Welcome back to another season of auditory excavation and resistance. For isn’t that what diving deep and creating new expressions using sound is all about? During the upcoming X Avant Festival produced by the Music Gallery – which takes resistance as its theme – this is definitely what will be occurring. Using this theme as a lens for this month’s column, I will be taking an overall survey of what you can expect both in the upcoming season and also during the month of September.

The Music Gallery

The big news at this hotbed place of sonic experimentation this fall is their change of venue. Due to renovations both at their usual home at St. George the Martyr church and in the neighbouring church lot, the Music Gallery’s programming will be happening at a variety of different venues for the foreseeable future. In my conversation with artistic director David Dacks about what sort of impact this change in venue will have, he noted that the Gallery’s Departure Series has already been creating programming in different venues for the last few years. The goal of this series is to make sure that the MG isn’t just identified with one place and to highlight their role as a presenter.

Man Forever aka Kid Millions - photo by Lisa CorsonFor the fall of 2017, the Gallery’s programming will be happening at 918 Bathurst, a not-for-profit arts and culture centre located in the heart of Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood. Dacks mentioned that this location is actually closer to where many of the gallery’s patrons live, and this new location will provide opportunities for audience outreach in a more residential area of the city. And so it is fitting that the first show of the season on October 11 at 918 Bathurst will be a concert in the Departures Series with a performance by Man Forever aka Kid Millions touring a new album, Play What They Want. Joining the bill on that night will be Toronto-based percussionist, performer and composer Germaine Liu and her ensemble, along with Luyos MC/Reila. Expect an evening of indie rock, water-based music, electronic soundscapes, traditional chant and frequency art.

While changing location could pose a potential hazard for audience attendance, Dacks isn’t too worried. Last year was the MG’s biggest year to date where attendance was up by 40 percent, with seven sold-out concerts within the year. Each of those seven events was a partnership, thereby boosting audience numbers and reaching out to new communities. As I mentioned above, “Resistance” is the theme of this year’s X Avant Festival running from October 11 to 15. “It’s the thing to do right now, for obvious reasons, and more artists are exploring ideas that fit into this theme,” Dacks said.

One of the festival concerts will feature the music of composer James Tenney, who lived and taught in Toronto from 1976 to 2000 and had an important influence on many local composers during his time here. The program will include Pika-Don, which Tenney composed in 1991, a piece that features the voices of many local artists, including my own, which was a surprise to me when Dacks mentioned it. Rusty memory! Preceding the concert will be a panel discussion on questions such as what it means to be a socially conscious composer now as opposed to 20 to 30 years ago, and what audiences expect from socially conscious music in the concert hall.  The festival is also hosting another Deep Listening workshop led by Anne Bourne, taking place at the Tranzac Main Hall. In last year’s festival, Deep Listening pioneer Pauline Oliveros was a featured guest, and her sold-out concert was the last time she appeared in Toronto shortly before her passing in November.

Meitar EnsembleAnd of course the Music Gallery will continue its tradition of co-presenting with various partners. One such concert to note coming up on October 22 is the New Music Concerts’ season opener. It will be an opportunity to hear Tel Aviv’s Meitar Ensemble, whose membership comprises quite an array of virtuoso performers specializing in contemporary music.

Indie Opera

Tapestry Opera: Bandits in the ValleyToronto is becoming known as a major centre for contemporary indie opera. In the recent summer issue, I wrote about one such opera, Sweat, performed by the Bicycle Opera Project. I had an opportunity to experience the performance of this work of “resistance” this past summer and one of the highlights for me was the ensemble singing, which composer Juliet Palmer spoke about in our interview. The stage dynamics between the a cappella singers intermixed with their interlocking rhythms made for a stunning and compelling performance. The mere fact of giving such a prominent role to an ensemble of singers breaks operatic traditions while laying new ground for a different approach to this older art form.

Sweat was originally workshopped by Tapestry Opera, a major player in the current indie-opera scene, who are starting their season early this year with a performance of Bandits in the Valley. This opera is set in 1860s Toronto, and will be performed at Todmorden Mills, located, appropriately enough, in the Don River Valley. The story brings together a local bandit group with a troupe of travelling Gilbert and Sullivan singers who conspire to steal a mysterious object from a wealthy home situated in the valley. This story is reviving part of Toronto’s history by highlighting the fact that the valley was a haven for smugglers and bandits during the late 1800s. The work was composed by Benton Roark with libretto by Julie Tepperman, and features six performers moving throughout the various locations at the Todmorden site while singing and playing a variety of instruments. It will be an intimate setting with limited space, so audiences must reserve tickets. The good news is that the performances are free and run throughout the month of September.

Gallery 345 with Arraymusic

Quatuor BozziniGallery 345, located at 345 Sorauren Avenue, is another hotspot of performances spanning many genres. This month sees them partnering with Arraymusic on September 19 to present Montreal’s Quatuor Bozzini performing Cassandra Miller’s Jules Léger Prize-winning piece About Bach. Miller began this work as a solo piece for viola specifically for violist Pemi Paull. She focused in on Paull’s musicality, first creating a transcription of his performance of Bach’s Partita No. 2. She then added her own harmonies to create something akin to a chorale, while setting up a process that takes the musical materials through a meandering journey. This version for string quartet is the result of many years of working with Quatuor Bozzini. The evening will also include a performance of Bryn Harrison’s new Piano Quintet by English piano virtuoso and experimental music champion Philip Thomas.

Toronto Symphony

Later in September, the TSO will be performing two newly commissioned works by Canadian composers. First of all, on September 22 and 23, their “Tribute to Glenn Gould” concert will include the world premiere of Kelly-Marie Murphy’s Curiosity, Genius, and the Search for Petula Clark, a work that the composer wrote based on the impact that Gould had on her creative life. The evening will begin with a performance of Wīhtikōw, composed by Yannick Plamondon, another in the series of "Sesquies" that have been occurring all year. A few days later, Alexina Louie’s Triple Concerto will have its world premiere. This piece was co-commissioned by the TSO, the Montreal Symphony and the National Arts Centre Orchestra, and will feature the concertmasters of all three orchestras. The Sesquie for that evening is Hyacinth, by composer Rolf Boon. I will be writing more about Murphy and Louie in upcoming issues this season, so stay tuned to hear more about these pieces as well as what is currently, and coming up, on the composing plates of these two dynamic and innovative creators.

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

2209 NewExperiencing music and sound in different places and environments is increasingly becoming a regular part of the summer experience. Starting things off this year in early June will be a new collaboration between Continuum, Jumblies Theatre and Evergreen Brick Works in their event Four Lands, which combines both a concert and an interactive installation on June 3. The concert will feature three new works by composers Jason Doell, Erik Griswold and Juliet Palmer. Palmer is also involved in a few other intriguing projects and collaborations this summer, so I contacted her to find out more about what was new and upcoming. Her piece for the Four Lands project is titled Quarry, an homage to the large quarry hole on site at the Evergreen Brick Works where the performances will occur. At one time in Toronto’s history, stones from this quarry were excavated for both city homes as well as iconic buildings such as Queen’s Park and Massey Hall. Palmer’s piece is created from a series of texts written by participants from Jumblies community projects across the country, as well as Toronto-based participants, with the theme of excavating memory to envision possible worlds as well as describe the current worlds they live in.

Sweat: Envisioning change in one’s life and living circumstances is a theme that carries through into another of Palmer’s works that will be widely performed this summer – her opera, Sweat, with libretto by Anna Chatterton. Originally workshopped in 2013 by Soundstreams and performed in New York in the fall of 2016, the piece has undergone several rewrites, including changes of perspective in the storyline and the addition of more characters. This summer, it will be the intrepid Bicycle Opera Project that takes the piece to the next level, performing the work in eight communities throughout the province, starting in Hamilton on July 15 and 16 and concluding in Toronto from August 3 to 6. The company distinguishes itself by cycling from one performance to the next and is committed to bringing Canadian-written opera into smaller communities in intimate spaces.

Sweat takes on a critical global issue, weaving stories from around the world of women’s experiences working in the garment industry. Palmer was inspired by the questions “who makes my clothes, and what are the dreams and ambitions of those whose hands created the clothes I’m wearing?” It’s a diverse cast, representing the different communities impacted by the garment industry, and is written for nine performers – a chorus of five plus four soloists, with libretto in English, Cantonese, Ukrainian and Hungarian. During the performance in New York, Palmer realized that the “main character” of the piece is really the workers who are portrayed by the chorus – an approach outside the usual expectations for opera, where the focus is typically on soloists. Palmer elaborates: “The chorus is where you experience the sense of collective action and cooperation and the strength that comes from building on each other’s sound. Musically, there are a lot of patterns, some machine-like, reflecting the idea that you’re part of a big process which can be depressing, and then on the other hand, when you’re working for change, your small action builds on the small actions of others, which make a compelling voice that is impossible to ignore.”

Unsilent: The third summer project for Palmer is her involvement in the Unsilent Project, a new work being created through a collaboration with the National Youth Orchestra, Signal Theatre and its artistic director Michael Greyeyes (Plains Cree) and the family of the late Piikani Blackfoot spoken-word artist Zaccheus Jackson. Palmer is writing a piece using one of Jackson’s poems to be performed by two spoken-word Indigenous artists from Saskatchewan, while the other composer, Ian Cusson (Métis), is also creating a piece from one of Jackson’s poems. The project is inspired by the vision that there can be no reconciliation until we all work together, one of the important principles that came from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. Orchestral performances will be interpolated among the spoken word compositions, and together with projected images, the end result will be a performance piece celebrating the life and creative power of Zaccheus Jackson and the themes so important to him – healing, empowerment and hope. Palmer is eagerly anticipating the outcome of combining orchestral traditions with Indigenous spoken-word performances. The piece is part of the NYO’s summer tour, with the Toronto performance happening on July 25 at Koerner Hall.

Barbara Croall’s Wiikondiwin: Another opportunity to hear the worlds of Indigenous performance traditions and European musical forms coming together will be in a new opera written by composer Barbara Croall of Odawa First Nation. The work is entitled Wiikondiwin, which means feast or feasting. The idea originated with Valerie Kuinka, one of the directors of the Highlands Opera Studio. In our conversation, she told me that after listening to a lecture by Peter Schleifenbaum, owner of the Haliburton Forest reserve, on the impacts of climate change on the forest, Kuinka imagined an opera that would portray the forest environment of 150 years ago, of current times, and of 150 years into the future. She approached Croall with the idea, as well as production collaborators L’Atelier Lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal. The first workshop performance will take place this summer on August 19 in the Haliburton Highlands area, with a full premiere to take place in Montreal on December 5.

Croall proceeded first by writing a story from these initial ideas from Kuinka, out of which came the libretto and music. It is set for a core of six performers – three opera singers (drawn from participants in the Highlands Opera Studio Program) and three Indigenous performers who will perform vocally and play drum. One of these performers will be Croall herself, who will also play the pipigwan, an Anishinaabe cedar flute. The libretto for the opera uses Odawa, Métis French and English. The other main performing component will be community choirs: for the performance in August, choirs from the Haliburton Highlands area will participate, with choirs from the Montreal area joining in for the December performance. The story of the opera revolves around the response of forest animals to the earth’s suffering due to the abuses caused by humans. They hold a feast, a wiikondiwin, and decide that their solution will be to infiltrate the human world to effect change. Short excerpts from the opera will be presented as a sneak preview on July 29 at the Elora Festival at the “With Glowing Hearts” concert and at a special private event on June 28 hosted by the Lieutenant Governor.

Stratford Summer Music: Croall will also be appearing at Stratford Summer Music, performing a work titled Morning during the “Music for an Avon Morning – A First Nations Experience” event happening from August 4 to 6. During a lecture she will give on August 4, she will also perform and discuss how the history of the pipigwan guides her creative work. Another intriguing performance at Stratford Summer Music will be the work 100 Very Good Reasons Why_for 100 Spatialised Electric Guitars on July 23, an experience created by composer/guitarist Tim Brady. For this event, 100 local electric guitarists, both amateur and professional, will be joining Brady in an installation-like concert, where the audience is invited to walk amongst the performers on the floor of the Allman Arena.


Other Summer Festival Highlights

Luminato: Continuing with the theme of new music created by Indigenous performers, there are two works at the Luminato Festival that deserve mention. On June 16, Jeremy Dutcher, a Toronto-based composer and vocal artist with Wolastoq First Nation roots will be performing his unique compositions created from melodies he transcribed from the oldest known field recordings of the Indigenous peoples along the St. John (Wolastoq) River basin. Then on June 22-24, Signal Theatre will present a dance-opera entitled Bearing, with Michael Greyeyes (Plains Cree) working as co-director alongside Yvette Nolan (Algonquin) and librettist Spy Dénommé-Welch (Anishnaabe). The music will include works by Claude Vivier, as well as a commissioned work from Dénommé-Welch and Catherine Magowan. The National Youth Orchestra will appear as performers, along with mezzo-soprano Marion Newman (Kwagiulth and Stó:lo).

Ottawa Chamberfest: At the Ottawa Chamberfest, Sweat will be performed twice, on July 23 (Almonte) and 24 (Ottawa). On July 25, the Architek Percussion ensemble will explore the sounds of minimalist electroacoustic music using a range of percussion instruments. On July 31, the festival’s annual New Music Now series returns with three concerts, including works by composers Current, Schafer, Sokolović, Llugdar, Schmidt, Palej, Daniel and others. Performers include the Canadian Art Song Project, Penderecki String Quartet, Land’s End Ensemble and VC2. The Cris Derksen Trio performance on August 1 will include master hoop dancer Nimkii Osawamick and percussionist Jesse Baird. The Canadian premiere of Stewart Goodyear’s Piano Quartet will be performed on August 2 by Ensemble Made in Canada.

Harbourfront and Westben: Summer Music in the Garden at Harbourfront features two concerts of new music. On June 29, cellist Elinor Frey will perform Ricercar by Linda Catlin Smith and, on August 17, the Taktus marimba duo will play arrangements of music by Ann Southam and Philip Glass. On July 21 at the Westben Festival in Campbellford, the emerging pianist Rashaan Allwood’s interest in birdsong will be highlighted. This will include his own interactive performance adaptations of two of Messiaen’s piano works, with further inspiration drawn from artworks he commissioned from Avery Kua. These images will be projected along with other photos and videos during the performance. In addition, on July 21 and 22 the festival will also offer an opportunity to experience a soundwalk led by Parker Finley, an activity focused on listening to the environment.

Music From Scratch: Contact Contemporary Music, in partnership with the Canadian Music Centre, is once again offering Music From Scratch, their free creative workshop for youth from July 10 to 14. This year, guest facilitator Tina Pearson will join Jerry Pergolesi and the Contact ensemble to delve into creative listening, writing, vocal performance, movement and improvisation exercises, with a final concert on July 14. Pearson brings her work influenced by the Deep Listening tradition of Pauline Oliveros and her unique explorations in Biospheric Art Practice and Sonic Mimicry to the participants. She will also lead a Deep Listening workshop for members of the public at the CMC on July 8 and perform on July 16 with the Contact Ensemble in a collaboration entitled Without a Net. Also, come Labour Day weekend, you’ll want to check out Contact’s lineup for their annual INTERsection event.

Additional Summer Quick Picks

June 3: Spectrum Music presents Tales from Turtle Island. Spectrum composers create music to playwright Yolanda Bonnell’s pieces. Performers include members of the Métis Fiddler Quartet, DJ/electronic artist Classic Roots, who will also perform a solo work with Pow Wow dance, and violinist Alyssa Delbaere-Sawchuk performing an excerpt of her own work Memere Colibri.

June 10: Blythwood Winds presents “Voices of Canadian Women,” with works by Höstman, Beecroft, Catlin Smith, Raum, Richardson-Schulte, Simms and Sokolović.

June 17: Canadian Women Composers Project. She’s In the House! Works by Coulthard, Weaver, Sokolović, Duncan, Skarecky and others.

July 10, 17 & 31: Church of the Holy Trinity. Music Mondays. Concerts include works by Canadian composers Burge (10th), Murphy-King (17th) and Doolittle (31st).

Jun 22: “Crossroads.” Works by Ivana Popovic and Michael Gfroerer.

Jun 23 & 25: Jumblies Theatre’s Touching Ground Festival, featuring Under the Concrete composed by Martin van de Ven.

July 5: Music and Beyond Festival. The Kronos Quartet performs original and arranged works including pieces by Canadians Nicole Lizée and Tanya Tagaq (arr. Jacob Garchik).

August 4-6: Electric Eclectics: an outdoor festival with an eclectic program of avant-garde and crossover musicians, as well as art installations, DJs and films.

August 9-12: Toronto International Electroacoustic Symposium (TIES), 2017. The featured artist is Quebec sound artist Chantal Dumas, whose work encompasses production of audio fiction and docufiction, sound installation, composition and sound design.

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


2208 In with the New 1The month of May brings a full blooming spring along with a packed 21C Music Festival, now in its fourth year. Running from May 24 to 28, the festival has had a significant impact on bringing new music to a wider audience, with five days of a wide range of musical voices and approaches to sonic experimentation spread over nine concerts, including 31 premieres. One of the themes this year, Canada 150, will be marked through collaborations with the Canadian Opera Company, the Canadian Art Song Project and Soundstreams.

Another is the festival’s strong focus on women composers and performers, with Korean-born Unsuk Chin as the featured composer. This focus makes for a perfect follow-up to my last two columns in which I explored stories about how issues of gender, race and musical diversity are impacting both large festivals such as the TSO’s New Creations (March issue) and individual projects, such as the work Century Song (April issue) performed and co-created by Neema Bickersteth.

Cecilia String Quartet: One of the 21C concerts that caught my attention is “Cecilia String Quartet Celebrates Canadian Women” on May 25 by the Toronto-based Cecilia String Quartet. In a conversation with the Quartet’s cellist Rachel Desoer, I discovered that the vision for the project began three years ago when the all-female quartet was inspired to encourage the representation of women’s music within their own genre. After looking at some of the existing string quartet repertoire, they decided to get involved in the curating process and commissioned four different composers as a way of encouraging these talented women to write for string quartet. The composers they chose were Katarina Ćurčin, Kati Agócs, Emilie LeBel and Nicole Lizée.

There has been much conversation over the years around the pros and cons of creating concerts that feature only women composers, but that is not the topic I particularly wish to delve into here. Rather, as I took a look at each piece on this program, I saw something else emerging that I hadn’t noticed so distinctly before in other women composer concerts. The pattern I noticed here was that the focus each composer chose for their piece harkened back to topics that characterized earlier movements of feminist art practice. Back in the 1970s, American women such as visual artist Judy Chicago and performance artist Suzanne Lacy, for example, began creating work organized around specific feminist principles. Their goal was to create work that influenced cultural attitudes so as to transform stereotypes. Strategies they employed included bringing awareness to women’s experience and history, as well as incorporating traditional forms of women’s creativity into their own work. This may seem not so revolutionary now, but at the time it was a bold departure from accepted practices. This movement however did not create strong inroads into the contemporary music world, although there was definitely a movement to research and perform music by women composers from the past.

So it was through this lens that I observed that each of the four works on the Cecilia String Quartet concert program shared something in common with these earlier feminist practices. When I asked Desoer if the quartet had given any guidelines for the pieces, her response was: “At the beginning of the project we wondered about creating a theme or having another piece of art for the composers to respond to. But instead, we let the artists decide, and were curious about what they would choose.” The quartet was delighted to discover that each composer found their inspiration in other art forms, texts and other women artists without any direct request.

Katarina Ćurčin’s String Quartet No.3 is based on a folk-song melody from her Serbian roots. The song tells the story of a young woman who feels trapped inside the house, expressing outrage at her mother for keeping her housebound. In Ćurčin’s quartet, her characteristic vibrant and rhythmic style aptly captures the song’s strong emotional journey, beginning with expressions of anger and finally dissolving into resignation. This work captures well the sense of limitation that has characterized women’s lives over millennia.

Kati Agócs’s music has been described as encouraging audience members to listen and be changed. In Tantric Variations, she bases her musical explorations on the word tantric, which means woven together. Using a one-bar motive as the basis, she weaves “a landscape that really goes everywhere you could imagine,” Desoer said. Desoer was originally drawn to Agócs’ music when she performed her Violoncello Duet (I And Thou) and was inspired by all the sounds she didn’t know her instrument could make. Starting with a word referring to the practice of weaving, Agócs is able to both reference the traditional craft as well as evoke the universal idea of weaving strands together to create a unified whole.

With Emilie LeBel’s Taxonomy of Paper Wings, we get a glimpse into one aspect of the work of writer Emily Dickinson, who lived a mostly introverted and confined life. Dickinson wrote a series of poems on fragments of used envelopes, using the shape of the paper to influence her placement of words on the page. LeBel uses the shape and structure of one of these envelope poems, which resembles the hinged wings of a bird, to inform the musical structure of her piece. The bird element translates into an ethereal texture in the music and as Desoer describes it, LeBel “explores the subtleties of softer sounds on string instruments in a way that is rare.”

Risk-taker and fashion designer Isabella Blow is the figure behind Nicole Lizée’s work entitled Isabella Blow at Somerset House. The composition is a response to a posthumous Blow photo exhibit of disembodied mannequin heads wearing Blow’s designs. These macabre images inspired Lizée to translate techniques from her background in vintage technologies and looping into instrumental gestures that “ride a beautiful line between roboticism and humanity,” says Desoer. This is a rare acoustic work for Lizée and yet she manages to expand the sound world of the string quartet with a few additional sources.

For a project that began with a search for repertoire by women, it’s inspiring to see how each of the composers addresses themes important in the early days of feminist art practices. For the quartet, the project has blossomed into something for which “it’s hard to see an end date” Desoer said. It certainly has inspired them with a desire to commission more repertoire for string quartet by women composers and to encourage other quartets to do so as well. (The quartet will also be performing both the Lizée and Ćurčin works on May 6 as part of a program presented by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.)

2208 In with the New 2Unsuk Chin: There will be plenty of opportunities at 21C to hear the music of featured composer Unsuk Chin. On May 24, the Canadian Opera Company Orchestra will perform her work snagS&Snarls in Koerner Hall and on May 27, her Piano Étude will be performed in a concert in the Temerty Theatre that also includes works by Alexina Louie, Raphael Weinroth-Browne, Kotoka Suzuki, and Aaron Parker. Chin will also join Canadian composer Chris Paul Harman as mentors for Soundstreams’ Emerging Composers Workshop with the final concert featuring world premieres by the six composers on May 26.

The showcase concert of Chin’s work will be on May 28 in a co-presentation with Soundstreams with performances of her Advice from a Caterpillar and Cantatrix Sopranica. (The concert will also include Harman’s works Love Locked Out along with the world premiere of It’s All Forgotten Now.) A major theme that emerges in Chin’s music is her fascination with word play and word games. In a written correspondence, I asked Chin to describe the relationship between the music and the projected text one sees during the performance of Advice from a Caterpillar. This piece for bass clarinetist is “part of my opera Alice in Wonderland, in which the performer is dressed up as a caterpillar” she replied. “In my opera, the caterpillar, one of the grotesque characters in the Wonderland, questions Alice, who is in the midst of an identity crisis and seeks advice. Instead of replying to her questions, he talks to her in bizarre riddles. By playing the bass clarinet, the Caterpillar ‘speaks’ his lines and the musical gestures are inspired by the Caterpillar’s words.”

In speaking about her work Cantatrix Sopranica, she expands upon her fascination with “the threshold regions between music and language. The piece was inspired by the ideas of OULIPO (a loose group of French-speaking writers and mathematicians), and the texts, which I wrote during the process of composition, mostly consist of palindromes, acrostics, anagrams and other wordplays. I used the texts as totally flexible musical material – just like pitches, timbre or rhythm. The piece is “about the act of singing itself, and plays with all kinds of clichés about singing. There is a good dose of black humour in it.”

Regarding questions of identity of gender or race in music, she responds that she has not “pondered [the subject] during the 30 years I’ve been in the business since that would have been stifling for my compositional work.” However, she did bring up a more pressing concern for her – “that young musicians (female, but also male) who refuse to play the glamour game are easily disadvantaged. There is the problematic tendency that the focus is less and less on music and more on marketed image.” She did note too the growing number of excellent female conductors, “one good example being the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s new principal guest conductor Susanna Mälkki.”

The question of gender in contemporary music is varied and complex and I’ve tried to shine a light on some aspects of the issue within the context of the 21C Festival offerings. There is much more to explore in the festival programming than is possible to cover here, so I encourage you to check out the listings. As for other goings-on in May, here is a quick look at upcoming concerts by local new music presenters:



May 17: The Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan will be celebrating their new double CD release, performing arrangements of Indonesian songs as well as Translating Grace, for gamelan, voice, cello, organ, bass clarinet and film.

May 19: Contact Contemporary Music is back with two programs: “Without a Net” with works by Tina Pearson, John Mark Sherlock, Anna Hostman and Jerry Pergolesi; and Jun 2: “Feeling Backwards” with works by Christopher Reiche, Allison Cameron, Nephenee Rose, Annette Brosin, and Julius Eastman.

May 24: The Thin Edge New Music Collective also has two upcoming programs with their “Keys, Wind and Strings Festival, works by Allison Cameron, Gregory Lee Newsome, Solomiya Moroz, Uroš Rojko and Marielle Groven; and May 25 works by Jason Doell, Germaine Liu, Fjóla Evans, Kasia Czarski-Jachimovicz and Tobias Eduard Schick.

Jun 3 and 4: Continuum Contemporary Music presents Four Lands in collaboration with Jumblies Theatre.

Jun 3: Spectrum Music presents “Tales from Turtle Island” featuring new compositions along with storytelling.

Additional events:

May 10: Burdock. “A Strange Impulse.”

May 12: Anne Mizen in concert: “Celebrating Canada” includes Schafer’s Snowforms.

May 12: Gallery 345. “From Sea to Sea: A Celebration of Canada 150 in Poetry and Music.” David Jaeger, composer.

May 14: Orpheus Choir of Toronto. “Identities: Glorious and Free,” with compositions by Kuzmenko and Estacio

May 27: Array Ensemble. “Young Composers’ Workshop Concert.”

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

2207 In With The NewI find it fascinating how particular themes that surface in new music events happening in the city have a way of rolling into each other. In my interview in the March issue of The WholeNote with Owen Pallett, he spoke about how he was bringing a different focus to the TSO’s New Creations Festival by emphasizing music related to gender and Indigenous identities as well as genre diversity. A similar theme of exploring identity is at the heart of Century Song, a music, dance and image-based stage work created by soprano Neema Bickersteth in collaboration with choreographer Kate Alton and theatre director Ross Manson of Volcano Theatre. The piece runs from April 19 to 29 and is presented by Nightwood Theatre.

Using Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando as an inspiration, Century Song moves through a series of scenes spanning 100 years as it follows the story of a black woman in Canada. The tale is told using the language of the body – both the wordless sounds of the voice and the physical gestures created by the choreography. And the story it tells is one close to Bickersteth’s heart – in fact it is an embodiment of her own personal journey. The work however didn’t start out with this goal in mind, Bickersteth told me during our recent phone interview. Rather it emerged during the development process. The initial question she wanted to explore was whether a classically based singer could both sing and dance as is done in music theatre. Together with Alton, they chose a series of 20th-century compositions for soprano that used only vocal sounds and no text. While rehearsing, it became apparent from the feedback that “I had been putting a persona on top of what I was doing. The music was just a song with no character or text. But I realized I was pretending to be a white woman while singing, something I had always done with classical music due to my university training.”

Bickersteth grew up in Alberta and is a first-generation Canadian born to parents originally from Sierra Leone. She grew up with a love of singing and eventually studied classical voice and opera at UBC. During the rehearsal process when she became aware she was singing as a white woman, she also discovered that this wasn’t conscious, but “something that had entered me from early on. It was a personal issue I needed to take a look at. What are the layers that I don’t even know are there?” These discoveries took the piece into a different direction, becoming the threads that tied the entire work together. The character that emerged “came from within me,” she said.

Each of the selected compositions is staged within a particular location and time period with a focus on highlighting aspects of Canadian black history. This is accomplished through the set design, projected images and costume. Beginning with Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise written in 1915, the setting is Alberta during the second decade of the 20th century. At that time black communities were relegated to the outskirts of town, with the men often forced into leaving home to find work in Edmonton and the women and children struggling to survive. However, Bickersteth says, “there is always a way through,” and her character finds that necessary inner strength.

After WWI, things change, and the character is now a well-dressed jazz singer in Montreal. There is a sense of things being easy and beautiful, communicated through the shimmering colours of Messiaen’s Vocalise-Étude composed in 1935. As the music progresses into an uneasiness, the character begins to raise questions through her sounds and physical movements about whether this new place she has landed is really so great after all. This uneasiness grows darker during the performance of the second Messaien piece, an excerpt from his 1941 composition Quartet for the End of Time during which Bickersteth becomes a wartime factory worker. The creators adapt a section where the violin and cello lines play in unison into a vocalise, using electronic processing on Bickersteth’s voice to create the doubling effect.

Between each of the composed vocal works, Gregory Oh (piano) and Ben Grossman (percussion) perform structured improvisations on their respective instruments along with various electroacoustic sounds sourced from their laptops. These transitional improvisations were created in collaboration with the composer of Century Song, Reza Jacobs, along with Debashis Sinha, who performed during earlier productions of the piece. The music following the Messaien piece is explosive in nature, highlighting the character’s internal war coming to terms with things “once believed in, but not anymore. It’s that identity struggle that causes a breakdown.”

This storm leads into calm with the performance of A Flower by John Cage, composed in 1950 and set for voice and percussive piano sounds. The setting is Vancouver, where during the postwar period the small black community was moved to housing projects, making way for the Georgia Street viaduct. Using film footage with a rapid succession of images to create the transition through to the 1970s, the next persona to appear is modelled after Bickersteth’s mother, who juggled being a wife and mother while studying and working at a job. She, like many other women of the 1970s, was determined to do it all and this level of intense activity is aptly portrayed through the performance of Récitation 10 by Georges Aperghis. The musicians pick up the heightened field of action and push it to an extreme tempo while Bickersteth dances her way through to the final work composed specifically for her by Jacobs. During this frenetic transition we see images of different faces wearing clothing from all times and cultures. Bickersteth explains how this ties into her personal journey with the piece: “It’s all me. Am I pretending to be someone else? Who am I, who are you, who do we see each other as? If you see a black woman dressed up in a sari – what does that mean to you?”

The final Vocalise by Jacobs is the musical moment where Bickersteth can finally land within her own voice. “Working from a personal perspective as opposed to a put-on perspective creates a freedom that can be heard and seen in my body. It’s a freedom that comes from your heart, from within your creative centre. My voice is still my voice, I am classically trained, but I do have this curiosity for my ‘other voices.’ What else can my voice do, what else can my body do?” Of Jacobs’ piece she says: “I think of it as an anthem. He told me to do whatever my voice wanted, since he knows that my voice wants to do many things other than straight classical. You can hear the freedom and discovery in my voice.”

Changing the conversation in the musical world to include race and gender has been much slower to emerge than in the visual arts, film and theatre worlds for example. Bickersteth commented on this: “What I love and see happening is the mixing of all art and genres. The more overlapping and connecting that occurs, the more these conversations will happen and changes will be quicker. I’m hopeful too that we can be free to do what we want.”

Emergent Events:

With the month of April marking the end of the academic year comes an abundance of student concerts occurring at all the local universities. I suggest you check out the listings for the full roster, but here are a few highlights: On April 3 at the Don Wright Faculty of Music, Western University a concert by the Contemporary Music studio and on April 4, an “Electroacoustic Music Compositions Concert.” Also on at the University of Toronto, the gamUT: Contemporary Music Ensemble will be performing. Outside the academic world, two concerts from the Music Gallery’s Emergents series presents opportunities to hear the latest from young creators. The concert on April 7 offers performances by Castle If, the electronic composer Jess Forrest who works with a collection of analog synthesizers to create soundworlds inspired by the pioneers of electronica, and Laura Swankey, an innovative improvising vocalist. The May 5 Emergents concert features performances by The Toronto Harp Society, whose mandate is to encourage new works for the harp by Canadian composers, and Toronto’s newest saxophone duo Stereoscope Duo, with Olivia Shortt and Jacob Armstrong. They too share a passion for developing repertoire for their instruments, while also mixing in electronics and collaborations with dancers.

Quick Picks:

Apr 1: Academy Ballet Classique/Slant. “River Flow: Confluence of Music, Words, and Dance.” Interdisciplinary work celebrating rivers. World premiere by Owen Bloomfield; Cambridge.

Apr 2: Esprit Orchestra. Works by Thomas Adès (England), Arthur Honegger (Switzerland), Alexander Mosolov (Russia), John Adams (USA), Chris Paul Harman (Canada).

Apr 6, 13: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Sesquies by William Rowson (April 6) and Marc Bélanger (April 13).

Apr 7: Canadian Music Centre. Centrediscs CD launch: Worlds Apart by pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico.

Apr 14: Music at Metropolitan. Music for Good Friday. Works by composers Eleanor Daley, Stephanie Martin, Jeff Enns and others, along with Eternal Light – A Requiem by Howard Goodall.

Apr 21: Canadian Music Centre. French ensemble Hanatsu miroir presents works by Canadian, Brazilian, French and Italian composers.

Apr 23: Gallery 345. “The Art of the Flute: A Musical Aviary.” Works by James Shields, Andrew Staniland, Takemitsu, Saariaho, Hindemith, Feld and Richard Rodney Bennett. 

Apr 28: New Music Concerts. “Celebrating John Beckwith.” Works by Beckwith including premieres of two works: Calling and Quintet; John Weinzweig and Stravinsky.

Apr 30, May 7: Wellington Winds. “Wind Symphony Whimsy.” Featuring The Seven Deadly Sins by Michael Purves-Smith.

May 5: Spectrum Music. “Portraits de Georgian Bay.” Spectrum composers’ arrangements of songs composed by the Georgian Bay duo Kelly Lefaive and Joelle Westman.

May 5: Array Ensemble. “The Hits: Array Percussion Trio.” Works by Jo Kondo, Rolf Wallin, Guo Wenjing and Erik Oña.

May 6: Haliburton Concert Series. “Guy & Nadina.” Includes a work by Canadian Glenn Buhr.

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

2206-BBB-New.jpgIn last month’s column, my opening story focused on the upcoming New Creations Festival presented by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, with concerts on March 4, 8 and 11. I featured a conversation with Christine Duncan speaking about a new commission entitled Qiksaaktuq for the March 4 concert, a collaboration between Duncan, Tanya Tagaq, Jean Martin and orchestrator Christopher Mayo that combines both notated score and improvisation. To continue coverage of the New Creations Festival for the March issue, I spoke with guest curator and composer/performer Owen Pallett about his vision for the festival and the highlights of the March 8 and 11 concerts.

 A year ago, a review by Michael Vincent in the March 6 edition of The Toronto Star noted that in the 2016 New Creations Festival there were no female composers featured. The author stated that this omission demonstrated “a lack of awareness towards the diversity of the community,” and he ended his review with a hope that the TSO would listen to this critique. By selecting Owen Pallett as the guest curator for this year’s festival, I think it’s fair to say that they are now listening. When I spoke with Pallett, I began by asking him what his curatorial vision was. “My priority is on critical work,” he began. “There has been a big change in the [cultural] conversation over the last 15 years, and I want to reflect that in the concerts.” For Pallett, this means having representation from both female and male composers, as well as the inclusion of Indigenous and culturally diverse performers. He also wanted to reflect the full spectrum of new music practices that exist outside the traditional concert hall. This goal is evident in both the selection of composers he wanted to include, as well as the choice of performers for the lobby concerts that happen both pre- and post-concert. “There’s an enormous audience in Toronto for new music, but they don’t know it exists. People are interested in listening to challenging music, and I’m also working to address that in this series.” In the end, Pallett is not interested in theoretical ideas of what new music is, but rather in selecting works that are, in his words, BOLD.

As examples, he cites the music of Cassandra Miller that displays “enormous and monolithic gestures, like giant glaciers, which are far removed from other schools of new music composition.” Speaking of glacial landscapes, another composer Pallett selected is Daniel Bjarnason from Iceland who takes Ligeti’s ideas of cloud structures and turns them into a new language. Both Bjarnason and Miller’s works (Round World and Emergence, respectively) will be premiered on March 11. Pallett’s choice to include Tanya Tagaq’s improvised performance will give audiences a chance to experience “the most emotional response you’ll hear from an improvised performer.” Another of his composer selections is American Nico Muhly (Mixed Messages, March 8 concert), whose style is a “concentrated John Adams-inspired tonalism drawing from many different sources and time periods.” Muhly, currently one of the most visible composers in the USA, has worked and recorded with a range of classical and pop/rock musicians and refuses to be pinned down to one specific genre.

Pallett’s own commissioned work, Songs From An Island, will be premiered on March 8. What we will hear that night is a 15-minute excerpt from a 75-minute work he is currently working on. Originally, Pallett began writing a more conventional piece for the festival, but after recently hearing American composer Andrew Norman’s work Play, he decided to shelve it and go full out to create a more edgy piece that “investigates the cross section of folk songwriting and the aspects of modern orchestration that I’m most interested in.” The piece is a series of songs about a man who washes up on an island and gets involved in an assortment of hedonistic activities. One might think that would result in a work with a bawdy flavour, but not so. Rather, Pallett says, the piece has a more spiritual tone and ends with the character circling the planet hearing the prayers of the people below. The music is as much inspired by trends in rock music since Talk Talk, an English new wave band active from 1981 to 1992, as it is by concert music influences such as Ligeti-inspired tone clusters and Grisé’s spectralism. However, Pallett made it clear that his is not a hybrid music as he “draws equally from a number of different languages to arrive at this one unified aesthetic, one unified conclusion. I’m still trying to find the sweet spot,” he said, which is not a space “between the two worlds, but is its own place unrelated to either genre. I am completely allergic to any conversations that distinguish between pop vs. serious music. I find it classist and I reject it.”

The Festival will also feature a lineup of outstanding performers, including violinst James Ehnes performing a new violin concerto by Aaron J. Kernis (March 8) and the Kronos Quartet performing Black MIDI, a new work by Nicole Lizée (March 11). And finally, each symphony concert will begin with the performance of a two-minute Sesquie, commissioned as part of the TSO’s year-long Canada Mosiac project. These include Andrew Staniland’s Reflections on O Canada after Truth and Reconciliation (March 4) Harry Stafylakis’ Shadows Radiant (March 8) and Zeiss After Dark by Nicole Lizée (March 11). Highlights of the lobby concerts include Indigenous performers The Lightning Drum Singers led by Derrick Bressette (March 4), and the Cris Derkson Trio with Derkson on cello, Anishinaabe Hoop Dancer Nimkii Osawamick and drummer Jesse Baird (March 11). The spirit of improvisation will make an appearance as well with the performance on March 8 by the Element Choir led by Christine Duncan.

Nicole Lizée: March 11 will be a busy night for composer Nicole Lizée with her two works at the New Creations Festival along with a piece she composed for a concert featuring the Plumes ensemble at the Music Gallery. Montreal-based Plumes is a six-member group combining pop and classical influences who have invited 13 composers to create pieces inspired by Vision, Canadian producer/singer Grimes’ album. And in the spirit of Owen Pallett’s vision for New Creations, this concert includes a majority of women composers as well as a creative mandate to push genre boundaries. Alongside Lizée, other composers include Emilie LeBel, Tawnie Olson, Monica Pearce and Stephanie Moore. (And later in the month at the Gallery, the all-female Madawaska Quartet along with harpist Sanya Eng and guitarist Rob MacDonald create an immersive performance environment in which to perform works by Omar Daniel, Andrew Staniland, Scott Good and Yoko Ono. This program will also be performed on March 29 in Kitchener as part of the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society series.)

Full Spectrum: March continues with a full spectrum of new music events. On March 10 and 11, The Toronto Masque Theatre presents The Man Who Married Himself composed by Juliet Palmer with libretto by Anna Chatterton and choreography by Hari Krishnan. The story is an intriguing one, given the gender issues already discussed. It’s an allegory of the inner battle between male and female parts, played out by the main character who rejects the idea of marrying a woman and instead creates a lover for himself from his own left side. The outcome of that experiment unfolds throughout the piece.

Continuum Contemporary Music’s lineup for their March 25 “Pivot” concert of works by emerging composers is another example of a more diverse representation of composers. The concert will present the creative outcomes of a six-month mentorship with works by four female composers (Rebecca Bruton, Maxime Corbeil-Perron, Evelin Ramon, Bekah Sims) and Philippine-born Juro Kim Feliz. Montrealer Beavan Flanagan rounds out a program of pieces exploring acoustic, electroacoustic and acousmatic traditions.

And finally, the Array Ensemble will perform “The Rainbow of Forgetting” in both Toronto (March 9) and Kingston (March 10) with compositions by Mozetich, Catlin Smith, Komorous, Sherlock, Bouchard and Arnold.

With so much going on also in the early part of March, I have not been able to cover it all here. I recommend you consult my February column for some of the early March events mentioned there.

Finally here are some additional Quick Picks for this month:

Mar 2: Canadian Music Centre. “Of Bow and Breath.” Works by Vivier, Baker, Tenney, Stevenson and Foley.

Mar 5: Oriana Women’s Choir. “Journey Around the Sun.” Includes a work by Estonian composer Veljo Tormis.

Mar 8: U of T Faculty of Music presents “A 90th Celebration of John Beckwith” featuring Beckwith’s works A Game of Bowls, Follow Me and a selection of songs.

Mar 9: Canadian Opera Company. Chamber Music Series: Contemporary Originals in collaboration with the TSO’s New Creations Festival.

Mar 12: Ritual 7 presents “The Announcement Made to Mary,” a miracle play with score by Anne Bourne.

Mar 18: Caution Tape Sound Collective. Array Space.

Mar 18: Scaramella presents. “Tastes: Old and New,” contemporary works by Peter Hannan, Grégoire Jeay and Terri Hron.

Mar 18: TO.U Collective/Music at St. Andrews.presents Radulescu’s Sonatas No.3 and No.6 performed by pianist Stephen Clarke.

Mar 19: Two electroacoustic music concerts presented by U of T Faculty of Music: works by Ciamaga, Staniland, Viñao and Mario Davidovsky, L’adesso infinito for organ, projections and 4-channel sound by Dennis and Barbara Patrick, Stockhausen’s Kontakte, John Chowning’s Turenas and Tomita’s arrangement of Debussy’s Afternoon of a Faun.

Mar 22 and 23: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. Sesquie A Hero’s Welcome by Kati Agócs and North American premiere of a co-commissioned work Accused: Three Interrogations for Soprano and Orchestra byMagnus Lindberg.

Mar 25: Guitar Society of Toronto presents Duo Scarlatti. Their exact program is unknown at press time but will be selected from music from the high Baroque and 20th century works by Bogdanovic, Pisati, Iannarelli, Cascioli and Del Priora, among others.

Mar 26: U of T Faculty of Music presents “There Will Be Stars: Music of Stephen Chatman,” which includes works by Chatman, Ramsay, Parker, Hagen, and Brandon.

Mar 26: New Music Concerts presents György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments as part of a benefit performance event. Also presented on March 27 by the Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society.

Apr 7: Music Gallery. “Emergents III: Castle If + Laura Swankey.” Joe Strutt, curator.

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

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