In the end, listening and creating with sound is totally intertwined with the ear – that part of human anatomy that is always active. It’s not so easy to close our ears when we don’t want to hear something, unless we use earplugs or noise-cancelling headphones. In contrast, it’s relatively straightforward to shut out visual images – we just close our eyes. But just because we’re always hearing something, doesn’t necessarily mean we are actually listening. What happens when we are truly listening is complex, and the stakes can get really high when we’re exposed to sounds that are unusual, unfamiliar or even shocking.

2008_-_New_-_Skratch_and_Afiara.jpg21C: Starting from Skratch. This is exactly one of the driving forces behind the upcoming 21C Music Festival – to create opportunities for the presentation of courageous music, music that stretches the ear beyond what it’s used to. Now in its second year and presented by the Royal Conservatory of Music with its partners, the festival runs from May 20 to 24 and offers 60 works with 34 world, Canadian or Ontario premieres. One of the distinguishing features of this festival will be the bringing together of artists and creators from different genres and backgrounds to generate a lively onstage dialogue of new sounds and ideas.

One of the more fascinating collaborations of 21C is happening on May 23 between Afiara (the Royal Conservatory’s resident string quartet), four composers and DJ artist Skratch Bastid. Afiara violinist Timothy Kantor told me that at the heart of this combination is a meeting along the borders, a place that Bartók believed provided the most fertile ground for innovation. This particular meeting ground seeks to create a remix of what makes Toronto sound unique, given its unique cultural mix.

What is a Toronto sound? is the question under investigation. All four composers, each coming from their own distinctive backgrounds, were originally commissioned to write new works for string quartet that were influenced by popular styles. But what makes this project stand out is that things don’t stop there.

Each of the four pieces was then recorded and handed over to the renowned Maritimes-born, Toronto-based Bastid, who has created a worldwide following based on his versatility in different dance music styles and his capacity to always stretch himself in new directions. He remixed the string quartet recordings using all sorts of sounds, songs and genres as part of his response, including recording snippets of string sounds he needed from the Afiara members. To keep the musical conversation going, his remixes were then given back to the composers, who then created a new piece for string quintet in response. This step gave the composers an opportunity to listen to”the Bastid’s” sonic imaginings and then take specific ideas even further to create a live performance piece for the quartet and Bastid. All three stages of the process will be presented at the concert, so the audience can listen in to how the whole project developed. All twelve pieces will also be available on the upcoming CD Spin Cycle scheduled for release in mid-May.

21C: Saariaho. One of Europe’s leading composers, Finland’s Kaija Saariaho will be the featured artist this year, with five Canadian premieres of her works in two different concerts. Saariaho will also be involved as a mentor in Soundstreams’ week-long Emerging Composers Workshop with the final pieces performed as part of the festival. Saariaho’s music is distinctive for its ability to take the listener deep into the terrain of the subconscious through the use of sound colours or timbres. In an email correspondence I had with her recently, she talked about how different sounds, and the sounds of nature, as well as the acoustics of specific places, have always been important to her, beginning when she was a child. Her brilliance lies in how she has translated environmental sound, as well as aspects of human behaviour such as dreaming, into musical form. Because her sound palette encompasses both instrumental and electronically based sounds, she has devised ways of creating seamless connections and transformations between these two worlds.  Her approach is to use the results of a computer-based analysis of how specific sounds are constructed to create harmonic and timbral structures for her music.

You can hear how this alchemical mix of scientific analysis and creative imagination comes alive on the Koerner Hall stage on May 21 at 8pm. This concert includes three solo instrumental pieces as well as the North American premiere of her piano trio Light and Matter. Saariaho drew inspiration for it while watching the continuous transformation of the colours and light visible on the leaves and tree trunks in a nearby park outside her window. Her vocal work Grammaire des rêves (to be performed May 23 at 5pm) translates research on how our moving body affects our dreams into musical sounds and form. It will also be interesting to hear the results of her mentoring the four composers chosen to participate in Soundstreams’s Emerging Composers Workshop in the After Hours concert on May 22. Saariaho sees her role as encouraging composers “to search for their personal compositional voice, without trying to calculate what could be the most successful path to take.”

21C: At a Glance.Other collaborations that promise stimulating results include the opening 21C concert on May 20 which features a RCM-commissioned work from drum legend Stewart Copeland of The Police – a duet between himself and Canadian pianist Jon Kimura Parker. This work presents another approach to the remixing idea, with Copeland and pianist Kimura Parker combining their own pieces with renditions of the likes of Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Bach and Ravel. And yes, this theme of the mixing up of elements continues on May 22with the 70-minute multimedia work Illusions, which combines new compositions from three different composers (Nicole Lizée, Gabriel Dharmoo and Simon Martin), Ives’ Piano Trio and visuals (projections designed by Jacques Collin, a longtime associate of Robert Lepage).The festival concludes May 24 with a concert of music influenced by Latin American musical styles and rhythms presented in partnership with Soundstreams. Acclaimed guitar virtuosos Grisha Goryachev and Fabio Zanon, Argentine bandoneon player Héctor del Curto, Colombian singer María Mulata and pianist/composer Serouj Kradjian will be setting the tone on stage, along with two world premieres by Canadian composers Andrew Staniland and Mark Duggan.

Because the list of new premieres and featured performers is extensive, I recommend checking out the complete schedule for the festival.

2008_-_New_-_Dafydd_Hughes.jpgSubtle Technologies Festival. Returning to this article’s opening theme of the human ear, it’s inspiring to see how the scientific world is expanding its reaches into sound. Now in its 18th season, this year’s Subtle Technologies six-day festival, “3rd Ear: Expanded Notions of Sound in Science and Art,” runs May 25 to 31. Combining speaker and panel sessions with performances in sound, music, film and other multidisciplinary works, the festival is exploring the mind- and body-altering properties of sound, including a look at how we can work with sound as a resource for better living and social progress. Toronto’s Continuum Music is a major partner in this endeavour, and will be hosting an evening of team collaborations on May 28 between leading Canadian composers, scientists and contemporary artists. An example of the nature of these collaborations is the piece titled Ice, an immersive mixed-media and sound installation created by media artist Fareena Chanda, composer Jimmie LeBlanc and scientist Stephen Morris. To experience the full sensory process of water slowly transforming into ice, audience members are invited to completely commit their mind and body to the installation space. Other musical performance events include an algorithm-based improvisation piece by Ian Jarvis, and a collaboration of computer music and live video projections with Dafydd Hughes and Rob Cruickshank on May 29. Other highlights include the participation of composer/performers Kathy Kennedy and Nicole Lizée. Again, I encourage you to check out the full listings for the complete lineup.

Other New Music concert and opera events:  May offers new listening ground for innovations in instrumental music and opera.

Tapestry Opera presents a new twist on the traditional Medea myth with a world premiere collaboration between librettist Marjorie Chan and Scottish composer John Harris. Presented at the revamped industrial space Evergreen Brick Works, M’dea Undone runs from May 26 to 29 and offers a gripping investigation into power, influence and identity for the 21st century.

Over at the Music Gallery, the Emergents series continues on May 8 with a concert curated by Ilana Waniuk from the Thin Edge New Music Collective. She offers us an evening that combines a new work by Icelandic cellist-composer Fjóla Evans and a performance by Architek Percussion. Evans’ piece combines Icelandic folk songs, found sound, extended cell, and rímur, a unique way of intoning poetry. Architek Percussion specializes in the performance of experimental, minimalist, multidisciplinary and electroacoustic chamber music.

The veteran New Music Concerts series winds up its concert season on May 17 with a concert curated by Montrealer Michel Gonneville who brings together the music of Henri Pousseur, with whom Gonneville studied in the 1970s, and other influential Belgian composers. One aspect of Pousseur’s legacy was the vision he had for composition – that it will need to go beyond the production of finished objects and move towards a process that is more collective in nature.

Improvisation and Beyond: Certainly the rise of improvisation embodies the spirit of collective creation, and Toronto is becoming increasingly known as a hub for such activities. In May alone, several events demonstrate this trend, many of which are happening at the Arraymusic space and are ongoing monthly events: Arraymusic Improv Sessions on May 5 and June 2, Somewhere There on May 10, Audio Pollination on May 12, coexisDance on May 16, eVoid on May 22, and Toronto Improvisers Orchestra on May 31. Other concert events at the Arraymusic space include a multimedia performance work by Linda Bouchard on May 8, a Martin Arnold Curated Concert on May 18, and the Toy Piano Composers performing with TorQ Percussion Quartet on May 23 and 24. The Arraymusic ensemble presents their own events this month as well: the “Cathy Lewis Sings” concert on May 4, the Arraymusic Ensemble in their fundraising concert on May 6 and the annual Young Composers’ Workshop Concert on May 30 featuring premieres of electronic works with original projections by OCAD students.

Over at the Canadian Music Centre, there are two piano-focused events this month: JunctQin Keyboard Collective with premieres from Canada and around the world on May 3; works by Fung, McIntyre and Murphy on May 13. More Canadian piano works are part of Adam Sherkin’s concert at the Jane Mallet Theatre on May 9, with works by Gougeon, Murphy, Coulthard, Eckhardt-Grammaté and Sherkin. And a special evening of improvisation making use of Gallery 345’s beautiful grand pianos happens on May 7 with Marilyn Lerner, Casey Sokol and others.

New in Choral: To close out this very busy month, I note several contemporary works included in a variety of choral concerts:

May 4: Elmer Iseler Singers: Canadian and international composers.

May 9: Bell’Arte Singers: Hatfield, Somers, Sirett and others.

May 9: Orpheus Choir of Toronto: Enns and Gjeilo.

May 24: Oriana Women’s Choir: Luengen, Chan Ka Nin, Freedman, Healey.

May 29: Exultate Chamber Singers: Henderson, Enns, Somers, Freedman, Healey.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist.

2007-New-Farah.jpgPart of what makes writing this In with the New column so stimulating for me is getting a front row seat on what exactly is defined as new moment by moment in the midst of our information-saturated and cross-pollinated culture. It’s an absorbing challenge. If you’ve been following this column for a while, you’ll recall an earlier discussion here, about the Music Gallery’s XAvant series, that focussed on how to define the current impetus to combine influences and genres within music. The XAvant series, each fall, has presented music that highlights wildly diverse ways in which various musicians and artists have created their own version of this trend, and how various descriptive words and labels, such as urban abstract music or transculturalism arise to define this music. (As part of the XAvant series in the fall of 2013, a talk was even given on the movement towards going beyond traditional categories and identifying music as genreless.) It is through festivals such as XAvant that we are given the opportunity to encounter all at once numbers of artists with unique takes on this phenomenon – get to taste from the whole menu of what’s cooking in this area.

This month we get to see what happens when you combine musicians who are exploring these edges in their own individual work, and mix in an insatiably curious creator who works in another art form. In Toronto-based choreographer and dancer Peggy Baker’s latest work, locus plot, which runs from April 24 to May 3, we get a glimpse of what is possible when this happens. Through my conversations with the two musical creators of this piece, composer John Farah and vocalographer Fides Krucker, it became evident that this collaboration is creating something beyond what we normally think of as interdisciplinary or even music for dance. Something expanding beyond what even interdisciplinary might imply.

As a composer and pianist, Farah has been working with Baker for the last few years. As she became more familiar with the breadth of his compositional style, she began planning ahead to create a piece that would make “full use of him, and allow him to pull out all the stops,” as Farah describes it. What makes Farah’s work unique is the way in which he combines quite disparate styles and sound sources to create his own signature sound palette. A true creator of genreless music, you could say. To give you a more detailed overview of his style, I refer you to a review of his most recent album Between Carthage and Rome published in The WholeNote’s February issue. It turns out that these qualities of Farah’s music were exactly what Baker wanted from him – to use all parts of his toolbox in wrestling with how to co-exist musically with both Baker’s dance and the vocal soundscore created by Krucker.

Farah’s main musical pillars for the piece include what he calls sound sculpture (or electroacoustics) created through a circuitry of electronic software-based effects and processors alongside synthesizer sounds; also quasi-tonal and modal minimalist piano music; highly rhythmical beat-oriented electronics; prepared piano John Cage style; and elements of improvisation. Part of the challenge for Farah was to create a large-scale work where all these quite different components come together to create an artistic whole that makes sense for the listener.

The result is not a series of movements that stop and start, but rather a continually evolving piece that Farah himself performs throughout. For example, at one point in the piece there is music for electronic drums that has a definite rhythmical beat, which then changes into an atmospheric electronic sound with no specific pitch that floats for four minutes before developing into a solo piano part that is mic’d and processed using different effects in the computer.

Work on the piece began with a math lesson by mathematician and playwright John Mighton, hence the word locus in the title. Locus is a math term referring to a set of points plotted in space to create different shapes such as a parabola or circle. During the performance a series of Mighton’s original drawings, diagrams and notes is projected onto the back screen, which helps the audience make the connection. Before any of the music was composed, Farah thought that the math focus would mean his music would be primarily complex rhythms, but that hasn’t necessarily happened. In fact, Baker has encouraged him to follow his impulses upon seeing what the dancers are doing, which at times has meant that the music he intuitively wants to compose creates a contrasting accompaniment to the dancer’s movements.

One example of this occurs in the first 12 minutes of the piece. As the composer describes it, “the dancers are doing what appears to be a strange type of square dance where they look at each other, then switch places, look at each other again, and switch places again. What you see is the constant creation of geometrical forms. Each time the way in which they switch places is different, so you’re watching the same thing happening with endless permutations. I began with music that I thought I should compose – something rhythmical to match the movements of the dancers, but it turned out that’s not what Peggy wanted. I ended up with something that just floats and sits there, using drones and minimalist piano patterns with reverb and delays. It’s something I never would have done normally if it wasn’t for the type of freedom that this piece allows me. It’s a freedom within certain constraints.”

2007-New-Baker_and_Burashko.jpgIt may seem that Farah’s full toolbox of musical possibilities interacting with Baker’s choreography would make for a complete work. But that was not all that Baker had in mind for the piece. Something had stirred in her creative mind as a result of working with music designer and vocalist Krucker on Baker’s piece land / body / breath. In this work, the soundscape of folk songs that Krucker and singing partner Ciara Adams were performing was expanded to include various sounds of bird songs and calls performed by the dancers. This made such an impression on Baker that when Krucker showed up for her initial meetings to work as dramaturge on locus plot, Baker asked: “What sounds do you want the dancers to make?” Thus a surprised and delighted Krucker became the vocalographer of the piece, a term Baker created to describe her role.

Krucker’s approach to the voice has been rigorously and expertly cultivated over many years, incorporating both the traditional bel canto style along with the body/breath extended sound approach of the Roy Hart tradition. In February’s WholeNote, I wrote about Barbara Hannigan, another singer who combines these two traditions. Paying attention to how a sound is made in the body has become Krucker’s primary way of working, both as a vocal performer of contemporary music and as a teacher and mentor of voice practice. So it’s completely natural that she would approach working on locus plot from this perspective of embodied sound.

Upon seeing what the dancers were doing with their bodies, she imagined what she would do vocally if she were capable of doing that particular movement. She then translated her sounds into ones the dancers would feel comfortable making within their skill set. A series of tightly scripted improvisations were then set up, connecting specific movements with qualities or textures of sound and experimenting with how one sound interacts with another. Some sounds are quite quiet, and others very loud and extended, encompassing a range of sounds that we often equate with the emotional states of “sad, mad and glad.” In the end, the dancers are making sound more than 50 per cent of the time resulting in an extensive nonverbal voice score. This way of working has also sparked Baker’s creativity. “Because she is so used to looking at movement, there’s something obvious about it for her,” says Krucker. “But as soon as the dancers are having to breathe in a certain way to make the sounds, all of a sudden it engages her in a very different way.”

One interesting feature Krucker noted in our conversation was that because the point of departure for the piece is based on math formulas, it creates an ambiguity as to who the dancers are in relation to each other. “We never need to know if those two men are lovers, or brothers for example, even though specific feelings in the body can still arise.” The piece is not just about love or other common human experiences that are the usual focus of staged works, although all sorts of human stories could be made out of what we see and hear.

The challenges of a three-way collaboration with two musical creators are met because of Baker’s respect for everyone’s contribution and creativity. To balance the two soundworlds of musical score and the more vulnerable vocal sounds of the dancers requires an attentive adjustment of timing, tone and volume. The result of this alchemy of ingredients is, in Krucker’s words, “something that feels holistic, and also very new. It’s a complete melding of art forms, beyond being interdisciplinary, in a very practical, three-dimensional flesh and bones way, and this weaving is completely held in the dancers’ bodies.”

One might wonder too, how much of the math legacy was left after being filtered through the creative artistic process. But after watching a rehearsal, Mighton was beaming and reflected that it was a deeply satisfying meditation during which he was able to feel and hear the math in it all. I suggest that witnessing this weaving and melding of elements and forms be high on your priority list for the end of the month.

Music Gallery Events: Continuing on with the Music Gallery’s tradition of presenting hybrid style artists, they team up with Contact Contemporary Music to perform Professor Bad Trip on April 18. This work, in three sections, is written for 11 instruments and electronics and combines techno, psychedelic rock and spectral techniques. It’s described as the Doors meet Pierre Boulez, with the Doors definitely winning out. Written by the late Italian composer Fausto Romitelli, this piece has created a cult following with its appealing mix of hypnotic ritual-like repetitions while riding the wave between order and chaos. His work is seen as having a major influence on a whole generation of younger composers. The evening also includes The Michael Eckert Large Earth Ensemble, who combine elements from various world cultures with classic rock guitar and synth sounds. For rock and roll fans who like an experimental edge to their music, this entire evening is not to be missed. Other Music Gallery events in April include British improvised music masters Trevor Watts and Veryan Weston on April 24; and the Blythwood Winds present their “Hogtown Roundup” concert featuring three world premieres by Toronto composers Barnes, Rowson and Lau on April 13.

John Tavener: One of Britain’s most distinguished liturgically inspired composers Sir John Tavener will be honoured by Soundstreams in a concert on April 16 to commemorate his passing in 2013. Tavener’s Song for Athene, performed at the funeral of Princess Diana, exemplifies the skill of this composer who knew how to create contemporary works that were accessible to many. Tavener wrote over 30 works for British soprano Patricia Rozario, who will be performing four of them in the Toronto concert along with Choir 21 and the Toronto Children’s Chorus. Christos Hatzis (Canada), Jonathan Harvey (Britain), and Vanraj Bhatia (India), all of whom create music that expresses a spiritual dimension, will also be represented in the program. Tavener’s The Lamb is part of a Mooredale Concerts event on April 12 that features the Dublin Guitar Quartet and also includes compositions by Philip Glass, György Ligeti and Leo Brouwer.

Infiltration! This month also offers several opportunities for concertgoers of classical and baroque music to hear premieres of new Canadian works. Here’s a listing of these events:

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra premieres Ararat by Mychael Danna, which is a newly created suite of music from the soundtrack originally written for Atom Egoyan’s film by the same name. April 22.

Tafelmusik premieres a newly commissioned work entitled “Snow White” by Michael Oesterle in their concert entitled Baroque Misbehaving. The concerts run from April 23 to 28.

Sinfonia Toronto performs Alice Ho’s “Mira for Violin and Orchestra” on May 2.

Syrinx Concerts Toronto presents Sofya Gubyak performing Jean Coulthard’s Piano Sonata No.2 on May 3.

Women’s Musical Club of Toronto presents a world premiere by Christopher Mayo, a WMCT commission, performed by the piano quartet Ensemble Made In Canada May 7.

In With The New (Briefly):And finally, a listing of other concerts of new music happening in Toronto and beyond:

New Music Concerts: The Ukrainian-Canadian Connection, with dompositions by Silvestrov, Pauk, Pidgorna, Kulesha, Tsepkolenko, April 4. (see my March WholeNote column for more details).

Canadian Music Centre: Amarok Ensemble performs works by Morlock and Murphy, April 14.

Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society presents the Penderecki String Quartet in a concert of Serbian and Croation Chamber Works, with works by Katarina Čurčin, Michael Pepa, Norbert Palej, and Sanja Drakulić, April 15.

Sara Constant concert, with works by Denisov, Lutosławski:, Meijering, Stockhausen, and Tanabe, April 24.

Music Gallery at Arraymusic: Tim Berne’s Snakeoil plus Barnyard Drama, April 29.

Royal Conservatory:Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble performing works by Canadian composers Alexina Louie and Andre Ristic, and others. April 30.

JunctQin Keyboard Collective performs works for piano solo, piano six hands, toy piano, melodica and electronics, including a premiere by Jason Doell, winner of the 2014 Emerging Composer Award, May 3. 

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist.

2006-New-Ryan_Scott.jpgAs we sit here in late February waiting for spring to show its face, you could say that we’re waiting for a change to happen, a change that we know from past experience will eventually occur, although there are not many signs of it currently visible. Spring’s emergence is of a particular kind – from one known state to another, by a process of predictable transformation. But sometimes things that emerge come from an unknown place of obscurity into an unpredictable prominence.

In the world of contemporary music (as elsewhere in the arts) the idea of emergence is often bandied about – as in the phrase “emerging composer” or “emerging artist.” As such it is often used to help define funding structures and award guidelines. The distinction being drawn seems to be between those who are emerging and those who have been around for a while – the established ones. Often in our minds, the word becomes synonymous or interchangeable with being young and just starting to make one’s way in life.

Not necessarily so, according to two presenters/curators I spoke to recently: Ryan Scott, current artistic director of Continuum Music, and Christopher Willes, curator of the Music Gallery’s March concert in the Emergents Series.

Continuum: In the life of Continuum Music, this season is special; they are celebrating 30 years of existence, having formed in 1985. At the beginning, Continuum was a collective of composers and performers with associations to the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music. As emerging musicians they were frustrated with the lack of opportunity to hear and present the new works they were composing or interested in performing. So, as an act of rebellion, they formed Continuum Music. The list of those initially involved in the first few years is an impressive one; many of them are still making waves in the new music world.

One of those early rebels was flutist Jennifer Waring, who went on to become Continuum’s artistic director for the next 29 years. Under her guidance, Continuum has become a major presenter and performing ensemble of new music, commissioning over 100 new works, engaging in touring and recording opportunities and developing interdisciplinary and educational projects. One of her signature contributions was establishing a strong connection with composers and performers in the Netherlands, resulting in a festival of Dutch and Canadian music, film, literature and visual arts in 2008/09 and an ongoing relationship with many Dutch composers. Another early member was Barbara Hannigan, who appeared on the cover of last month’s WholeNote. It’s clear that Hannigan’s continual commitment to being an ambassador for new and original repertoire was seeded in those early heady days of her involvement with Continuum.

Percussionist Ryan Scott has also had a long association with the organization – initially as a performer, and now taking over as artistic director. This year’s anniversary concert, “30 More!,” on March 8 is a program entirely curated by Scott and showcases the spirit that lies at the heart of Continuum’s mandate. Combining the works of UK-based seasoned composers Richard Ayres and Joe Cutler, the very young and unknown Turkish composer Mithatcan Öcal and two Torontonians,  Anna Höstman and Jason Doell, Scott has created a program that amplifies Continuum’s rebellious roots.

When asked about what is important for him in selecting works for programming, Scott told me that “as artistic director, I search out composers who are experimentalists by nature, who are committed to pushing boundaries and are searching for something different with each new piece rather than relying on a seasoned bag of tricks. You can find these types of composers at any level – emerging or established.”

 Interestingly, Doell and Höstman are both recent recipients of Toronto’s Emerging Composer Award (2013 and 2014 respectively). Scott points out that although they are both considered emerging, they are actually people who are not so young in life but entered into composition after engaging with other interests and commitments. That process results in a different kind of emergent creative voice, one already informed by life experience. Fittingly, the Toronto award is not defined by age, but open to anyone who takes up composing at whatever stage of life.

Doell was commissioned to write a new work for this concert after Scott heard him perform on his percussion installation during last year’s Emergents Series at the Music Gallery; the selection of Höstman’s piece was inspired by the brilliant performance given last season by ensemble pianist Laurent Philippe in Continuum’s presentation of Höstman’s Singing the Earth.

As for the other works on the March 8 program, Scott defines Richard Ayres’ music as zany, off the wall and creating unusual combinations of sounds. Joe Cutler’s music is intriguing for its continual surprises, taking the listener onto an unanticipated path. And as a twist on the “emerging” theme, the music of the 22-year-old Öcal has a maturity and hyper–complexity to it that Scott finds shockingly brilliant.

Another aspect of Continuum’s 30-year legacy is the commitment to educating the younger generation. Following closely on the heels of their anniversary celebration is a concert on March 31 that features the compositions of students from across the GTA. This project is a collaboration between Continuum, Toronto District School Board music education advocate Doug Friesen and composer Christopher Thornborrow. The student scores are initially created in a software designed for intuitive and creative decision-making. Thornborrow then takes these pieces and arranges them for the instrumentation of the Continuum ensemble. These professionals then become the principals in a larger ensemble made up of student performers which performs all the selected pieces at a public concert. This program has received strong support at multiple levels, and is pioneering a new way of introducing the creative process of music-making to the younger generation.

2006-New-Johnathan_Adjemian.jpgEmergents at the Gallery: One of the major opportunities for the emerging creative voice has been the Emergents Series at the Music Gallery. Each concert in the series is curated by someone whose own work was presented during the previous Music Gallery season. The March 19 concert has been programmed by Christopher Willes whose own work explores ideas of the spatialization of sound. His choice of artists – Geoff Mullen and Jonathan Adjemian – indicates that he too has a distinctive take on what constitutes an emerging artistic voice. Both Mullen and Adjemian are individuals who’ve actually been practising artists for some time now, but have recently changed direction and begun exploring new materials and approaches to working with sound. For Willes, this qualifies them as emergents.

Mullen’s work expands the idea of site-specific work while simultaneously challenging and re-evaluating the idea of composing to include new ways of hearing and listening. A week prior to the concert, Mullen will begin work in the Music Gallery space, setting it up somewhat like an audio installation and using old recordings from the Music Gallery label as sound sources. It will be an experimental process, placing sounds in the space and observing what happens to both. The installation however will not be static; Mullen himself will be animating the space through his own improvisations and interaction with the recordings. When the audience arrives, Mullen will be continuing his week-long process, with audience members witnessing what is occurring at that moment in time. Willes describes Mullen’s way of working as “site-responsive,” achieved in part by turning the microphone in on itself. The acoustics of the space itself play a significant role in what one hears, and by using the recorded sounds of the gallery’s history, the early spaces of the Music Gallery (St. Patrick Street and Queen/Dovercourt) are brought into the present. Everyone will be listening to the final results.

Adjemian’s interest with sonic materials focuses on text, language and perception in combination with live electronics. Coming from a theatre and philosophy background, he will use actors and dancers as speaking voices in his new piece created for this concert. The result will be a constant wash of text that will collide and rebound with the creation of sound waves and difference tones coming from the electronic instruments as well as being generated through software. His interest in difference tones, which are like phantom or ghost sounds that occur when two tones are sounded simultaneously, was inspired by U.S. composer Maryanne Amacher who loved to create novel acoustic events that could even make you lose your balance. We’ll have to wait until March 19 to experience the outcome of Adjemian’s sound experiments.

To wrap up this discussion of what constitutes an emerging artist, I’d like to give the last words to futurist author and visionary Barbara Marx Hubbard who spins the idea somewhat differently. Not only does the term refer to new turns on the life cycle or the taking up of a different direction, she states that “we are all emerging into what we are becoming.”

New Music Concerts: An inspiring co-presentation on March 14 between New Music Concerts and Organix, a local presenter of organ music, will bring together German percussionist Olaf Tzschoppe, who plays with the legendary Les Percussions de Strasbourg, and Hungarian organist Zsigmond Szathmáry. The concert comprises an evening of music composed by six different European composers including a piece by each of the two performers. It’s rare to hear the organ within a new music context, and in this concert, the organ from the Church of the Holy Trinity will be on display. The concert will repeat on March 15 at St. Cuthbert’s Anglican in Oakville.

Next up after that in the NMC season will be an April 4 concert exploring the Ukrainian-Canadian connection with works by three Ukrainian composers and two Canadians – Esprit’s Alex Pauk and Gary Kulesha. The Ukrainian composers include Karmella Tsepkolenko, a prolific composer and festival organizer in her native country, and a newly commissioned work from Anna Pidgorna, a Ukrainian-born, Canadian-raised composer and media artist. Featured soloist on the program is soprano Ilana Zarankin who will premiere a new oratorio by Tsepkolenko.

2006-New-Andrew_Staniland.jpgEsprit: The March 29th concert by Esprit Orchestra’s, with guest soloist Stephen Sitarski on violin, will be the last of their season. The prgram creates an intriguing dialogue between music and science-inspired ideas. For example, the world premiere of Andrew Staniland’s Vast Machine creates a sonic version of the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator, the largest single machine in the world, located in a tunnel beneath the Franco-Swiss border. Scott Good’s world premiere of Resonance Unfolding 2 digs into the realm of spectral composition, an aesthetic that focuses more on timbre than melody, and how sound evolves over time. This idea of continuous transformation is also the focus of Color by French composer Marc-André Dalbavie. The program is rounded out by a piece by Chinese composer Xiaogang Ye.

Quick Picks:
Canadian Music Centre Presentations:
Mar 13: Portrait of a Pioneer: The Vocal Music of Jean Coulthard.
Mar 14: JUNO Awards Classical Nominees’ Showcase. (in Hamilton)
Mar 27: “Baroque Meets Modern in The True North!” Works by Gougeon, Dawson, Arcuri, Manzon and others.
Mar 1 & 10: Audiopollination
Mar 4 & 7: New Creations Festival, Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Mar 6: TorQ: Music by Steve Reich, Louis Andriessen and Jamie Drake.
Mar 7-8: DaCapo Chamber Choir: Concert includes the 2014 NewWorks winning composition.
Mar 21: “Hands, Fists, Arms” – a program featuring solo piano works by Cowell, Lachenmann, Ristic, Saunders, and Ustvolskaya – performed by Stephanie Chua at 8pm at the Music Gallery [Not in the Listings]. For more information visit
Mar 27: Philip Thomas premieres piano works by Skempton, Wolff and Finnissy.
Mar 27: Maureen Batt. Crossing Borders: A Celebration of New Music from New Mexico to Nova Scotia.
Mar 29: Toronto Improvisers’ Orchestra

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist.

2005_-_Beat_-_New_-_George_Benjamin.pngEven though the temperatures are still fairly frosty this month, adventuring outside to take in some of the hot new creations and sonic explosions will be sure to warm you right up. It’s that time of year again when the Toronto Symphony offers up its annual festival of New Creations, which regularly features the works of a specific composer. This year, that composer is George Benjamin from Britain, who will also be conducting in the three festival concerts on February 28, March 3 and March 7. This year’s festival is also highlighting soprano Barbara Hannigan, widely acclaimed for her impeccable performance of contemporary music. For the full scope of Hannigan’s musicality and her contribution to the festival, check out the cover story.

Back in his teens, Benjamin was fortunate to have been one of Olivier Messiaen’s last pupils, and by the time he was 20, he was seen as one of the brightest stars in British contemporary music. His compositions are full of sensuous colours that breathe an air of newness, all the while containing the fluency of earlier musical languages. And despite the resulting fluidity, when asked how he begins creating a new piece, his answer is a surprising “with confusion. The clarity of sound and form I desire can take many months to attain.” Festivalgoers will have an opportunity to hear this for themselves in his two works: Duet for Piano and Orchestra (2008) and A Mind of Winter (1981) one of his earlier works. His compositions enjoy a popular following in Britain and in Europe, yet nothing prepared audiences for the emotionally raw intensity of his opera Written on Skin, which premiered in France at the Aix-en-Provence Festival in 2012. Seen as a watershed work for not only Benjamin but also for British opera as a whole, this work combines cannibalism, suicide, sex and murder. In the festival we will hear the opera-in-concert version with some of the original cast, including Hannigan who performs the role of Agnès.

This year’s festivalgoers also have an opportunity to hear works by two composers not so well known in Toronto – Dai Fujikura from the U.K. and Hans Abrahamsen from Denmark. Fujikura, originally from Osaka, Japan and a former student of Benjamin’s in the UK, brings his passion for the Venezuelan El Sistema music education project into his composition Tocar y Luchar (2011).  Receiving its Canadian première at the festival, the title means “to play and to fight.” This practice is part of the El Sistema program that provides opportunities for children to perform and compose music as a way of helping them cope with difficult living situations. Hans Abrahamsen’s let me tell you, an orchestral song cycle composed in 2013, is a project initiated by soprano Barbara Hannigan and uses the text of a novel by the same name by Paul Griffiths. The orchestral music breathes an air of mystique with its glistening textures, while the voice soars into the upper limits of the soprano range.

The Toronto Symphony will also be performing the world premieres of two festival commissions by Canadian composers Chris Paul Harman and Vivian Fung. Harman’s piece Lieder und Arien (performed March 3), draws on music published in the appendix of Bach’s 371 harmonized chorales. The resulting composition is a series of musical episodes created by moulding and shaping the original sources into a new being that may or may not be recognizable. Vivian Fung’s work, Of Snow and Ice, to be performed on the February 28 “A Mind of Winter” concert, is a violin concerto written for the TSO’s concertmaster Jonathan Crow. Fung’s piece is one continuous movement in five sections and is inspired by recent nostalgic thoughts of her childhood growing up with the harsh but beautiful winters of Alberta.

Whispering and Raging: Given our increasingly moment-by-moment dependency on the internet, I’m sure most readers can relate to the notion that there are some things we’re comfortable revealing about ourselves online, and yet in person, we would never expose those same things. This contemporary reality is what forms the backbone of New York composer David Lang’s the whisper opera being presented by Soundstreams from February 26 to March 1. With a libretto assembled from search-engine responses to intimate key words and phrases, the performance is structured in such a way that only an audience of 52 people can experience it live. Lang’s intent is to highlight the contradiction between our collective outrage over government surveillance as exposed by people like Edward Snowden, and our acceptance of how advertisers have free access to our personal online activity. The work calls for intense listening skills on the part of the audience, as the singer and musicians are playing and speaking so softly that you can only fully perceive the sounds as each performer passes you by. What one person hears will be quite different from what another experiences sitting elsewhere in the room.

The opera is performed by members of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), a New York-based modular-like ensemble with up to 35 participating musicians. The ensemble not only performs works, but is also dedicated to presenting concerts that help promote a greater awareness and understanding of innovative musical practices. During their stay in Toronto, they will be performing a concert of pieces on February 28 selected to showcase the extensive range and depth of contemporary music written from the 1960s to the present day. The concert will include pieces by Pauline Oliveros, Michael Finnissy and Mark Applebaum.

In stark contrast to the quiet and intimate setting of the whisper opera, the Thin Edge New Music Collective from Toronto and Ensemble Paramirabo from Montreal are joining forces on February 19 to present an evening full of sound and driving rhythms. It’s a rare opportunity to hear music from two of the giants of minimalism: Steve Reich’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Double Sextet alongside Louis Andriessen’s politically charged Workers Union. Presented at the Music Gallery, the evening is titled “Raging Against the Machine” and is an expression of the challenges artists are currently facing in Canada. The evening will also include premieres of works by Brian Harman, Anna Höstman, and Patrick Giguère. And to make sure the message is heard across the country, the two ensembles will be presenting this concert in Edmonton, Calgary, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Victoria.

The intensity will continue on March 6 when the TorQ percussion ensemble takes its turn at the Music Gallery space. It seems that the energy created by pairing Reich and Andriessen is in the air in early 2015. In this concert it will be Reich’s Sextet as well as a sextet version of Andriessen’s Workers Union that will be performed by the four members of TorQ and pianists Greg Oh and Wesley Shen. A new work by TorQ’s own Jamie Drake will complete the program.

China and Canada: In the previous issue of WholeNote, I wrote about the upcoming new music festival presented by U of T’s Faculty of Music which pairs music by composers from China and Canada. As a reminder, this series of concerts and lectures runs throughout the first week of February, with the final program on February 8. But another opportunity to hear and compare music from these two distinct countries occurs on February 14. The New Music Concerts program titled “New Works from East and West” presents a unique evening of five world premieres, all commissioned by NMC from both Chinese and Canadian composers. Canadians Adam Scime, Laurie Radford, and Norbert Palej (who is also the main organizer of the U of T festival) have each written pieces for soprano Stacie Dunlop, a passionate performer and commissioner of contemporary music. Dunlop will be joined by members of the NMC Ensemble and in Scime’s piece, by violinist Véronique Mathieu. The Chinese composers Fuhong Shi and Yan Qiao Wang have written their pieces for virtuoso pipa player Lan Weiwei from Beijing. The pipa is a plucked string instrument on which Lan performs both traditional Chinese and contemporary orchestral and chamber music.

To wrap up this month, I want to add a quick heads up for two concerts just on the edge of the listings period for this issue. On February 7, Spectrum Music presents “Starry Night,” a concert dedicated to exploring the mysteries of the cosmos through music, projections and immersive staging. And on March 8, Continuum Contemporary Music continues to celebrate their 30th anniversary season with British radicals Richard Ayres and Joe Cutler, 22-year-old Turkish wunderkind Mithatcan Öcal and works by Anna Höstman and Jason Doell.

Additional Listings:

Canadian Music Centre: Feb 13 “Prelude to Brocade” and Feb 15 “Brocade.” Works by Ceccarelli (Montreal) and L.S. Smith performed by the rocKeys duo on piano and harpsichord.

Canadian Opera Company: Feb 24 Vocal Series includes a performance of Schoenberg’s String Quartet No.2 with soprano Barbara Hannigan.

Scarborough Philharmonic Orchestra: Feb 21 “A Canadian Panorama for Winds” features compositions by Cable, Eddington and Royer, and premieres by Meyer and Rapoport.

DaCapo Chamber Choir, Kitchener: Mar 7 “O Earth, Return” features the 2014 New Works-winning composition, Mathew Emery’s Night on a Starry Hill and works by Jonathan Dove and Arvo Pärt.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist.

New 22With the climate debate and pipeline protest actions heating up, along with the coming of winter with its potentially destructive storms, we can’t help but feel something is stirring of critical significance that can no longer be ignored. Our very survival as a species is under threat, as we are well aware. Not jolly holiday thoughts to ponder, I know. However, many movements are under way pointing towards a green revolution with a commons-oriented economy and clean energy sources. One of the major voices offering an alternate way comes from the indigenous community with a world view steeped in the traditions of honouring the wisdom of the land and the practices of how to live in a balanced relationship with all creatures and the elemental forces. Music and storytelling is just one of the ways these traditions and knowledge are passed on through the generations.

Manitoulin Island-born Odawa First Nations composer Barbara Croall has risen to the challenge of this cultural moment in her new work titled Manidoog, which translates into English as the spirit beings who dwell in the waters. In this epic work in ten movements, she weaves together ten traditional stories that speak to the importance of our right relationship with water. The work was commissioned by Trio d’Argento and will be premiered on December 11 as part of Music Toronto’s season. I spoke with one of the trio members, flutist Sibylle Marquardt about the work, the upcoming concert, and the trio’s relationship with Croall.

Manidoog opens with a story that summons the presence of the underwater panther. As the piece progresses stories of different creatures and beings weave their presence onto the stage: the spirit turtle emerging from the waters; the rising of the Venus morning star; the pregnant skywoman falling through a hole down onto earth; the winds and a swan catching her as birdcalls fill the air. Stories of the underworld play an important role as well: music brought forth by the guardian of the underworld, the mermaids and mermen luring people disrespectful of the waters down into the underworld; the trickster energies of the little people who live in the forest and along the river banks; the rising and falling of the giant underworld serpent; and, finally, the protective energy of the thunderbird who flies over the world and its waters. Overall, this combination creates something akin to a visionary narrative highlighting a fundamentally different way of living in relationship with the spirit of water and all relations.

New 23bhu-xiao-ouThe piece is fully staged with lighting design and the players moving from station to station to play out the different characters of the stories. Croall herself is one of the performers, playing traditional instruments and singing and speaking in the Ojibwe language. Trio member Peter Stoll performs on the full family of clarinet instruments, recorder and whistle, while Marquardt performs on the full range of flutes. Pianist Anna Romai performs on the keys while Croall joins her at times playing inside on the piano strings. There is also a recorded soundtrack with environmental sounds to add to the mix.

Marquardt has enjoyed a long relationship with Croall, at one time performing in Croall’s Ergo Ensemble. She is passionate about the importance of this work and the need for us to rethink our relationship with the earth and in particular, the waters. The rest of Trio d’Argento’s concert that evening blends together a work by Beethoven, a piece by French composer Jacques Ibert and a funky, jazz/world music-inspired piece by Minnesota-based composer Russell Peterson. The evening will also be a celebration of Trio d’Argento’s new CD just being released on the Opening Day label that includes the Ibert piece. To learn more about this rising virtuosic ensemble, I encourage you to check out their website (

Concerts in December

New Music Concerts: On the theme of new music talents named Barbara, the January 20 New Music Concerts joins with Music Toronto January 20 to present a program performed by Halifax-based pianist Barbara Pritchard. In 2009 Pritchard was awarded the Canadian Music Centre’s Music Ambassador title for her work in promoting and performing the music of Canadian composers. This concert includes 11 Canadian works by composers primarily from the Atlantic region, and an aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Prior to this event on December 11, New Music Concerts joins up with the Music Gallery to present two Canadian premieres of pieces by Italian-German guest composer Marco Stroppa, along with a new commissioned work from Paul Steenhuisen and a performance of Elliot Carter’s final work entitled Epigrams written in 2012. Stroppa worked for part of his career as a composer and researcher in Paris at IRCAM, an institution devoted to computer music. He will bring his electronic expertise to this concert, performing alongside trombonist Benny Sluchin and saxophonist Wallace Halladay.

More in December: In amongst all the traditional holiday music available in December, the Music Gallery is offering a unique way to tune into the holiday spirit with “Unsilent Night,” an outdoor walking event created by Phil Kline on December 19. Audience members are invited to bring their own portable sound system (boom box, etc) to play back one of four tracks of music, while being led on a guided walk through alleyways, crowded streets or empty spaces. You will experience your own unique mix of the tracks and the specific acoustics of each place visited. (And after the walk, at 9pm, you can return to the Music Gallery for a festive fundraiser with the O’Pears a female a cappella trio performing folk, R&B, celtic, and bluegrass music.)

Up on St. Joseph St., on December 13, the Canadian Music Centre presents festive Canadian music in its 21st century Virtuoso series with tenor Sean Clark. December is also CD celebration time at the CMC, with two concerts of new releases: on December 12, composer and turntablist Nicole Lizée with her Bookburners launch and on December16, composer and oboist Elizabeth Raum with her Myth, Legend, Romance CD.

And speaking of CD-related concerts, I’ll be presenting works in 5.1 surround sound from my Sounddreaming CD at Array Space on December 5. Another celebration, also at Array, salutes the iconic work of experimentalist Udo Kasemets spread over two days with screenings of Kasemets’ videos December 6 and a concert on December 7. These concerts are part of this season’s ArrayMusic’s concert series.


The University of Toronto’s New Music Festival: Moving into January/February, we have the U of T annual New Music festival running from January 30 to February 8. This year’s festival was inspired by a meeting between University of Toronto’s Faculty of Music composer Norbert Palej and China’s Hu Xiao-ou during the Beijing Modern Music Festival a few years ago. What began as a friendship has grown to a cultural exchange. This past October, Palej travelled with 11 colleagues from the Faculty of Music to China and Hong Kong presenting lectures, masterclasses and concerts of music from U of T faculty composers and students. Now, Palej is organizing this year’s New Music Festival to present the works of Hu and several of his students from the Sichuan Conservatory in Chengdu, as well as a work by Wendy Lee, who currently teaches in Hong Kong. Both Hu and Lee will be in attendance in Toronto, and interestingly, both have Canadian connections. Hu is a part-time resident of Vancouver and Lee was a former student at U of T studying with Chan Ka Nin. The concerts on February 4 and 5 will feature chamber music by the guest Chinese composers, including the performance of a new work by Hu by the Cecilia Quartet.

The festival will finish off with a collaboration Palej developed with the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony. On February 6 and 7, the orchestra will perform concerts featuring the world premiere of Hu’s new pipa concerto with Lan Weiwei as soloist. Also on the program will be the premiere of Palej’s Shan Shui Miniatures based on Chinese folk themes, and the winning pieces of the Friendship Orchestral Composition Competition. Other festival events include concerts on January 30 and February 1 of student operas based on a libretto by Michael Albano and on February 2, works by international emerging composers performed by the Ecouter Ensemble. The festival will finish on a lighter note with a modern jazz concert on Sunday February 8. The full schedule of events will be on the Faculty of Music website early in December.

Esprit Orchestra: Esprit’s January 29 concert brings us the world premiere of English composer Philip Cashian’s the world’s turning inspired by the sculptures of Stephen Vince. The visual theme continues with Icelandic composer Daniel Bjarnason’s Over Light Earth which pays tribute to painters Mark Rothko and Jackson Pollock. The program is rounded out with works by New Music Concerts’ artistic director Robert Aitken, whose Berceuse explores the balance of Yin and Yang while commemorating those “who sleep before us” and an Esprit-commissioned new work by Canadian Samuel Andreyev titled The Flash of the Instant.

Overview: And finally to finish off 2014 and move into 2015, an overview of other noteworthy new music concert events for December and January.

Canadian Music Centre: December 18 with the Toronto Guitar Society. Premiere of works by Leggatt, Oickle, Sandquist and Tse. January 13 the CMC’s 21st Century Virtuoso series presents works from Messiaen’s Catalogue d’Oiseaux and Gilles Tremblay’s Musique de l’eau performed by Ryan MacEvoy McCullough

Music Gallery Emergents Series: December 4 curated by Melody McKiver. Works by Clarinet Panic Deluxx and Cris Derksen, two cellist/composers. January 30 curated by Felicity Williams: Dan Fortin and Robin Dann/Claire Harvie.

Exultate Chamber Singers: December 5. Works by Canadian composers in their “A Canadian Noël” concert.

Spectrum Music: December 6. Concert titled “Journeys” with works for guitar and string quartet by Alex Goodman and Graham Campbell with the Ton Beau String Quartet.

Syrinx Concerts Toronto: December 7. Concert includes Stillness of the 7th Autumn by Brian Cherney

Toy Piano Composers: January 24. Concert titled “Grit” with works by Brophy, Labadie, Pearce, Puello, Tam and others. Performances by Chelsea Shanoff and Nadia Klein with the TPC Ensemble.

 group of 27: January 30. Concert includes Voyageur by Andrew Staniland.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto based composer and electro-vocal sound artist.

Back to top