Debashis Sinha. Photo by Shigeo GomiIt was quite a pleasant surprise this month, after months of inactivity when I received the October listings to see that there is a variety of different performances coming up in October. If you are a fan of new and experimental music, you will once again be able to indulge in listening to what’s currently going on, even though these events will be limited to livestream. One of the upcoming concerts that caught my eye was a performance by Debashis Sinha, a sound-based artist comfortable working in a variety of media. He combines his experiences as a South Asian Canadian who trains with master drummers from various world music traditions with a love of electroacoustic music and technology. His work, Adeva (version000_01), will be performed via livestream on October 24 in an event produced by New Adventures in
Sound Art and Charles Street Video. 

I began my conversation with Sinha by inquiring into how his South Asian Canadian identity has impacted his creative work. Growing up in Winnipeg within the context of a very small Indian community that itself was a mixture of different Indian cultures meant that they all shared a hodgepodge of cultural expressions. “For me growing up, everything was all mixed up together. This has fuelled a lot of the work and the exploration that I do with mythology and storytelling by imagining aspects of my culture, its deities and trying to fill in the blanks.” 

Read more: Adventures in Sound Art: Machine Language and Livestreams

The writer, sounding to a tree on the Toronto Island. Photo by Margaret IrvingIn these days of limited performances, for this month’s column I decided to take up a suggestion made by my ever-inventive editor at The WholeNote, and write a story related to some aspect of my own creative work during this time.  

On New Year’s Day of 2020, I had awoken with the inspiration to start a video-audio blog, something that is very new for me. Titled Earth Soundings, my original vision was that for each blog entry I would select a particular natural environment in which to take photos and videos, andf then create the soundtrack in response to the images and my experiences in each specific environment. My overall intention in creating these short nature-based videos was to invite people to take a brief pause in their day to remember and attune to their connection with the Earth, the elements and all beings. A short time of reflection or meditation. At the heart of the project: my desire to contribute in one way toward the restoration of our relationship with nature, for I believe that one of the root causes behind our climate crisis is due to our cultural disconnect from nature.

The guideline I set for myself for these blog posts was to take the photo and video footage on specific days of celebration, connected to either cultural holidays or days on the Earth calendar related to the passing of seasons or phases of the moon. For the music I would select various members of the wider community to collaborate with me.  Initially, I released these videos on my Facebook page Earth Soundings (facebook.com/wendalynvoice), again on days significant in the calendar. The videos are also available on my website soundingherwisdom.ca/earth-soundings

Read more: Creative (E)mergings in these days of isolation

The consequences of a pandemic are, as we have all experienced, incredibly far- reaching. The near complete closing down of life as we had known it has had such a sweeping effect on us all, we barely have any tangible evidence of what we might otherwise have accomplished in the spring of 2020. And of course, the projects we had proposed for this period of time all have roots in the past, with planned steps leading, one after the other, towards the completion of works of art we would have been proud to share with our public.

In my particular case, a unique project, several years in the making, was to have seen light of day in both Toronto and in Halifax late this past April. Poetry and Song was designed as a touring program in which I was to join two poets, a soprano and a pianist, to reveal not only recently composed art songs, but also to share the usually hidden processes used in the collaboration that led to the creation of these works.

Read more: Personal POV on the Pandemic

Self-isolation, social distancing, stay at home, connected isolation, the new normal, flattening the curve – all phrases that are becoming the latest updates to our current vocabulary. But as I along with everyone else take all this in, I am also listening to those who speak about how what’s also emerging are new levels of global co-operation, and that this is a time for societal reset, even a time that offers a choice for humanity to change or die. 

In a sense we’ve all known somewhere inside us that this was coming, in some form; living in a culture that was killing off the very planet our lives depend upon was not sustainable. It’s almost as if the Earth is presenting a challenge to us to let go of our old and familiar ways. Now is the time to slow down and listen, and to sense what might be emerging and arising out of the old. When a caterpillar forms a chrysalis around itself, everything that once was disintegrates and turns to goo. The only things left are the imaginal cells that come together to form the new template – the emerging butterfly. This image gives us a model for the evolutionary process we are currently in the midst of. 

Although it is early days for this new reality, I found myself looking to the ongoing Emergents Series at the Music Gallery for some hints as to what these emerging changes might forecast for the future of music-making. Flutist Sara Constant (who also does editorial work for the WholeNote website, but has no role in assigning or editing print magazine content such as this) has been the curator of this series since 2018, taking over from Chelsea Shanoff. Even though the April 25 Emergents Series concert, featuring the two string ensembles Vaso and unQuartet has been cancelled, this felt like a good time to find out more about her curatorial vision for the series.

Read more: Emergent and Evolutionary: The Challenge to Let Go

Peggy Baker Dance Projects
Collaborations between choreographers and composers have played a significant part in the creation of some of the most loved pieces of contemporary music. The classic example is, of course, the partnership between composer Igor Stravinsky and Serge Diaghilev, director of the Ballets Russes that resulted in the scores for The Firebird, Petrushka and The Rite of Spring. Among the first of the contemporary dance companies to form in Toronto were Toronto Dance Theatre in 1968 and Dancemakers in 1974, and both companies quickly began to work with contemporary composers, many of them local. One of the early company members of Dancemakers was Peggy Baker, and in 1990 she went on to establish Peggy Baker Dance Projects. Over the years, she has received much praise for her collaborative partnerships with composers such as Michael J. Baker, John Kameel Farah, Ahmed Hassan and Ann Southam as well as with performers Andrew Burashko, Shauna Rolston, Henry Kucharzyk and the Array Ensemble, among many others. Over the last five years, contemporary vocalist innovator and music creator Fides Krucker has collaborated on all of Baker’s new works, bringing to their collaboration her expertise in the creation of non-verbal human sound textures and her commitment to an emotionally integrated vocal practice.

Anne BourneBaker’s latest work, her body as words, will be performed March 19 to 29 at the Theatre Centre. For this piece, Baker has drawn together a unique intergenerational ensemble of dancers and composer/musicians who have taken up the challenge of addressing questions of female and gender identity. I invited one of the composer/musician members of the ensemble, Anne Bourne, who herself has collaborated on past projects with Baker, to have a conversation with me about her contribution to the piece as a composer and how her distinctive performance style of combining vocal toning while playing the cello will contribute to the overall musical score.

Read more: Gender Fluidity in Music and Dance

Juliet Palmer. Photo by Dahlia KatzHave you spent much time wondering about those mysterious things going on inside your body, and especially those processes that your life is utterly dependent upon such as your heart and circulation system, or your breath and the entire respiratory system? Ever been curious about how a hospital trauma team works together in such a coordinated and precise way while working to save a life?

Whether you have or not, you may now be wondering whatever does all this have to do with music? These are the questions that Toronto-based composer and interdisciplinary artist Juliet Palmer recently pursued during a research residency at Sunnybrook Research Institute in 2018. Arising out of this period are two works that will be performed in a concert on February 9 produced by Continuum Contemporary Music, that will also include a Continuum-commissioned work by composer Martijn Voorvelt from the Netherlands entitled Frederick’s Doctor. I talked with Palmer to find out more about her compositions and how the residency in a hospital informed her creative process.

Read more: Juliet Palmer at Continuum: The Body, Trauma and Trees

One thing that has been consistent with the University of Toronto’s annual New Music Festival over the years is the presence of a visiting composer from another country or Canadian city. During last year’s festival in January 2019, it was Toshio Hosokawa, a leading composer from Japan, and the year before that in 2018, Canadian Nicole Lizée was given the honours. This visitorship is named the Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition, and was established by Roger Moore, a longtime supporter and philanthropist of new music. Sadly, Moore passed away in March of this year, and there will be a concert, as part of the festival, to honour him on January 21. More about what is on the program for that night below. This year’s visiting composer is André Mehmari, a leading Brazilian composer, pianist and arranger in both classical and popular music. Because of his diverse artistic accomplishments many of the events of the festival span both the jazz and contemporary music worlds, with the opening concert on January 12 combining electronic jazz, visuals and live electronics.

Read more: January's Distinguished Visitors - U of T New Music Festival

For this month’s column, I’ll be taking a look at two different events during the month of November that involve large-scale forces. The first involves the mainstay of communal soundmaking – the symphony orchestra, while the second is a significant new amalgam of voices coming together to create two operas.

Emilie LeBel. Photo by Phillipa C PhotographyI’ll begin with what’s happening with the Toronto Symphony and their affiliate composer, Emilie LeBel, who is currently in the second year of her position. One of the benefits of this position is that she is given the opportunity to compose one new piece each year for the orchestra. This year’s work, unsheltered, will receive its Toronto premiere on November 13, after performances on November 11 in Ottawa and November 12 in Montreal, part of an upcoming TSO tour. I spoke with LeBel about her new work, as well as another of the projects she is involved with at the TSO, titled Explore The Score.

Currently living and teaching in Edmonton, Alberta (when not engaged in her TSO commitments), LeBel says that she began composing unsheltered during the spring of 2019, while all around her wildfires were blazing north of Edmonton, amidst various public conversations and controversies about building more pipelines. She spoke about the general uneasiness and tensions that exist right now everywhere in the world and how her composition took on that atmosphere. She stressed that “the piece is not about politics or climate change in an overt way, rather I’m picking up on an uneasiness that feels very palpable right now.” In juxtaposition to this, LeBel said, is the natural beauty of the area she is currently living in, how different that environment is for her personally, and how it helps her aspire to be hopeful as well.

In her own note on unsheltered, she quotes a poem by Joanna Doxey as inspiration – speaking, as it does, to the importance of human connection during those moments we have with people, as well as to our experience of time, particularly when we look back on such moments in a more nostalgic way. The poem is from Doxey’s Book of Worry and begins  “…in this humming and doubled land, hold worry, only me”.

It is the word humming that LeBel frequently referenced while speaking of the piece, to describe the overall atmosphere being invoked in her composition. Musically, it started off as a bass line from a Baroque piece that she has been studying with her students. “I was thinking about Baroque bass lines and how everything on top of it is like a textural landscape. This is often what I do in orchestral pieces. There are sections with slippery glissandos and high string harmonics that create an atmosphere where things feel tenuous.” The poetic except from Doxey continues: “and I get older or I grow farther from myself and I always most love the moment before now…” It is a  sentiment that is also reflected in LeBel’s piece; she chooses to end it on a note that, while part of the humming atmosphere, is both nostalgic and hopeful.

LeBel’s responsibilities as TSO affiliate composer have also entailed involvement in another hopeful venture. This year is the eighth season in which the TSO has supported opportunities for composers to have their works read by the orchestra. Last year, along with Matthew Fava from the Canadian Music Centre, they devised a new approach to the project. They changed the jury process from being anonymous to asking people to send in their scores, along with informational statements outlining what they wished to get out of the program. This way, composers who would get the most from this opportunity would be selected, regardless of age or stage in their career. Around the same time, there was a conversation at the TSO about opening up the process to the public, to offer them an experience of how a new orchestral work is rehearsed. A new name was given to the program – Explore the Score – and they have received great feedback from both the public and the composers about the experience. This November 30 will mark the second year for this new approach, and will include works by composers Ian Cusson, Matthew Emery, Fjóla Evans, and Jared Richardson. In advance, the composers will have received guidance from the orchestra’s librarian on how to prepare the score and parts, with the new compositions being conducted by Gary Kulesha – the TSO’s composer advisor. After the performance, feedback from both Kulesha and LeBel will be given to the composers and during a lunch with representatives from the different sections of the orchestra, the composers will receive additional feedback from the musicians’ point of view. They will also have access to LeBel for a follow-up session for both compositional and/or career advice.

Beyond her TSO commitments, LeBel remains an active composer within the Toronto music community and she will be premiering a new work with Continuum on November 3 as part of their 35th anniversary celebration concert, alongside works by Canadians Jason Doell, Christopher Goddard, Cassandra Miller and Michael Oesterle.

Two Odysseys

The second project that caught my eye this month is the upcoming production of Two Odysseys: Pimooteewin/Gállábártnit running from November 13 to 17 at Daniels Spectrum. Produced by Soundstreams with partners Signal Theatre and the Sámi National Theatre, the performance will present two operas that are the first such works to be sung and narrated in the Indigenous languages of both Cree and Sámi (the language of the Sápmi people, whose territory today encompasses large northern parts of Norway and Sweden, northern parts of Finland, and the Kola Peninsula within the Murmansk Oblast of Russia. Both works will be directed collaboratively by Michael Greyeyes from Signal Theatre and Cole Alvis from lemonTree creations.

Britta ByströmPimooteewin (The Journey) was first premiered in 2008, a performance that initiated a collaboration between Soundstreams and Greyeyes. Since that time, through a series of performances, connections, meetings and creative thinking, the initial venture has now evolved to the current production that has expanded to include a second companion opera, Gállábártnit, written in the Sámi language. The libretto for Pimooteewin was written in Cree by the celebrated Indigenous playwright and novelist Tomson Highway. Canadian composer Melissa Hui was selected to compose the music for the libretto and this task demanded her full commitment to understanding how to work with the Cree language. The librettist for Gállábártnit is Norwegian and Sámi playwright/author Rawdna Carita Eira. Swedish composer Britta Byström, who received the Elaine Lebenbom Memorial Award for Female Composers in 2015 from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, was selected to bring her unique artistic language to bear in the creation of the music.

In the casting of Two Odysseys, great care was taken to reflect diverse Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives. The performers include two narrators—Yolanda Bonnell and Heli Huovinen, each fluent in their respective languages of Cree and Sámi, as well as vocal soloists Melody Courage, Asitha Tennekoon and Bud Roach. The musical performers also include a choir assembled by Soundstreams as well as a chamber ensemble. Métis soprano soloist Melody Courage provides a quick peek into her experience of the rehearsal process in a short excerpt from the promotional video available on the Soundstreams website, in which she reflects on “…the amount of pride I feel performing with so many ridiculously talented Indigenous artists that I’ve met for the first time … It’s in the stages of coming together and it feels very magical.”

Both works examine the question of how we live together as a human community on this earth, and how we journey on to the land of the dead. Each piece is based on ancient stories from the two traditions. The Cree story tells the tale of the Trickster character Weesageechak (coyote) and Migisoo (eagle) and their desire to be reunited with loved ones. The Gállábártnit of the Sámi story are the “sons of the son of the sun,” hunter/inventor star beings who come to earth from the “belt” of the constellation known in European cosmology as Orion. This mix of Indigenous stories, languages, directors, librettists, narrators and soloists intermingle here in an art form with European roots, in music created by two composers who bring their own sensibilities and artistic voices to the project. It is a dialogue that explores the edges of the possibilities available when people of diverse cultures are able to work collaboratively with sensitivity, respect and a willingness to listen to each other. Soprano Melody Courage sums it up this way: “You can expect to be moved and transformed, musically and spiritually.”

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

NOV 12, 8PM: New Music Concerts/Faculty of Music, U of T. Kasemets@100. Palestrina: Tu es Petrus; Kasemets: Trigon; Märt-Matis Lill: When the Buffalo Went Away; Kozlova-Johannes: Horizontals; Kasemets: 4’33” Fractals; Future is past…is…now. Ensemble U:; Stephen Clarke, piano. Walter Hall, Edward Johnson Building.

NOV 17, 8PM: The Music Gallery. History Series: Celebrating Casey Sokol. An evening with one of the Music Gallery’s co-founders as he moves on from a storied career teaching improvisation at York University. The evening will be part improvised soirée/part interview with food and drinks.

NOV 24, 8PM: The Music Gallery. Emergents I: Sarah Albu & Mári Mákó + Anoush Moazzeni. Blend of electronics, improvisation and notated works. Sarah Albu, vocalist; Mári Mákó, composer/sound artist; Anoush Moazzeni, piano/improvisation/composer.

Casey SokolNOV 24, 8PM: Toronto Improvisors Orchestra. TIO Celebrates Casey Sokol. Casey Sokol, piano; Eugene Martynec, laptop; Rod Campbell, trumpet; Bill Gilliam, piano; Ambrose Pottie, percussion. Array Space

NOV 26 AND 27, 8PM: Confluence Concerts. “An Evening with Marion Newman: What Is Classical Indigenous Music?” Marion Newman, mezzo; Rebecca Cuddy, mezzo; Evan Korbut, baritone; Gordon Gerrard, piano; Ian Cusson, composer. Heliconian Hall.

DEC 1, 8PM: Esprit Orchestra. “Sustain.” Andrew Norman: Sustain, for orchestra; Adam Scime: Afterglow, concerto for violin and orchestra; José Evangelista: Accelerando, for orchestra. Véronique Mathieu, violin; Alex Pauk, conductor. Koerner Hall.

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

With the arrival of the fall season in the world of new and experimental music comes the next installment of the X Avant New Music Festival at the Music Gallery. Over the years, this festival has organized itself around various themes, many of which have focussed on different challenges inherent in the artistic practices of those who engage in the creation of adventurous ideas in the arts of music and sound. This year is of course no exception; the festival will be exploring the notion of how artists move forward in their careers and the various challenges and risks involved in that. Sometimes, as the Music Gallery’s David Dacks told me, the artist’s life is all about daily survival, which creates a tension when pursuing “the next big idea.” As Dacks notes, the political parties in the upcoming Canadian federal election have adopted the idea of “moving forward,” as a slogan, but what does this really mean for the creator and how should this idea which our culture takes for granted be challenged? It is, after all, the motivating concept behind capitalism – the idea of limitless growth, but, as Dacks points out, the current ecological crisis is forcing the culture to rethink the limits of growth – and to create new models of cooperation and collective action. This is needed in the arts too.

This month’s column delves more deeply into two curatorial visions: first, this year’s X Avant, and, second, a fall series of “Quiet Concerts,” at the Cedarbrae Public Library in Scarborough, curated by composer, musician and researcher Christopher Willes, as part of an artist-in-residency hosted by the Toronto Public Library. Willes’ series is an examination of the experience and practice of listening and performing in public spaces; the unique aspect of these performances is that they explore the use of headphones as an aspect of listening in a quiet public space.

Germaine LiuX Avant

To begin though, let’s return to this year’s lineup for the X Avant Festival, which opens on October 17 with a concert featuring the world premiere of Still Life by composer and percussionist Germaine Liu. The piece is a composition/sounding installation activated by five players: Susanna Hood, Julie Lassonde, Germaine Liu, Heather MacPhail, and Sahara Morimoto. Liu describes this work in the following way: “The installation is made up of a collection of found objects which will be prepared or left as they are and brought to life through sound and movement by the five players. The goal of the performance is to create an opportunity to honour these found objects with an attempt to focus on the exchanges and negotiations of partnership between object and human.” Liu states that she is “particularly interested in exploring play and imagining objects in fresh ways through living our processes rather than performing them. I have a deep curiosity for relationships like stillness and movement, negative space and positive space, silence and sound.”

Liu has an intriguing approach to the X Avant theme of moving forward: a desire to be still and take on the role of observer. From this position she seeks to learn “to listen and take mindful actions from inspiration.” Over the last year she has been revisiting scores by Pauline Oliveros, and has been particularly drawn to a direction given in one of Oliveros’ scores: “All that is required is a willing commitment to the given conditions”. Combining these words and her love for found objects that she has recently experienced in her work with composer Juliet Palmer, she states that she wants “to make living creations that have the goal of being inclusive and a space for any players to thrive in, with the only requirement being a willingness to participate.”

(Readers may recall my September 2019 column where I spoke about Palmer’s piece Ukiyo, floating world that was created from improvisations using floating ocean debris in Japan. Liu was part of the live interactions with these ocean objects along with Palmer and Sonja Rainey.)

On the Friday night of the X Avant Festival (October 18), Lido Pimienta will be performing songs from her new album – her next step after winning the 2017 Polaris Prize. However, these songs will be presented in a completely different way at the festival from how they appear on the album, being performed by brass ensemble and choir. Dacks quoted Pimienta’s description of this festival version as “the wind in the background” of the new album. Saturday’s concert on October 19 will feature a collaboration that Dacks himself was pivotal in setting up. He has brought together one of Toronto’s senior reggae and dub artists, Willi Williams, to perform with indie electronica artists New Chance. For Dacks, the inspiration behind this pairing was that mixing performers from different generations and different forms doesn’t happen much in Toronto, so this is an experiment to see what will emerge. The final concert on October 20 will highlight a 90-minute work by Ithaca, NY composer and percussionist Sarah Hennies, The Reinvention of Romance (2018), performed by Nick Storring on cello and Hennies on percussion. Toronto audiences will have heard the Thin Edge New Music Collective perform Hennies’ film and sound work, Contralto, at TIFF in 2018; her appearance at this year’s X Avant is a perfect example of artistic “next steps.”

Christopher WillesQuiet Concerts at Cedarbrae

In preparation for interviewing Christopher Willes about his Quiet Concerts Series, I attended the first of five headphone concerts in this series on September 15, with the remaining four concerts scheduled over the months of September and October. This concert featured Toronto-based vocalist/songwriter Robin Dann whose performance centred on the phenomenon known as ASMR, which stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. This practice has a cult-like following on YouTube whose practitioners focus on the close miking of sound, with the intention of creating sounds to stimulate the body with therapeutic results. In Dann’s concert she combined whispering, singing with electronic keyboard accompaniment, performing on such items as combs, brushes, and a foldout fan, the process of boiling water for the making of tea, and reading a children’s story. I experimented with taking off my headphones at several points to see how audible the acoustic sound was and to my surprise discovered I could barely hear what was happening. With the headphones on however, it was a completely different story – very close-up and intimate.

For Willes, curating this concert series is an opportunity to explore how listening can free one to have a different understanding and experience of a given space, and how listening functions in a public space to create a different type of gathering together. Using headphones in a traditionally quiet environment offers a uniquely individual way of experiencing the sounds being performed, and Willes is interested in what kinds of effects this has on the listener. For him as curator, these concerts are also a good way to meet people who use the library, and are part of his overall residency at Cedarbrae, a residency that will also include sound-based workshops for children and teenagers. Part of the challenge of the concerts is figuring out how to involve people as listeners, and he is devising various strategies to encourage the library patrons to listen in, including walking about as the concert unfolds. Although listening through the wireless headphones in the vicinity of the performance taking place is the main way of listening, the concert is also available for online listening for people working at their laptops while in the library, thus creating an invisible audience.

As I mentioned, there are four more concerts in this series, with three of them during the month of October. All the remaining concerts will feature a collaboration between a musician and a poet, thus mixing two types of sound making – textual sound and a musical/soundscape performance. On October 6, the concert will feature the work of Philippe Melanson and Christopher Dela Cruz. Both performers work strictly with electronics, so there will be no acoustic sound present. Melanson works with his own chance-operated synthesizers while Dela Cruz will be using one of his sound sculptures to operate a turntable to play poetry records from the vinyl archives of the library. On October 20, Germaine Liu will bring her fascination with the relationships between objects and with different forms of kinetic interactions to her collaboration with Aisha Sasha John. Likewise, John has an interest in presence and works with silence in her poetry. How they will approach performing quietly will be revealed during the performance. The final event of the series is on October 27, featuring Karen Ng and Fan Wu. Ng will be performing on her woodwind instruments using extended techniques and wants to create a close mike system for the performance. Wu is a prolific poet with a dry sense of humour and Willes is anticipating quite an entertaining afternoon between the two of them. The other concert will have already occurred before this issue is published – on September 29 Gayle Young performed on one of her stringed instruments in collaboration with poet Tom Gill.

With each concert offering a very different approach to the overall concept of listening together in a more isolated way through the headphone experience, this series is essentially an experimentation and exploration of how togetherness can be experienced in new ways in a public space we associate with quiet and internal focus. It could get a bit raucous and even quite political, Willes suggests.

More information about each concert can be found on the individual Facebook event pages, accessible through this link: tiny.cc/quietconcerts. Details about van transportation from both the downtown area and U of T’s Scarborough campus to the Cedarbrae library can also be accessed on these event pages. 

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

OCT 3, 8PM: Soundstreams begins their season with “Top Brass,” a concert mix of classical and jazz genres featuring three trumpet performers performing world premieres by Anna Pidgorna (The Three Woes), Brian Current (Serenade for Three Trumpets) and Heather Schmidt (Titanomachy). For details see David Jaeger’s “Soundstreams and the Trumpets of October” elsewhere in this issue.

OCT 5, 7PM: Leaf Music/Gillian Smith. A CD launch of Into the Stone, featuring works for violin and piano by Alice Ping Yee Ho (Caprice), Veronika Krausas (Inside the Stone), Ana Sokolović (Cinque danze per violino solo), Canadian composer Carmen Braden, Belgian composer Ysaÿe (1858-1931), and Baroque-era composer Telemann.

OCT 6, 8PM: Esprit Orchestra launches their new season with I Hit My Head and Everything Changed, which is also the title of a new commissioned work by Brian Harman to be premiered at the concert. Compositions by Alexia Louie (Love Songs for a Small Planet), English composer Thomas Adès (Overture to The Tempest) and Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen (Left, alone) complete the program.

OCT 19, 7:30PM: Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts along with Full Frequency Productions in Kingston present “Orchestral Virtuosity” with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. A new work by Jessie Montgomery will be on the program.

OCT 20, 3:30PM: Toronto Mendelssohn Choir’s 125th Anniversary Gala Concert, “Singing Through Centuries,” includes a newly commissioned work by Andrew Balfour, Mamihimowin (The act of singing praises), to represent the third of the three centuries the TMC has been active in.

DEC 6, 8PM: Music Gallery and Bad New Days present “Melancholiac: The Music of Scott Walker,” an event that is part concert, part spectacle, part existential talk show. Also on DEC 7, 4PM.

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

Ilana Waniuk (left) and Cheryl Duvall. Photo by Shayne GraySeptember has arrived and with it comes a new season of new music performances. The boundaries and edges of what I cover in this column are continually expanding, offering up a diverse array of perspectives and sounds. One of the contributing voices to this sonic smorgasbord is the Thin Edge New Music Collective (TENMC). It was founded in 2011 by co-artistic directors pianist Cheryl Duvall and violinist Ilana Waniuk, and includes an additional 15 performers listed on their website as part of the larger collective. Their new season begins early this year with a mini three-day festival running from September 20 to 22, comprised of three performances at the Music Gallery, 918 Bathurst, and a live-streamed workshop held at the Canadian Music Centre. The title of this festival is ONGAKU – a Japanese word meaning “music,”and true to its name, the performances will present a spectrum of compositions by both Japanese and Canadian composers. I spoke with Cheryl Duvall about what audiences can expect to hear during this three-day feast.

Duvall and Waniuk originally met while students at Wilfred Laurier University and became very involved with performing contemporary music and working with the various student composers studying there. That’s where they met composer Daryl Jamieson who moved to Japan a decade ago, and in the intervening years, the three artists have been organizing various cultural exchanges between the two countries. In September 2018, Duvall and Waniuk travelled to Japan to perform a series of solos and duos with electronics from the repertoire they had built up since the beginning of TENMC. They presented pieces by Kaija Saariaho, Linda Catlin Smith, Kotoka Suzuki, and Brian Harman, as well as music by young Tokyo composers Yuka Shibuya and Takahiro Kuroda. This year’s ONGAKU festival in Toronto is a continuation of that cultural exchange.

Miyama McQueen-TokitaThe first concert on September 20 will be an evening of chamber works featuring guest Japanese artists Miyama McQueen-Tokita who plays bass koto, Ko Ishikawa who performs on the shō, and Akiko Nakayama, a visual artist who performs alive painting using different types of liquids to create images inspired by the music and projected during the performance. The evening will include world premieres by Japanese composers Hiroki Tsurumoto, Takeo Hoshiya and Yuka Shibuya as well as works by Tōru Takemitsu, Miya Masaoka, and the Canadian premiere of Malika Kishino’s Qualia for bass koto and ten-channel electronics.

On the afternoon of September 21, the free workshop, at the CMC’s Chalmers House, will be an opportunity to meet with some of performers and composers. Ishikawa and McQueen-Tokita will demonstrate their respective instruments – the shō and bass koto, and talk about the challenges in composing for them, followed by a panel discussion amongst the various Japanese and Canadian composers whose works are part of the festival. The evening concert, back at 918 Bathurst, will feature members of TENMC performing works by Jo Kondo and Yoshiaki Inishi; improvisations by McQueen-Tokita; and an improvisation set featuring Ishikawa on shō, Ami Yamasaki’s experimental vocals and Nakayama’s alive painting.

The festival will conclude on September 22 at 918 Bathurst, with Canadian premieres of works by Yuka Shibuya and Toshia Watanabe, along with world premieres of two large-scale multimedia works by Daryl Jamieson and Juliet Palmer. Jamieson’s work is titled Utamakura 5: Mount Kamakura. The word utamakura refers to the practice of using place names in Japanese poetry to honour and recognize specific locations with spiritual significance. Over time, many Japanese composers, poets and playwrights have reused these place names in their works. Jamieson’s piece focuses on Mount Kamakura, just south of Tokyo, a location that has been associated with the sounds of lumber being harvested, grass being cut, and birdsong. This new work is a reflection on both the ancient and contemporary associations with Kamakura and will include references to a Shintō shrine located in the area. The work is scored for piano, cello, violin, flute, clarinet, percussion, bass koto, electronics and video, and will include soundscape recordings from the area. The other large-scale work on this program is Ukiyo, floating world, created by Urbanvessel’s artistic director and Toronto-based composer Juliet Palmer. The work arose from a recent research trip to the beaches of Ojika-jima in Japan where large amounts of ocean garbage wash up. Palmer, along with Urbanvessel members interdisciplinary artist and designer Sonja Rainey and percussionist Germaine Liu, created improvisations with elements of this floating debris for the new work, which is essentially a dialogue between the live musicians and video footage of these floating-world improvisations. Performers include Aki Takahaski on shamisen and voice, McQueen-Tokita (bass koto), percussion (Liu), violin (Waniuk) and piano (Duvall).

I asked Duvall about TENMC’s interest in exploring contemporary Japanese music. She said that what draws her is the “beautiful balance in the music, in particular how the instruments are balanced against each other. Rhythms are complicated but don’t sound that way, rather there is a sense of floating and of pureness. Often there is a counterpoint, a passing of one voice to another creating a beautiful line in the music.” She mentioned also that the legendary Japanese composer Jo Kondo was a huge inspiration to many of the Japanese composers she has met, and his legacy lives on in their music. As in Toronto, there is a supportive community for contemporary music culture in Japan, but in comparing the two countries, she stated that audiences there are not that accustomed to hearing music by Canadian composers; in fact, there is more of a European influence in Japanese contemporary music since many young composers go to countries such as Germany and the UK to study. This opportunity for exchange between the artists of Canada and Japan will no doubt foster more opportunities for creative interaction with audiences as well.

Back in 2016, TENMC produced a remarkable event titled “Balancing on the Edge” that combined contemporary music with contemporary circus arts. The well-attended run of this production at Harbourfront spoke to the ways modern humanity is precariously balanced on the edge of survival and evolution. This challenging production that included a total of 40 artists will now see a new incarnation, with TENMC undertaking the development of four new works, all to be created collaboratively between the circus performers, musicians, composers and choreographers, and due for final production in June 2021. The first work for this future production, Study in Exile: Home is not a place on the map, featuring First Nations dancer Amy Hull, has already been workshopped and performed in 2018. Another recent performance from this past July that demonstrates TENMC’s love of interactivity and movement included Triptych, a new work by composer Peter Hatch, which saw the musical performers walking, talking, and creating exaggerated movements.

In their upcoming seasons over the next three years, TENMC’s vision is to create space for more diverse voices, working with composers from under-represented groups. In February of 2020, the Japanese theme continues, with a concert of solos and duos by Dai Fujikura in a concert co-presented by Arraymusic and the University of Toronto Faculty of Music. Their concert in March 2020 will present five world premieres by emerging Canadian composers, while in June 2020, a newly commissioned long-form piano quartet by Linda Catlin Smith will be performed. In September 2016, TENMC performed Morton Feldman’s final work, Piano, Violin, Viola, Cello, which has a duration of 75 minutes, and this experience of playing longer duration works is the inspiration behind the Smith commission. During Duvall and Waniuk’s time at Wilfred Laurier, Smith was an important mentor to them, and has given them guidance over the ensuing years. Now they are able to work with her, and appropriately, Smith has important ties to Feldman’s music. Two other works on that program include a premiere by Canadian composer Alex Sang and Iranian Nasim Khorassani. Stay tuned as the Thin Edge collective continues to grow and evolve.

Contemporary Orchestral Music

On September 19 and 21, the TSO brings together two dynamic musicians who both perform and conduct. Soprano Barbara Hannigan returns to conduct classical works by Beethoven, Haydn and a Dutilleux nocturne featuring John Storgårds on violin. Storgårds in turn conducts a work by Sibelius and British composer Brett Dean’s And once I played Ophelia, with Hannigan as soloist. Dean was the featured composer during the TSO’s New Creations Festival in 2016, while Hannigan appeared as a soloist in both the 2015 and 2016 iterations of the same festival.

On October 6, Esprit Orchestra launches its new season with a concert titled “I Hit My Head and Everything Changed,” which is also the title of a newly commissioned work by Brian Harman that includes video art projections by Moira Ness. This concert will also be the venue for the presentation of the 2019 Canada Council Molson Prize in the Arts to composer Alexina Louie, whose 1989 composition, Love Songs for a Small Planet, for chamber choir, harp, percussion and string orchestra, will be performed. Works by English composer Thomas Adès and Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen will complete the program.

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

The summer season is always full of a remarkable array of opportunities to hear cutting-edge music in a variety of settings, and the Luminato Festival that takes place in June in Toronto is no exception. For this year’s edition, I decided to take a look at The Cave, a new work created by composer John Millard, lyricist Tomson Highway and dramaturge Martha Ross, which runs from June 18 to 23 at Soulpepper’s Tank House Theatre. An additional exciting feature of this performance will be the opportunity to experience it across the country through webcasting. Through partnerships with about 25 different institutions in places like Inuvik, Rumble Theatre in Vancouver, the Banff Centre, Algoma University in Sault Ste. Marie, and the Gander Institute for the Arts in Newfoundland, people will be able to gather together in theatres to watch a simultaneous live webcast. Home live streaming will also be possible.

John MIllardI spoke with the composer of the project, John Millard, to get an inside look at what to expect from this project. He began by emphasizing that the piece is not based on any particular story, but is rather created from a premise. A group of animals find themselves trapped together in an unnatural environment – a bear’s cave – with a forest fire raging outside. What are their individual stories and what brought them to this place? What do they think about the human beings responsible for this fire? In the end Millard says, “we are trying to figure out something about ourselves by using the voices of animals,” with a particular focus on addressing the growing environmental crisis we are facing. Millard also emphasized that traditional Indigenous stories and legends are not used, but the lyrics come from Highway’s imaginative crafting of the dilemmas and issues that arose during the collaborative creative phase. One interesting example is the use of the Garden of Eden story, what Millard calls “an expulsion myth,” a type of myth that doesn’t exist in Indigenous mythologies. In one of the songs of The Cave, the snake character speaks about the tragic outcome that this myth has had culturally, a myth that has demonized women and led to a separation and banishment of the concept of paradise.

The piece is structured in the form of a cabaret with approximately 20 songs sung by both soloists and a quintet ensemble. The singers are from diverse backgrounds and include Neema Bickersteth (classical), Derek Kwan (opera), Andrea Koziol (cabaret/folk) and Alex Samaras (popular/jazz), as well as Millard whose musical influences include bluegrass, cabaret and classical. Each singer performs about two or three solos and they also come together to form a quintet at times. Instrumentation includes bass, percussion, reeds, accordion, keyboard and banjo, and Millard has composed various instrumental sections for this unusual ensemble. Since much of Millard’s work has been composing for theatre and its requirements, he told me that this piece is the first time he has written a through-composed piece that is primarily music-focused. Although there is some text in the role of the narrator who introduces the animals, this piece “is all about the songs”, Millard said. Working with musical director Gregory Oh and dramaturge Martha Ross, an emotional arc becomes the structure for the piece, rather than a plot arc, with the goal of discovering who these animals are, what’s important to them, and what the critical issues are for these creatures. The set design will be constructed as both a cave and a cabaret environment with the audience experiencing what it’s like to be inside this environment with fires raging outside. Sound designer Christopher Ross-Ewart will play an important role in creating this sonic world, and various elements of haute fashion will be incorporated into the costume design.

Iva BittováThe Something Else Festival is Hamilton’s four-day festival of jazz and experimental music that runs from June 20 to 23 presented by Zula Music & Arts Collective Hamilton. It features an eclectic lineup of performers and improvisers including Czech virtuoso violinist/vocalist Iva Bittová who will be performing solo in a free/by donation concert on June 21 in the afternoon, before teaming up in the evening with drummer Hamid Drake. On Saturday June 22, the afternoon begins with a performance by bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck from Brooklyn, followed in the evening with another solo performance by Bittová, followed by a set featuring clarinet master Don Byron collaborating with Indigenous Mind (Joshua Abrams, Hamid Drake and Jason Adasiewicz). Many more cutting edge performances will occur, so do check out the schedule both in our listings and at zulapresents.org.

Summer Music Residencies

The Toronto Creative Music Lab once again takes up residence for a week in June at the Music Gallery. The TCML is an artistic and professional development workshop for early-career musicians, ensembles and composers committed to risk taking. This year they will engage with members of Montreal’s Quatuor Bozzini to present the Toronto premiere of legendary French electronic composer Eliane Radigue’s Occam Delta XV on June 14. Other pieces on the program include new works from Cléo Palacio-Quintin and Andrea Young, along with Jason Doell’s …amid the cannon’s roar.

The Westben Performer-Composer Residency occurs in southeastern Ontario’s Northumberland County near Campbellford and is an important milestone in Westben’s ongoing evolution from a summer festival to a multifaceted year-round centre. Their mandate for the residency is to encourage 11 young composers and performers from diverse countries and backgrounds to take creative risks by participating in a process of inter-generational exchange. Participants are expected to offer workshops to their peers featuring their own specialized approaches, with some of these workshops open to the public. This year’s residency features participants from Canada, the US, Chile, Argentina and Cuba, and the workshops will include explorations in four-handed piano, experimental luthiery, strings, dance, voice and custom-built electronics. The entire process will culminate with a performance on June 15 that will feature the collaborations and experiments that have taken place throughout the week.

Toronto Summer Music Festival

This year’s Toronto Summer Music Festival celebrates the various cultural influences on classical music from as far back as Mozart’s day up to today’s living composers. Two established Toronto composers will have world premieres at Walter Hall during the festival: Christos Hatzis’ String Quartet No.5 (The Transforming) will be premiered by the New Orford String Quartet on July 12; and Alexina Louie’s new (as yet untitled) work will be performed on August 2. I asked each of the composers to write a short description of their pieces for this column.

Hatzis writes that his String Quartet No.5 is “the closing statement of a cycle depicting a psychic development spanning 25 years (1994-2019) which is best described by the subtitles of each quartet: Awakening, Gathering, Questioning, Suffering and finally Transforming.” This final work of the cycle is written in three movements and is intended “as a psychological hermeneutic (or explanation) of the story of Christ’s Passion and Resurrection.” Psychologically there is a “strong resonance that radiates from these well-known events,” he says, which have left their spiritually transformative imprint upon humanity.

The inspiration for Louie’s new work began during a conversation with Jonathan Crow in his capacity as TSO concertmaster, while they were discussing her new piece, Triple Concerto For Three Violins And Orchestra, which premiered in 2017. Crow, as artistic director of Toronto Summer Music, suggested that she write a new piece for the same instrumentation as Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire – flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano. Louie was inspired and got to work on it immediately. She describes the new work in this way: “The two outside movements are virtuosic and effervescent. In the middle movement, in order to evoke the mysteries of the night, I instruct the pianist to play on the inside of the piano, strumming and stopping the strings. The movement unfolds with quiet twitterings and undulating sounds played by the remaining musicians.”

Summer Music in the Garden

Celebrating its 20th season, this well-loved series, curated by Tamara Bernstein, is held along the waterfront at Harbourfront Centre’s Toronto Music Garden and offers several opportunities to hear new music. The dynamic TorQ Percussion Quartet will perform four works on July 21 by contemporary composers: Adam Campbell’s El Mosquito Marron; Steve Reich’s Drumming, Part 1; ensemble members Richard Burrows’ and Daniel Morphy’s Elements Suite; and Dinuk Wijeratne’s Ersilia from Invisible Cities. On August 22, the cello duo VC2 combines works from 18th-century Europe with contemporary works, including a commissioned world premiere by Kelly-Marie Murphy and two pieces based on Beethoven cello sonatas: Five Little Pieces by Andrew Downing and Entsprechung by Matt Brubeck. Towards the end of the summer on September 8, percussionist Aiyun Huang and violinist Mark Fewer join forces to present world premieres by Michael Oesterle and John Hollenbeck, with Huang performing Javier Alvarez’s Temazcal for two maracas and pre-recorded tape. 

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

JUN 5, 8PM: Canadian Music Centre. The Canadian Piano Left Hand Commissioning Project features new works for piano left hand by Christopher Butterfield, Taylor Brook, Anna Hostman, Emilie LeBel, Adam Sherkin and others.

AUG 7, 6PM: Festival of the Sound’s Discovery Concert. Continuum Contemporary Music’s artistic director, Ryan Scott, invites three young composers to participate in a residency under the mentorship of composer Gary Kulesha. This concert will feature their works.

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

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