of which focus on themes related to cultural identity, history and place. I’ll be concluding the column with a summary of a few new music events happening this summer within the city of Toronto.

Ensemble Made in Canada (from left) Elissa Lee, Angela Park, Sharon Wei and Rachel Mercer - Photo by Bo HuangThe piano quartet Ensemble Made in Canada will be premiering their unique and ambitious Mosaïque Project at Festival of the Sound on July 26. The ensemble got their start in 2006 at the Banff Centre for the Arts, when Angela Park (piano) and Sharon Wei (viola) were inspired to begin a chamber music ensemble that would enable the two of them to play together – thus a piano quartet was formed rather than the usual choice for chamber ensembles, the string quartet. Additional members of the current quartet include Elissa Lee (violin) and Rachel Mercer (cello), and it was Lee who I had a conversation with about Mosaïque.

A few years ago, the quartet began brainstorming about future projects, and had the vision of travelling across the country by train. Not able to physically manage it – since until recently taking a cello on VIA Rail was not allowed – they came up with the idea of commissioning a piece of music that would do it for them.

The original idea was to commission 13 composers (one for each province and territory), but later this increased to 14 composers, who were then selected based on the quartet’s attraction to their individual compositional styles rather than on where they lived. After the composers were on board, the quartet then came up with a strategy to allocate a specific province/territory to each composer to serve as the initial starting point for their compositions. As things turned out, even though each composer was given free reign to find their own inspiration related to the assigned province/territory, a majority of them chose the theme of water as their point of departure. In our conversation, Lee remarked how nature is “so close to our hearts as Canadians,” so it’s no surprise that this would emerge as a common thread amongst the creators. Each of the pieces is four minutes in length, and in the premiere performance in Parry Sound, all 14 of these miniatures will be woven together. An extensive tour is planned across the country after the premiere, with dates and locations scheduled into the fall of 2019 and a changing set list of Mosaïque selections for each show. Audiences in Toronto will be able to hear the complete set of 14 works on November 15, as part of Music Toronto’s concert season and their full touring schedule is available on their website.

One of the distinctive features of this project is a visually based component that will engage the audience. During the concert, audience members will have the opportunity to doodle or draw while listening. Lee explained that many audience members only want to experience familiar music and are more skeptical of contemporary pieces. Based on Lee’s own practice of doodling while talking on the phone, she had the inspiration that if people were doing something more unconscious like doodling, “they could abstract the music and be less apt to judge it. By engaging in a drawing experience, people are able to tap into their own creativity and draw something based on what they’re hearing to inspire them. It opens up a different approach to how you digest the music and is much more friendly. People may find themselves hearing something in the music they would otherwise miss,” Lee said. The other goal of the visual element is to concretely capture how the music is inspiring the audiences. “Canada is inspiring the composers, the composers are inspiring the ensemble, and since the concert is travelling throughout the country, the music is inspiring a nation-wide audience. We can capture what is being created and put it on our website, creating a visual mosaic as another layer to how we celebrate and represent our country.” Through the Mosaïque Project, Canada’s diversity and richness are celebrated not only through the music, but also through the eyes and ears of its people.

Francis Pegahmagabow (1945)Sounding Thunder

The second contemporary music event at the Festival of the Sound is the world premiere of Sounding Thunder: The Song of Francis Pegahmagabow, composed by Timothy Corlis and written by Ojibwe poet Armand Garnet Ruffo. Corlis explained that the work is not an opera, but rather a story that includes a narrator, a chamber ensemble of instrumentalists, three Ojibwe singers and an actor who plays Pegahmagabow. Performing this role is Brian McInnes, the great grandson of Pegahmagabow and writer of an extensive biography of his great grandfather. Other direct descendants have acted as advisors for the project. Pegahmagabow was born in 1889 on the Parry Island Indian Reserve (now the Wasauksing First Nation), an Ojibwe community near Parry Sound, Ontario. He was considered the most effective sniper of World War I and was decorated with various military medals. The writer Armand Ruffo took great pains to reference real events in the script, Corlis told me, using either things commonly talked about in the family or documentation from books.

Timothy CorlisThe instrumentation of the music was designed to be a copy of what is used in L’Histoire du Soldat, Igor Stravinsky’s piece about World War I. Corlis’ vision is that for future performances, excerpts of Stravinsky’s work will be performed on the same program, thus presenting different viewpoints of this cataclysmic world event. Sounding Thunder is divided into three acts, with the first focusing on Pegahmagabow’s childhood and formational spiritual experiences, including an encounter with the spirit of his clan – the Caribou. In the music, Corlis has created a Caribou motive using interlocking patterns invoking the sounds of a large herd. One of the singers will portray the spirit of the Caribou throughout the work, which opens with Pegahmagabow acknowledging the four directions while vocables are sung. At another point, the instruments foreshadow the war with rippling gunshot sounds on the drum. Act Two takes us to the battlefield in Europe and musically, the score has many references to European music and its harmonic traditions. Corlis said that the music even sounds a bit like Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, yet there is another unmistakable component – the presence of the drum, which is played with great force underneath the European-based music. This was one way Corlis brought together references to both cultures, as the drum is a significant element in Ojibwe culture and customarily resides in the home of its owner.

Armand Garnet Ruffo in his office at Queens University CREDIT Julia McKayAct Three focuses on Pegahmagabow’s life after returning to his home after the war. Despite his many accomplishments on the battlefield and his ability to gain loyalty and trust in his role as an army sergeant, when back on the reserve, he had to once again face the systemic racism towards First Nations people. Much of the third act portrays his struggles with the Indian agent, fighting for the rights to receive his military pension and for all Indigenous people to have access to legal advice. Writer Armand Ruffo is a strong activist for Indigenous rights, and this is very evident in the script. The work ends with Pegahmagabow’s death, with the instrumentalists surrounding him onstage while playing gentle light trill motives to represent the ascension of his spirit, with the finale being the performance of a traditional Ojibwe song.

City Summertime Listening

Somewhere There: On June 10, at Array Space, Somewhere There will present the first screening of Sound Seed: Tribute to Pauline Oliveros, a performance by Vancouver-based integrated media artist Victoria Gibson. The piece draws on Gibson’s 2009 encounter with composer Pauline Oliveros and members of the Deep Listening Band, who invited her to document their 20th anniversary that took place in the underground cistern in Fort Worden, Washington with its spectacular 45-second reverberation. This was the site of the groundbreaking 1989 recording Deep Listening, which launched both the term and concepts of Deep Listening, Oliveros’ signature work which invites us to engage with and contribute to the sonic environment from a place of inner focus and awareness. The concert includes a launch of the DVD along with two sets of music. Vocalist/composer Laura Swankey opens the evening, with the closing set featuring Gibson performing with Heather Saumer (trombone) and Bob Vespaziani (electronic percussion), a version of Gibson’s variable-member project, Play the Moment Collective.

Contact Contemporary Music: A unique concert on June 14 co-presented by ContaQt and Buddies in Bad Times Theatre, “Many Faces: We Are All Marilyns,” will explore the themes of vulnerability, strength and defiance, topics that are particularly relevant in light of recent issues of violence within Toronto’s queer community. Music by Eve Beglarian, Amnon Wolman and John Oswald will be performed, along with choreography by Laurence Lemieux. Fast forwarding to the Labour Day weekend, Contact’s annual multi-day festival INTERSECTION takes place from August 31 to September 4, and is a co-presentation with Burn Down the Capital. This year’s event offers an extensive lineup of musicians, with their opening concert featuring NYC-based experimental metal guitarist and composer Mick Barr, the Thin Edge New Music Collective, and heavy metal band Droid. The day-long event on September 2 will take place as usual at Yonge- Dundas Square, with music performed in the midst of an intense urban scene. By contrast, the final concert will take place at Allan Gardens, with another opportunity to hear Laura Swankey, amongst others.

Luminato: An exciting new work which combines sound, image and an unspoken narrative, Solo for Duet: works for augmented piano and images, will be performed by pianist Eve Egoyan on June 19 and 20. I refer you to my April column, which features a more detailed description of this work, along with a look at Egoyan’s performances of long-duration works. On June 24, Icelandic composer and musician Ólafur Arnalds premieres his new work All Strings Attached, featuring a wired ensemble of string quartet and percussion, with Ólafur performing on an array of pianos and synthesizers. A highlight of this work will be Ólafur’s use of intricate algorithm software, which he designed to control two self-playing pianos acting as one.

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

Keeping apace of new music events in the city is like a never-ending discovery of new ideas, initiatives and opportunities to expand one’s horizons on both the local and international scenes. The Royal Conservatory’s annual 21C Music Festival, running from May 23 to 27, provides an opportunity to experience all this within a five-day span, with eight concerts and 37 premieres. The Kronos Quartet, along with composer and multi-instrumental performer Jherek Bischoff, will open the festival, followed by concerts featuring a number of different international and national pianists, including Anthony de Mare with his special project Liaisons: Re-Imagining Sondheim From the Piano, Sri Lankan-Canadian composer and pianist Dinuk Wijeratne performing with Syrian composer and clarinetist Kinan Azmeh, and the French sibling pianists Katia and Marielle Labèque.

As is customary for 21C, one of their concerts is a co-presentation with an established Toronto new music presenter – in this case, New Music Concerts, who will bring a Claude Vivier-inspired program to Mazzoleni Hall on May 27. This year, however, a second co-presentation also caught my eye: Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Vox Clamantis with Maarja Nuut & HH, presented on May 26 in collaboration with Estonian Music Week, running concurrently in the city from May 24 to 29.

The Estonian Music Week co-presentation is one of two concerts at 21C that combine music by contemporary composers with music of the past – thus creating a blurring of time, as it were. Vox Clamantis will offer both Gregorian chant music alongside contemporary works by primarily Estonian composers – while in another 21C show on May 25, pianist Simone Dinnerstein and the A Far Cry chamber orchestra will combine two works by J.S. Bach and two by Philip Glass.

Vox ClamantisVox Clamantis

I had an opportunity to speak with Jaan-Eik Tulve, the conductor of Vox Clamantis, about the ensemble, the connections between Gregorian chant and contemporary music, and the legendary singing tradition in Estonia. Vox Clamantis was formed 20 years ago by Tulve as a way to continue singing the Gregorian chant he had studied in Paris in the 1990s. However, it quickly expanded into an ensemble that embraced the music of contemporary Estonian composers, who were keen to write music for them. One of the key reasons for this desire to compose for Vox Clamantis, Tulve told me, “was because they found that our musicality, phrasing and voices are different from classical singers. Even though Gregorian chant is the basis for classical music, the differences are that it is unmetered and monophonic music, so you must pay close attention to phrasing and listening to each other.”

Jaan Eik Tulve. Photo by Bartos BabinskliOne of the composers the ensemble has a very close working relationship with is the esteemed Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Back in 1980, Pärt was forced to leave Estonia, which was part of the USSR at the time, in order to have his creative freedom. He lived in Berlin for 30 years, only returning to Estonia in the late 1990s after the country regained its independence. A strong relationship between Pärt and Vox Clamantis was quickly established, strengthened by the fact that Pärt had studied Gregorian chant when he was young. “We found a lot of similarities in our musical expressions and understandings of music, and little by little we sang more and more music that he wrote for us. He also often comes to us with new compositions while he is working on them so he can hear what they sound like,” Tulve said. The program at the 21C Festival will include five pieces by Pärt, all of which are on The Deer’s Cry CD, an album fully dedicated to performances of Pärt’s music by Vox Clamantis. As well, one of the repertoire programs that the ensemble regularly performs is comprised of a mixture of Pärt’s music with Gregorian music, a program designed by both Tulve and Pärt.

Other contemporary composers whose works will be on Vox Clamantis’ 21C program include the music of Helena Tulve, Jaan-Eik’s wife, who also studied Gregorian chant along with contemporary composition. “It’s a very short but concentrated monophonic piece which is quite different from most of her other instrumental compositions,” Tulve said. It will be paired with Ave Maria by Tõnis Kaumann, who is also a singer in the ensemble. And finally, a work by American composer David Lang will round out the concert, demonstrating Lang’s ability to write in a wide range of styles. When I asked Tulve about the connection between the ensemble and Lang’s musical language, he remarked that Lang’s music “was perfect for our ensemble as it is quite close to our musicality. It’s minimalist music, and we find minimalism in Pärt’s music, Gregorian chant and Lang’s music. Minimalism is the one common point.”

I concluded my conversation with Tulve by asking him to speak about the relationship between singing and the Estonian national identity. In what’s known as the Estonian Age of Awakening, which began in the 1850s and ended in 1918 with the declaration of the Republic of Estonia, the Estonian Song Festival was established in 1869. It is one of the largest amateur choral events in the world, held every five years, bringing together around 30,000 singers to perform the same repertoire for an audience of up to 80,000. “This festival was very important during the Soviet occupation” Tulve told me, “and helped Estonians survive this period by strengthening their own national identity. To preserve this strong link between singing and the Estonian identity, every child learns to sing in choirs at school, and the singing is at a very high level throughout the country with many good amateur choirs.”

Two other Estonian performers will also take to the stage that same evening – Maarja Nuut, performing on vocals, violin and electronics, along with Hendrik Kaljujärv on electronics. For the evening finale, the choir and these two young experimental performers will come together with a work performed by Vox Clamantis with improvisations by Nuut and Kaljujärv.

Simone Dinnerstein with A Far Cry

One of the pianists the 21C Festival is programming is Brooklyn-based Simone Dinnerstein, who burst onto the international scene with her self-produced recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations in 2007. Since that time, she has performed internationally, with repertoire spanning from Baroque to select 21st-century works especially composed for her. Recently, she entered into a creative collaboration with composer Philip Glass, whose Piano Concerto No. 3 for piano and strings will receive its Canadian premiere at 21C along with pieces by J.S. Bach and Glass’ Symphony No.3. The concerto was a co-commission from a consortium of 12 orchestras; it was premiered in Boston in 2017 with string orchestra A Far Cry.

Simone Dinnerstein. Photo by Lisa Marie MazzuccoIn my recent phone interview with her, Dinnerstein spoke about how this came about. The idea arose in 2014 when both artists discovered that they had a mutual interest in the music of Bach. Glass was interested in writing a work for her and Dinnerstein proposed that it be a concerto for piano and string orchestra. “I thought it would be interesting if the performance of the piece was paired with a Bach concerto,” she said. “All of Bach’s keyboard concertos are for keyboard and string orchestra, and there haven’t been many pieces written for that combination since Bach’s time. Glass liked the idea and from there, along with A Far Cry, we all decided it would be interesting to create a whole program with music by Bach and Glass.” At the May 25 concert, the first half includes Glass’ Symphony No. 3 followed by Bach’s Keyboard Concerto in G Minor BWV1058, and in the second half, Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B Minor will be followed by Glass’ new Piano Concerto. And just in time for the festival, the two keyboard concertos on the program will be available on a CD titled Circles.

Glass’ concerto is written in three movements, with some parts more flowing and others quite dynamic. Dinnerstein said that in the second movement, some parts remind her of rock music in terms of sonority and rhythm. “At times the orchestra almost sounds like one of those 1970s synthesizers and it’s a really amazing sound. The third movement is definitely what I call transcendental music.”

In a an accidental but striking instance of synchronicity between 21C and Estonian Music Week, this third movement is dedicated to Arvo Pärt. “I can see why he dedicated it to Pärt,” Dinnerstein commented, “because there is a stillness to it that is present in a lot of Pärt’s music. But to me, it still sounds very much like Philip Glass. It’s a very slow-paced movement and is extremely difficult to rehearse because you need to be an active listener all the time. Everybody in the orchestra and the pianist have to be really aware of each other and of the music moment by moment, which takes a great deal of focus. I’ve now played this with a number of orchestras and one of the things that is wonderful about playing it with A Far Cry is they are an ensemble that really spends a lot of time listening to each other since they have no conductor. It’s part of their artistic personality to be able to respond to each other in a very instantaneous way, so we’ve tried different things with that movement. I might suddenly change something I’m doing and they have to respond to it without having a plan, so it’s much more improvisatory. That kind of thing is very hard to do with a larger orchestra and a conductor, but with them, it’s really possible.”

Dinnerstein went on to describe the commonalities between the music of Glass and Bach. “Both of their writing deals a lot with sequences of patterns and they have a common interest in the larger architecture of a piece. As well, they have written relatively very little regarding the interpretation of a performance. Their use of tempo, articulation and dynamic markings is quite bare, so that leaves a great deal up to the interpreter to try and delve into the music and see what the music is saying to them. I love that about those composers. As a result, when you hear different people play their music, it can sound wildly different.”

As for commonalities between Baroque and contemporary music, Dinnerstein commented: “I’ve always thought there’s a stronger connection there than between Romantic music and contemporary music. There’s a kind of abstraction to both Baroque and contemporary, and if you listen to Chopin for example, it feels very much of its time. You’re very aware of Chopin the artist. With Bach and Glass, the expression is less tied to the composers themselves – I don’t feel a sense of them as people. Rather, I feel that whoever is playing their music can bring out something quite different. The personality of the composer feels less dominant and there is a wider spectrum that lies within the music itself.”

What is striking about both these concerts I’ve highlighted here is the way contemporary music is linked with the sensibilities of both medieval Gregorian chant and Baroque music. It will definitely make for some fascinating listening – and an opportunity to experience music in all its timelessness. 

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

Bekah Simms - photo by Bo HuangOne of the inspiring things about the new music scene in Toronto is the plenitude of presenter organizations and collectives that are constantly springing up, each one with their own unique vision and mandate. One of the newer players in this trend is the Caution Tape Sound Collective, formed in the summer of 2015 by composers Bekah Simms and August Murphy-King. On March 24 in Array Space, Caution Tape will present “Spark to Stone” in collaboration with the Association of Canadian Women Composers (ACWC).

The concert features the work of seven Canadian composers, including five world premieres and two Toronto premieres. I invited Bekah Simms to have a conversation about the concert, the collective and her own compositional work.

Caution Tape has a unique combination of elements in their artistic mandate. One focus is on repertoire development for both underused combinations of instruments and instruments that don’t have a lot of solo works. Another strong aspect of their vision is the incorporation of electronics and influences from sound art and drone music into the repertoire they support. As Simms pointed out: “Toronto doesn’t have much concert activity of electroacoustic music, unlike Montreal for example, so Caution Tape seeks to make the technology more available for younger composers, as well as offering mentoring and pedagogical support for those who wish to combine the worlds of sound art and concert music.”

The core membership of the collective is made up of Simms, Murphy-King, Julia Mermelstein and Patrick Arteaga. They also support a rotational membership, since bringing in new voices is important. There is no core performer ensemble, but they generally draw from the same pool of people interested in new and experimental music, with the key goal being to experiment with creating unusual instrumental combinations. An example of this was an ensemble used in their last season that was made up of bassoon/contrabassoon, synthesizer, piano, percussion and viola. “It sounded really great,” Simms commented. And not least, they are committed to representational programming. Simms explains: “If you are working with living composers in a city like Toronto, the demographics of your concert programming should roughly represent the demographic of your city. This includes gender, race, experience, age, emerging and early career.”

Their upcoming March 24 concert is one example of their focus on representational programming as they join forces with the ACWC, which was formed in September of 1981 with the aim of addressing the lack of women composers being programmed in the Canadian music scene. The Caution Tape/ACWC collaboration is a natural one: Simms has served on the board of the ACWC, and together they put out a call for works – both existing as well as proposals for new pieces. As a result of this call, the Spark to Stone concert will include works by composers Amy Brandon, Sarah Reid, Ivana Jokic, Hope Lee and Lesley Hinger, along with Caution Tape core members Simms and Mermelstein.

Mermelstein’s work is an acousmatic piece, a form of electroacoustic music that is specifically created as a listening experience using only speakers, as opposed to a live instrumental performance. She has used the mundane and background sounds of everyday life and through various forms of digital processing brought this world to the forefront of an intriguing listening experience. Brandon’s work uses a soundscape created from unique piano preparations – nylon fishing wire attached to the wall and woven into the lower strings of the piano. Jokic’s piece uses the concept of the palindrome, a sequence of events that reads the same backward as forward. There is an allusion to matryoshka dolls, the Russian nesting dolls, as the snaking palindromes weave their way throughout the ensemble. Reid, a trumpet player who is both an improviser and composer, created a piece for prepared piano, cello, and amplified objects performed by a percussionist. This includes the playing of the grain of a piece of wood that has been covered with contact mics, a pair of vampire-like chattering teeth and a cassette player. Lee’s work …I, Laika…, composed in 1996, will finally receive its Toronto premiere. A 20-minute work for flute, cello and piano, the piece is based on the idea of doomed flight, referencing Laika, the first dog launched in space by the Russians, as well as the loss of Lee’s father who went missing in a military plane in China.

Hinger’s participation is an example of the value of putting out a call and connecting with unfamiliar voices. Once the jury for the concert heard her music, they unanimously agreed that her work must be selected. Hinger’s piece for solo violin is informed by her current studies in spectralism and focuses on slow microtonal unravelling over time.

The concert will also present the world premiere of Simms’ piece Granitic, a word she was initially exposed to a few years ago when used by her composition professor to describe one of her compositions. Surprised by this unfamiliar word which means “unyielding firmness and aversion to soft emotions,” she decided it resonated with her and wanted to explore more of what was stylistically emerging for her. Granitic is her Toronto Emerging Composer Award-winning composition, and is scored for a large ensemble including electric guitar, electric bass, percussion, synthesizer, violin, viola, cello, clarinet, trumpet and flute. In this piece she explores the world of just intonation, a tuning system based on pure or just intervals between the notes of the scale, rather than the standard equal temperament system that uses the same or equal distance between intervals. For the performers, this means playing in microtones, something that is difficult and challenging to do when playing on instruments designed for equal temperament. Simms described her emerging style as “event and sound based. I don’t map out harmonies or melodies, but rather focus on timbre, colour and the unravelling of initial ideas. I’ve become interested in distortion, quotation and using degraded allusions to other styles of music, using noise-based techniques on instruments and transitions from noise to sound. Electronics also help to obscure the original source material.”

As for future directions, what drives her is to integrate more complex and intricate technologies into her music. In a recent mentorship with Montreal acousmatic composer Martin Bédard, she was able to learn a variety of electroacoustic techniques, and had an opportunity to work with live diffusion, the process of moving the sound amongst a multi-speaker system. The next step for Simms will be to work in partnership with a programmer to create an intuitive interface to perform live processing of instrumental sounds. The composition she is creating will be scored for solo cello, electronics and orchestra, and is scheduled to be performed by Esprit Orchestra in February 2019 during their New Wave Festival. Having a skilled electronics performer working alongside her is her ideal situation, for it allows her to focus on composing the electronic component, which can then be realized externally by an expert.

Representational Programming

As mentioned above, Caution Tape is committed to representational programming. One reason for this is that “we found the local programming disappointing” Simms acknowledges. As an example, she mentions the upcoming 21C Music Festival that promotes itself as bringing forward fresh new sounds and ideas. Looking at this year’s press release, of almost three dozen premieres being programmed (which includes both world, Canadian, Ontario and Toronto premieres), there is only one work by a woman composer. (I noted in my February column a similar thing occurring in this years New Creations Festival happening from March 3 to 10, with only one composition by a woman being programmed, despite last year’s festival having highlighted diversity.)

Simms notes the tendency for presenters to be satisfied with having had one successful experience and then to stop thinking about it. “You have to be actively questioning your programming every step of the way. It’s so easy to find good and interesting work by women that if you’re not programming it, you’re just being lazy.” She mentioned a 1990s article in the Toronto Star that noted the lack of programming of works by women amongst the new music organizations – and that was 25 years ago!

Caution Tape attempts to “be steadfast about our programming. If one concert ends up being a 70/30 mix between male and female composers, we shuffle things around in the overall season to get closer to 50/50.” She noted that it’s easier for chamber music groups to have more diverse programming, and that many local groups regularly program music by women on every concert. “The problem is with the larger ensembles, that’s where the numbers are the worst. You hope that your efforts in the chamber music realm will bleed into the larger sphere of orchestral music,” Simms says, mentioning as an example, that the rising star of orchestral composition globally is Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir who was chosen in 2015 as the New York Philharmonic’s Kravis Emerging Composer. The Philharmonic will give the world premiere of Thorvaldsdottir’s latest commissioned work, Metacosmos, on April 4 to 6.

(Coincidentally, during the writing of this column, I received a press release regarding the Chicago Sinfonietta’s concert on March 11 celebrating women composers. This orchestra is dedicated to modelling and promoting diversity, inclusion and racial and cultural equity in the arts. In light of these initiatives, it feels like Toronto is lagging behind; all the more reason why the Caution Tape Sound Collective is a much-needed voice in the city.

Vivian Fung

An important footnote to this conversation about orchestral programming: I would be remiss not to mention two upcoming orchestral performances of works by composer Vivian Fung. On March 24, the National Arts Centre Orchestra will give the Toronto premiere of her newly commissioned piece Earworms, and on March 3, Fung’s 2011 piece Dust Devils will be performed by the TSO as part of the New Creations Festival. 

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

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