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 musicgallery.org..
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. sounddreaming@gmail.com

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. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

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 (triodargento.ca).

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. sounddreaming@gmail.com.

beat - new 1The famous quote “It takes a village to raise a child” speaks to the role of shared responsibility in nurturing the next generation. We can equally apply that same axiom to the task of creating opportunities for musical imaginations to flourish and evolve. Beyond the usual educational institutions that provide the initial stages of the fertile ground, different presenters of new concert music have been stepping up to the plate for years now to take on this responsibility. So dedicated are they, that this mandate has become one of their defining attributes. Such is the case with ECM+ (Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal), and the dedicated and passionate commitment of its director Véronique Lacroix.

The ensemble was founded in 1987 by Lacroix specifically to offer young composers a playing field in which to develop their musical imaginations. Her vision was to create the kind of environment composers need so they can pursue their musical research and exploration with live musicians. “Nothing can compare to live experimentation,” she said in our conversation. “It is the only way to actually test what the composers hear in their heads and adjust their final scores according to the results of this experimentation with the musicians.” Lacroix is passionate in her commitment to composers, who are always ahead of their time and often revolutionary, she says. “Observing the complex ways they integrate the global context into their scores is a constant source of inspiration.” Lacroix’s vision led to the development of the ensemble’s distinct and unique Génération program, which is currently celebrating its 20th anniversary.

So what is so special about the Génération program that takes younger composers through a training process spanning an 18-month period of time? It begins every two years, with a rigorous selection process to choose four Canadian composers that meet artistic, demographic and gender criteria. I was impressed to see that one of these criteria was that one of the four composers was to be a woman. I had to wonder how many other presenting organizations of new music take a similar approach to their programming, given the numerous occasions we’ve all experienced where the program is all male?

Lacroix has “always been fascinated by the rich secrets of the scores I receive regularly and always wondered what is happening in a composer’s head. How can anyone imagine musical avenues as unexpected and complex as what they have written?” It is for this reason that the Génération experience began and offers so much more than a few rehearsals with the composer present. Rather, it’s an entire mentoring structure.

The composer begins their work by compiling a notebook of ideas and sketches that they bring to a series of four workshops with the ensemble. The workshops are open for anyone to attend and each audience member is given a copy of the composer’s notebook so they too can enter into a deeper engagement with the emerging creative process. At the beginning of each workshop, the audience experiences each composer giving a brief talk about their work, and a mini concert of works from each composer’s previous repertoire. Lacroix learns “as much from the composer experimentation as the composers learn from the musicians playing their score. After each workshop or Génération concert, many people tell me how instructive and even surprising the experience was for them.”

In the second year of the program, the composer and ensemble gather for a five-day residency at the Banff Centre where the pieces are rehearsed and given the final touches. The pieces are now ready for concert presentation – but not just in one location. An extended tour exposes these germinating ideas to a larger audience in a country-wide tour. This year, there will be concerts in nine Canadian cities, with the Ontario-based concerts happening in Toronto, London and Ottawa. The mentoring and audience-education activities don’t stop at the workshop stage either. At the concert, each of the composers is interviewed onstage about their piece, which is supported with musical examples from the new work. As well, in each of the tour cities, ECM+ offers reading sessions of composition student pieces, and since 2010, audiences have had a voice in selecting their favourite work through the Generation Audience Choice Award.

Throughout its 20-year history, the program has supported over 50 composers, providing many with the foundations for a successful and prize-winning career. This year’s composers include Marie-Pierre Brasset (Quebec), Alec Hall (Ontario/New York), Evelin Ramon (Cuba/ (Quebec), and Anthony Tan (Alberta/Berlin). To hear the results of these fortunate composers and their 18-month process, make sure you attend the Génération concert in Toronto on November 16 presented by New Music Concerts in their season opener. Not surprisingly, NMC, who also have a strong mandate to support Canadian composers, have been the Toronto host for every Génération tour since 2000. There is also a YouTube video that has been created which offers interviews and musical examples of each of this year’s participating composers. (Search Génération2014 on YouTube) 

beat - new 2Esprit Orchestra is another organization that nurtures the creative minds of composers. A great example of this is evident in their November 23 concert and the programming of a new commissioned work from Adam Scime. When I asked Adam how Esprit has supported him and his career, he emphasized “the importance of working within a collaborative environment with musicians who are not only exceptional in their general performance capability, but also experienced with contemporary idioms.” Thus, the composer “need not relinquish any virtuosic expressive impulses, and can create exactly what leaps from mind to page.” Esprit offers a young composer competition, and it was Scime winning this award a few years ago that led to the commissioned piece that will be performed in the upcoming November concert. This new piece is titled Rise and is inspired by how waves propagate across the ocean. Scime has split the orchestra into a stereophonic seating arrangement in order to facilitate his wave-like orchestration and colouristic effects. The other works on the program include pieces by Joji Yuasa (Japan), Douglas Schmidt (Canada) and Henri Dutilleux (France).

[Also on the topic of supporting developing work, Tapestry Opera is renowned as well for its mentoring of composers and librettists. More details of their upcoming series entitled “Booster Shots” can be read in Christopher Hoile’s column in this issue. Ed.].

Whirlwind tour: November is a busy month for new music listeners, so to begin the whirlwind tour of all that’s available, we hop over to the Kitchener-Waterloo area where the K-W Chamber Music Society is collaborating with NUMUS and the Perimeter Institute to celebrate their 40th anniversary. Their concert on November 28 titled “Igorhythms” features both the Penderecki and Lafayette string quartets along with the Perimeter Chamber Players performing works of captivating rhythms by Stravinsky, Canadian composer John Estacio and Waterloo’s master of groove Jascha Narveson. Earlier in the month on November 9, K-WCMS offers a concert of music by Canadian women composers including pieces by Alice Ho, Carol Weaver, and Larysa Kuzmenko. NUMUS is also presenting their Emerging Artist series on November 8 featuring composer/performer Nick Storring on electronics.

Thin Edge: Back in Toronto, The Thin Edge New Music Collective’s  program titled “Cuatro Esquinas” (Four Corners) combines compositions from both Argentina and Canada with guest Argentinian pianist Laura Ventemiglia and will be presented on November 6 at Gallery 345.

TCIF: On November 7, we have a co-production between the Music Gallery and the Toronto Creative Improvisers Festival in a large multi-media work pulled together by Burroughs scholar, composer and saxophonist Glen Hall entitled “Rub Out The Word: A William S. Burroughs Centennial Event.” The work combines an 11-piece orchestra, an actor, electroacoustic music and projected images along with special guests, the venerable CCMC improvising ensemble.

Four more: On November 14, Arraymusic will present several works by Irish composer Gerald Barry, including a new piece being premiered by Arraymusic pianist Stephen Clarke. Then on November 21, the fast-rising southwestern Ontario ensemble Reverb Brass presents their program of cutting-edge works entitled “Passages” at Gallery 345. On November 25 Soundstreams celebrates universal spirituality with two large choral works – both ancient and modern renditions of the traditional sunset prayer service Vespers – by Monteverdi and Canadian Gilles Tremblay. And on November 29, the Toy Piano Composers presents pieces by composers who responded to their 2014 call for works.

Individual composers often end up presenting their own works. November 18 you can hear the music of Odawa composer Barbara Croall, whose music combines influences from her indigenous heritage and her classically oriented training. “Bob@60” on November 23 celebrates over 40 years of contemporary music creation by Toronto-based composer and clarinetist Bob Stevenson. This concert will feature two ensembles which Stevenson has put together to perform some of his latest pieces, which combine his classical, improvisational and jazz influences. And finally, the Toronto premiere of composer-performer Tim Brady’s piece titled Journal: String Quartet No.2 will be presented as part of the Mooredale Concerts on November 2 featuring the New Orford String Quartet.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. She can be contacted at sounddreaming@gmail.com.

BBB-New`1As the writer of this column over the last year and a half, I’ve often brought to your attention how “music of the new” straddles all sorts of boundaries and traditional genres, moving beyond a Eurocentric concert music focus. The word “genreless” has popped up more than once. And now this month, the Music Gallery’s X Avant series is challenging us to consider the term “transculturalism” as a way to understand what’s happening with musicians from diverse backgrounds and influences who share a love and passion for playing on the edges of sound experimentation. In the previous story Andrew Timar explores how artistic director David Dacks defines transculturalism and how that sits within the evolution of the Music Gallery’s mandate. Here in this column, we’ll dig a little deeper into how this vision translates into the actual programming choices for this years’ X Avant festival, now in its ninth season.

X Avant IX:  The festival’s challenge to all of us as listeners and audience members is to look again at how and why we put music into various boxes – to question how we listen and make sense of the music before us. Beginning with the first concert on October 16, we are introduced to the music of zither and autoharp virtuoso Laraaji and his fusion of thenew age and world music categories. The description on the Music Gallery’s website for this concert speaks about the similarities between these two musical categories and also notes that new age music is on the rise while world music is on the decline. Two provocative statements, I thought. So what are the similarities between world and new age music? Laraaji’s music provides one perspective.

Laraaji first rose to international attention through his collaboration with Brian Eno, who released the strumming rhythms of Laraaji’s music on the 1980 album Day of Radiance, part three of Eno’s groundbreaking Ambient series. By introducing the sounds of hammered dulcimer and open-tuned zither we’re already moving into an acoustic soundworld distinct from the typical European concert experience and one often associated with folk or world music traditions. From this initial collaboration with Eno, Laraaji has gone on to become one of the major voices of the ambient/new age genre, but he’d rather use the term “architectonal music.” For him, it’s all about how music affects our consciousness, or the “architecture of the imagination” and how the power of sound and music acts as a “carrier wave of our intention.” These themes of a more spiritual focus are also present in the underpinnings of world music. (As for the decline of world music, I’ll get to that later.)

Laraaji will be performing solo and in collaboration with local musicians Brandon Valdivia and Colin Fisher (aka Not The Wind Not The Flag) and Scott Peterson. The entire evening, which also features Montreal kora player Diely Mori Tounkara, is co-produced with the Toronto-based Batuki Music Society, whose mandate is to promote African music and art and provide career assistance to local African-heritage artists.

BBB-New2The ambient/new age theme continues on October 17 with “Drums and Drones,” the name of a project between Brian Chase and Ursula Scherrer that was originally inspired by the light and sound installation Dream House created by minimalist icon La Monte Young and his colleague Marian Zazeela. Chase’s music explores the power of drones to affect and change brain wave states using the sound sources from drums and percussion and altering them through electronic processing and the use of the just intonation system. Scherrer’s images contribute to creating altered states of perception with abstract architectural forms created from light and shot footage. The drone state of mind is the ultimate goal of this union of sound and image. Also performing on the same evening will be Phrase Velocity, whose music combines tabla rhythms, synthesizers and pure waveforms.

It’s the events of October 18 that really bring home the theme of transculturism and the mixing up of musical styles. Beginning at 3pm, a roundtable discussion will address the question of how Canadian ethnocultural diversity affects contemporary musical composition. Then at 5pm, an interview with a key figure in the musical transculturism movement, DJ/Rupture, will uncover more about the global musical exchange between pop and classical music. These two dialogues will set the stage for the main evening concert event – the Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner, a 70-minute performance piece for two pianos, live electronics and voice focused on the music and life of Julius Eastman, a NYC-based gay African-American composer, pianist and vocalist.  Eastman’s minimalist-inspired music spanned the late 1960s into the 1980s and he was one of the first to integrate improvisation, classical quotations and pop music into his work. The performance is the brainchild of Jace Clayon (aka DJ/Rupture) who has taken on the telling of Eastman’s painful life story by reinvigorating two of Eastman’s largely forgotten compositions, and adding to the mix theatrical vignettes and material of his own. The evening concludes with a chance to dance out the cross-cultural vibrations with DJ Ushka at the Mojo Lounge.

BBB-New3Getting back to the assertion that world music is on the decline: it’s really more that the term itself is being rejected as culturally biased, highlighting as it does a distinction between the European tradition and the rest of the world. As Talking Heads founding member David Byrne argues in a New York Times article “I Hate World Music” back in 1999, all music is from planet Earth. This cause of distancing oneself from colonial notions of world music is one passionately embraced by Colombian-Canadian trickster and priestess Lido Pimienta, whose concert on October 19 will close out the X Avant festival. Pimienta promises to push the edges with her fiery orations on the issues of equality, gender roles, motherhood and cultural stereotypes: “Toronto is an international place, we are still segregated and not integrated. Patriarchy in Canada has it so we’re next to one another but not with one another,” she states. She will be joined by her musical- and visual-artist collaborators to create a hot-house evening of ritual-like performance art.

Sound and Image:
Many of the performances in the X Avant festival go beyond the blending of musical genres to also include projected images as an essential ingredient of the artistic message. Sometimes this way of working has a staggeringly long gestation period. Such is the case with Toronto experimental filmmaker Gary Popovich and his work Souvenir, which will be premiered on October 19 and 20 as the opener for Continuum Contemporary Music’s new season. Twenty years in the making, the film began with the commissioning of six Canadian composers to write music based on Gary’s ideas of the seasons of natural and human evolutionary history. Images were then selected, researched, shot, processed and finally edited all in response to a diligent and committed listening to the music by the filmmaker. This way of working with music is an acknowledgement of the power of sound when put alongside image – and a turning of the tables in the way films are usually created, with the music serving as accompaniment or support to the supremacy of the image.

Eager to hear more about this huge undertaking, I asked Popovich to walk me through the six seasons. Beginning with Winter to mark the coming into being of our universe, the film then takes the listener/viewer on a journey through the explosion of life in the Cambrian age (Spring) to the flourishing of agriculture and writing (Summer), the evolution of imperialism and conflict (Fall), a tribute to the cultural markers of the 20th century - both creative and destructive (Winter 2) – and concludes with allusions to present and future possibilities, including the birth of other universes (Spring 2). The music includes live performance by the Continuum ensemble, as well as electroacoustic composition. In all, the film is a souvenir of life on planet Earth, and what has been left behind.

NAISA: This month also welcomes the 13th annual SOUNDplay series produced by NAISA(New Adventures in Sound Art), a festival that highlights the interplay between sound, image and other new media artforms. On October 18, the theme of life cycles will be the focus of the night, offering video music screenings, interactive mobile performances and live electronic improvisation. On October 25, there will be a chance to experience how different artists respond visually to abstract sounds. Other events of the series occur on October 10 with special guest Dutch sound artist Jaap Blonk and on November 1 with a noise art performance by the live electronics duo Mugbait. On November 3, NAISA will participate in the New Music 101 series at the Toronto Reference Library, with a mobile performance walk exploring the acoustics of the library’s five-story open-concept design.

Additional Concerts and a Final Footnote:

For the early birds who see this on or before October 4, the following new music events will be part of Toronto’s annual Nuit Blanche festivities: Canadian Music Centre– a showcase of artists who integrate global traditions with new music with Suba Sankaran, Parmela Attariwala, TorQ, Deb Sinha, Ernie Tollar. NAISA Space – Hive 2.0 – a sound sculpture by Hopkins Duffield.

Esprit Orchestra opens their new season withworks by composers Thomas Adès and Charles Ives with the performers positioned in different areas of Koerner Hall, alongside works by Canadians Paul Frehner and Chris Paul Harman. October 16.

Musideum concerts: experimental turntablism (Cheldon Paterson) on October 12; two improvisation events – October 16 (Two Ninety Two) and 21 (curated by James Bailey); works by Bill Gilliam November 6.

Toronto Masque Theatre presents Stravinsky’s classic work The Soldier’s Tale October 25 and 26.

TorQ Percussion Quartet celebrates their tenth anniversary with a concert featuring repertoire favourites on November 1.

Art of Time Ensemble includes music by George Crumb in their “The Poem/The Song” performances on November 7 and 8.

Final Footnote: As I complete the finishing touches to this column, it has just been announced that Tanya Tagaq has won the Polaris Music Prize. Transculturalism and sound experimentation is alive and raising mainstream eyebrows. So much more to say on this timely topic.

Wendalyn Bartley is a Toronto-based composer and electro-vocal sound artist. She can be contacted at sounddreaming@gmail.com.


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