in with the new alex pauk 1  1 Now that september’s TIFF-induced somnolence has receded from the new music scene, October starts to take on more of the shape one might hope for, with the emergence of new ensembles, an entirely new series of instruments, a major John Cage conference, almost back-to-back Koerner concerts by two heavyweight ensembles, both celebrating their 30th anniversaries and a plethora of inventive smaller presenters taking advantage of an ever-increasing range of intimate venues far and near.

It’s a particularly nice coincidence for me to have this column kicking off the Beat by Beat section of the magazine in the very month that Richard Marsella’s Regent Park School of Music moves into its new digs in the spectacular new Regent Park Arts and Cultural Centre (this month’s cover story). It was Marsella, you see, who gave the column the name “In With The New” when he served, energetically and all too briefly, as The WholeNote’s new music columnist. I wish him, and the school, momentum and luck.

Newest of the new:It is always interesting at the start of a new season to look at ensembles at the opposite ends of the spectrum in terms of longevity — at the ones celebrating significant anniversaries and at those just embarking. In the latter category, a group called the Thin Edge Music Collective probably takes the prize as the newest of the new. This time last year the collective was nothing more than a good idea in the minds of pianist Cheryl Duvall and violinist Ilana Waniuk.

“TEMC believes that contemporary music is a powerful medium which has the ability to comment and reflect on modern society in a unique and poignant way,” their manifesto reads. “We recognize that the broad range of musical idioms which new music encompasses functions as an important touchstone for contemporary life and as such are passionately dedicated to supporting our peers through commissions and performance. Ultimately we aspire to bring innovative and challenging 20th and 21st century music to audiences both existing and as yet untapped.”

By spring of 2012, following a Banff Centre residency with Toronto composer Tova Kardonne, they had mounted an inaugural concert, aptly titled “Premieres,” featuring five newly composed works by emerging Canadian composers: Margaret Ashburner, Aura Giles, August Murphy-King, Nick Storring and Kardonne.

Composer/cellist Storring joins them again October 6 for a concert titled “Unusual Spectrum” featuring works by Sokolovic, Bolton, Nobles, J. TV and Storring himself. And the works are not the only thing “unusual” about the event. The venue (The Placebo Space, Apt. A at 1409 Bloor St.W.) is as unfamiliar to us as Gallery 345 was a handful of years ago. For the other three programs in their 2012/13 season, they will take their act to a range of intimate venues across our catchment area: to Gallery 345 and Hamilton’s Artword Artbar November 22 and 25 respectively; back to Gallery 345 in February; and across town to the Tapestry/Nightwood New Work Studio in the Distillery District in June. As Amici did, a quarter of a century ago, TEMC seems to have cottoned on to the fact that commissioning works for larger combinations of instruments, along with themselves, can be the path to building relationships and bridges as they go. Percussion and cello, accordion and flute already feature in this year’s series plans.

in with the new lawrence cherney and r. murray schafer at soundstreams salon 21Bohlen-Pierce: Speaking of the newest of the new, it’s not often that entirely new instruments come along and even less common when the instruments in question have the potential to reshape entirely the way composers write and audiences listen. So circle Tuesday October 9, 8pm, (at Gallery 345) for a lecture/recital by Nora-Louise Muller on the Bohlen-Pierce Clarinet which, according to its its Toronto maker, master clarinet builder Stephen Fox, is designed to produce “an exotic sequence of tones providing numerous consonant intervals and hence the promise of extensive musical possibilities to those willing to explore non-traditional sounds.” There’s nothing random about it, though. The Bohlen-Pierce Scale, according to Fox “uses an alternative musical system which divides the perfect twelfth into 13 steps.”

This Bohlen-Pierce clarinet project began in 2003, with the goal of designing and building clarinet-type instruments — soprano, tenor and contra — for the purpose of exploring and demonstrating the musical potential of the concept. The premiere concert involving Bohlen-Pierce clarinets took place at the University of Guelph on March 20, 2008, presenting newly composed works by Owen Bloomfield and Todd Harrop, and “future plans involve holding an international composition competition for Bohlen-Pierce instruments.”

New ensemble: Saturday October 27 at Heliconian Hall, the Toy Piano Composers collective unveils something new too, namely its own ensemble. Hence the concert’s title:We Started a Band.” Featuring works by TPC members Brophy, Floisand, Guechtal, Pearce, Ryan and Thornborrow, the concert also will also unveil the TPC Ensemble: Katherine Watson, flute; Anthony Thompson, clarinet; Sharon Lee, violin;Adam Scime, double bass; Daniel Morphy, percussion; and Wesley Shen on piano and toy piano. Watch for the five-year-old collective to flourish as familiarity with a versatile group of core players breeds content.

Soundstreams and Esprit: It’s hard not to draw parallels between two of Toronto’s most venerable presenters this month. Both are 30 years old this season. Both have been led by one individual since their inception (Lawrence Cherney at Soundstreams, Alex Pauk at Esprit). Both opted early on to take the gamble of upsizing their previous venues and moving their main series to Koerner Hall. Soundtreams launches its Koerner season October 11. Esprit follows October 14. Both will feature new commissions by Murray Schafer, himself striding towards an important anniversary in the spring. But the superficial similarities obscure the fact that the two events promise to be as different as one might imagine, reflecting two very different, if equally single-minded, visions.

The October 11 Soundstreams event offers a veritable smorgasbord of performers, drawn from a wide range of sources specifically for this event. Among them: David Fallis and Joaquin Valdepeñas, conductors; Ryan Scott, percussion; Shannon Mercer, soprano; Julie Ranti, flute; Choir 21; the Gryphon Trio; and NEXUS, in works by Frehner, Llugdar, Pärt; Fuhong Shi and Schafer. Cherney’s presence as artistic director will be almost entirely behind the scenes, evidenced in the careful shaping of the event.

October 14, at the Esprit concert, the surprise will not be in the players, the vast majority of whom are the backbone of the orchestra, appearing year in, year out in almost every Esprit event. Pauk will lead from the front, on the conductor’s podium and the overall thrust will be much more strongly large scale, as befits Canada’s only orchestra solely dedicated to the commissioning and performance of new orchestral works. Schafer’s new work for the concert is titled Wolf Returns, and will feature along with the orchestra a chorus drawn from participants over the years in Schafer’s annual summer Haliburton wilderness project, And Wolf Shall Inherit the Moon.

Works by Esprit perennial composers John Rea, Alexina Louie, Iannis Xenakis and Colin McPhee will round out the event, and Schafer himself will be there in the lobby for the official launch, and signing, of his newly released memoir, My Life On Earth and Elsewhere.

All too briefly: the above barely scratches the surface of an extraordinarily rich month of music which also includes the following, each in its way worthy of an article all on its own (and all referenced in our listings so that you can begin supplying for yourself the missing details in this hasty list):

October 25 4:00 to October 28 1:30: Jackman Humanities Institute, University of Toronto. Future of Cage: Credo. A spectacular conference to mark the 100th birthday of composer John Cage, featuring performances, panel discussions, keynote addresses, lectures and installations. “This interdisciplinary conference is both a celebration of John Cage, 100 years after his birth, and an opportunity to explore Cage’s influence on music, writing, performance and critical scholarship,” says their press release. “Fundamental to the development of innovations in performance art, contemporary music, graphic notation, audience reception and theories of social practice, Cage remains one of the most, if not the most, influential figures in 20th- and 21st-century art and performance. Such a legacy necessarily resonates beyond any single artistic or historical trajectory, and “The Future of Cage: Credo” will explore not only Cage’s output, both artistic and philosophical, but its after-effects through a variety of fields, genres and modes of presentation.”

Monday October 22 8:00: Continuum Contemporary Music. Finding Voice. “Another season of musical and extra musical exploration: influential works reconceived, new works on their way to being influential, revelatory performances, discussion among friends new and old” starts with a concert featuring, at its outset, an old friend of ther ensemble, Dutch composer Martijn Voorvelt and rivetting mezzo soprano Marion Newman. “Finding Voice” is a concert of vocal music about the voice and about communicating. It is also about history, the past given contemporary voice.”

Friday October 12 to Friday October 19: Music Gallery. X Avant New Music Festival VII: Expanding Circuits. Fortunately fellow columnist Andrew Timar has turned some of his erudite attention to this event, in World Music on page 28 and the Music Gallery’s own website gives a very detailed overview of a boundary-testing event that goes from strength to strength every year.

Friday October 19 8:00: Arraymusic. The Poets. A mix of words and music by poets and members of Arraymusic. Fides Krucker, mezzo; Phoebe Tsang, violin; Lydia Munchinsky, cello; Stephen Clarke, piano; Nilan Perera, guitar; Rick Sacks, percussion. and Ideas Studio, 980 O’Connor Dr., 416-778-7535. $10; $20(workshop and evening concert, see listings section A, Oct.13 at 8:00). 

David Perlman has been writing this column for the past season and a bit and is willing to entertain the notion that it’s someone else’s turn. He can be reached at

To have lasted more than 40 years, any musical organization must be doing something worthwhile. To do so under the same leadership is even more remarkable. Flutist/composer/conductor/teacher Robert Aitken has been at the helm of New Music Concerts since its inception in 1971 and when the lights go up on NMC’s September 23 season opener at the Betty Oliphant Theatre all the trademarks of Aitken’s NMC stewardship will still be on display.

I will return to the topic of NMC later in this column. But September 23 is, after all, well into the month. And unlike some years when Toronto’s new music presenters step deferentially aside till the Toronto International Film Festival train has roared through town, this year, the city’s contemporary music presenters are managing to maintain, if not a roar of their own, at least a very healthy murmur of new music throughout the month, right from the get go.

26 new robertaitken 1 photo by andre leducINTERSection: On Saturday September 1 for instance, Intersection hits Yonge-Dundas Square from 2pm to 10pm. Previously dubbed the Toronto New Music Marathon, this sixth annual installment of the event, hosted by Contact Contemporary Music, will feature on its main stage, among others, New York’s Bang on a Can All-Stars, an ensemble Contact artistic director Jerry Pergolesi considers to be his own ensemble’s most important influence. The following day, Sunday September 2, Bang on a Can and Contact will take their act to the intimate surrounds of the Music Gallery for a concert titled “Ambient2 — The Music of Brian Eno.” Bang on a Can will perform their groundbreaking arrangement of Brian Eno’s classic ambient record, Music for Airports, with film by Frank Scheffer, and Contactwill perform their arrangement of Eno’s Discreet Music, with film by New York artist Suzanne Bocanegra. 

Special as that more intimate September 2 event may turn out to be, it’s the Saturday Yonge-Dundas affair that is at the heart of INTERsection’s special role in kicking off the new music season. The eight to ten hours in Yonge-Dundas Square bring new music to new ears, throwing up all kinds of interesting sonic juxtapositions, some intended, some accidental, as part of the merry mix. You will find this mix both on the main stage and in the event’s “Marketplace,” which features booths by organizations involved in new music. You never know what you will find. For example, at The WholeNote booth, if you are the first one at the event to actually wave this article in my face and point to this paragraph, I will arrange for you two tickets to any one of the concerts mentioned in this column! (For more detail on INTERsection, visit

Gallery 345: From Yonge-Dundas on the Saturday and the Music Gallery on the Sunday, the new music action then shifts to Gallery 345 on Monday September 3 where Canadian pianist Vicky Chow, a Bang on a Can ensemble member since 2009, lays on an evening of new music of breathtaking variety and scope. Dubbed “a monster pianist” by Time Out New York and “one of the new stars of new music” by the Los Angeles Times, Chow, according to her bio, “also produces and curates ‘Contagious Sounds,’ a new music series focusing on adventurous contemporary artists and composers at the Gershwin Hotel in New York City.”

It will come as no surprise to readers who followed this column last season that Gallery 345 is hitting the ground running, right from the beginning of September. Including Chow on September 3, I counted no fewer than six concerts at Gallery 345 that would qualify for a NNN (Triple N for New) rating in this column, along with a whole handful of others where healthy doses of new music are intermixed with other repertoire.

Friday September 7, for example, it’s the German-born accordion/piano duo DUO+for+CANADA (Ina Henning and Stefan Schreiber) in a program of works by Ives, Kagel, Anna Höstman, Lan-Chee Lam, Andrew Staniland and Hans Joachim Hespos. And on Friday September 21 it’s a program titled “Alone: Contemporary Work for Solo Clarinet and Bass Clarinet,” performed by clarinettist/bass clarinettist Bob Stevenson. The versatile Stevenson has been active in the new music community since the early 70s, including a stint as artistic director of ArrayMusic. His September 21 program (George Perle, Salvatore Sciarrino, Alexander Goehr, Pierre Boulez, Daniel Foley, James Tenney, Elliott Carter and Vernon Duke/Ira Gershwin) only partially reflects the wide-ranging versatility of this interesting player.

And there’s more: “The Art of the Duo Piano” with Piano Pinnacle (composer/pianist Iman Habibi and pianist Deborah Grimmett) on Saturday September 22; and a program titled “Ballades From The North” by pianist/composer Adam Sherkin on Sunday September 30, that ranges from Hétu, Saariaho and Sherkin himself, to Chopin, Barber and Liszt.

Appetite whetted? Visit for details on all these, and much more besides.

26 inwiththenew james rolfe  no credit From Gallery to Gallery: Heading back towards town from 345 Sorauren to Queen and John, Sunday September 2’s Contact/Bang on a Can concert is not the only noteworthy early September event at the Music Gallery. As part of an initiative they are dubbing The Post-Classical Series, September 8 is the date for a concert titled “The Canadian Art Song Project.” The concert features William Shakespeare – Five Shakespeare Songs (2002) by Colin Eatock (recently released as a CD), Beloved (2005) by James Rolfe and Dennis Lee, and a work titled The Colour Blue by Erik Ross/Lorna Crozier. Performing will be two stellar alumnae of the COC’s Ensemble Studio, both now mainstage regulars, soprano Virginia Hatfield and mezzo-soprano Lauren Segal. Gregory Oh, the Music Gallery’s post-classical curator, accompanies.

The Canadian Art Song project, according to information from the Music Gallery, was founded by tenor Lawrence Wiliford and pianist Steven Philcox, to advocate for the performance of Canadian song repertoire. It’s an initiative we’ll be keeping an eye on.

The involvement of tenor Wiliford and composer Rolfe in the project also serves as a neat segue back to the September 23 launch of New Music Concerts’ 42nd season, because Rolfe will have two works on the NMC program, the second of which will be sung by Wiliford.

“I met Lawrence when he sang a role in the COC’s production of my Swoon in 2006 — he was part of their ensemble,” recalls Rolfe. He was a great presence vocally and dramatically; he later sang with the Toronto Masque Theatre in their revival of Orpheus and Eurydice in 2010. Beloved was premiered in 2006 by Toca Loca, who commissioned the piece, courtesy of Greg Oh, their co-artistic director. (Nice that he’s accompanying them this time too.)”

The first Rolfe work on the NMC program, Worry,which opens the concert, was written in 2001. The second, Winter Songs (2012), is an original NMC commission. “Worry was a Continuum commission originally” says Rolfe. “They put together an 8-cello show, and Mark Fewer played the solo violin part. They also issued a CD of that program. Curiously, this is my very first commission from NMC, and their first performance of any piece of mine, though I think I’ve been performed by everyone else in Toronto. Never too late!”

Though he hasn’t been on NMC’s programs, Rolfe is no stranger to NMC’s concerts. “I have attended many of their shows since coming to Toronto in 1979, including some with personal appearances by the greats: Cage, Berio, Xenakis, Andriessen, many others. I think Bob [Aitken] forged a vital connection to the wider new music world, one which helped me develop my own work and aesthetic.”

Talking to Aitken briefly on the phone in preparing this column, we joked a bit about the numerology of the fact that this is NMC’s 42nd season. “The bible says that seven fat years are always followed by seven lean ones, so you’re going into the last of seven lean years,” I told him. True to the man, what it sparked from him was reflections on the difference in curatorial approach when budgets are tight, for example, programming concerts that are built around repeated clusters of instruments— such as this one, where cellos, solo or multiple, feature in all but one of the works. But with Aitken the financial tail doesn’t wag the artistic dog. Expect a concert as carefully crafted as any, and here’s to the return of the fat years!

David Perlman has been writing this column for the past season and a bit, and is willing to entertain the notion that it’s someone else’s turn. He can be reached at

Let me say at the outset that it has been a great pleasure to have had custodianship of this column for the past season, not least because it has drawn me out to a considerably broader range of musical events than I would, by default, have tended toward. I think this is because human nature is both inherently spiritual and very timid. Most of us, individually, hunger musically for some highly personal mixture of continuity and change — enough of the former so that we itch for the latter; enough of the latter to able to listen fresh, over and over again, to the tried and true.

I had an interesting chat, June 20, for The WholeNote’s video series, with Josh Grossman, whose own musical practices and pursuits are an interesting amalgam. He is, as you may know, the artistic director of Toronto Downtown Jazz, long-time presenter of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival, and the founder/artistic director of the Toronto Jazz Orchestra. (And the video chat is mostly about these aspects of what he does.) But he has also been for five years or so, involved administratively with Continuum Contemporary Music, one of the city’s most consistently innovative new music ensembles, and as far from his jazz roots, at least at first glance, as you might imagine. In the last five or six minutes of our conversation, he talked a bit about where the two passions intersect. Jazz, his first and abiding musical love, gives him a frame of reference (albeit not necessarily the “right one”) for listening to a genre that for him is less visceral and immediate. But his work in new music has given him a much stronger perspective on where the two musics most clearly intersect, in the realm of improvisation. And, more mundane but no less important, he is better able to see how jazz and new music both must struggle endlessly upward on mainstream music’s relentless down escalator. Consequently, he can see ways for the them to collaborate on a whole range of sensible topics, such as space sharing and building various common resources. Have a listen to the chat. It is one of a number of such conversations with musically interesting people accruing on our YouTube site (

Still on the topic of intersections is the annual new music festival/event that actually goes by that name. It’s awfully early to be talking about it now (it takes place in and around the September 1 weekend). But if I don’t give it a decent plug now, it will fall through the cracks of this column. Intersectionsis an annual event, brainchild of Contact Contemporary Music’s Jerry Pergolesi, that centres, first Saturday of September, on Yonge-Dundas Square, Toronto’s mother of all intersections.

For a venue that thrives on such mass spectacles as rock band singers being crowd-surfed in hamsterballs by screaming fans lined up in the tens of thousands, a new music marathon requiring a certain amount of focused listening seems a bit of a stretch. But in the interplay between people’s usual expectations for the venue, and what Intersections brings to the place, the sparks can fly. Well-supported by Toronto’s New Music presenters and fellow travellers such as The WholeNote, there’s much in the event to see and hear, onstage and in the temporary new music marketplace that will dot the square.

And since we are on the subject of outdoor venues, a tip of the hat to Tamara Bernstein, mentioned also in our cover story, who curates another of Toronto’s signature outdoor series namely Harbourfront’s Summer Music in the Garden, at the foot of Spadina Avenue. “By now you should have received Harbourfront’s media release about this year’s Summer Music in the Garden,” she writes. “I just wanted to follow up with a more focussed list of the new music on this summer’s roster, as it’s a very rich season in that regard, with performances ranging from Rick Sacks’ playful “En Bateau,” to a new work from Linda C. Smith inspired by the baroque tune “La Folia” (“madness”) and music by David Mott inspired by the Toronto skyline, to world premieres by Norbert Palej, and Carina Reeves, and works by Michael Oesterle (two works!), Katia Tiutiunnik, Eric km Clark (b. 1981), Emily Doolittle (b. 1972) and Kevin Lau.”

What Bernstein has observed, and indeed helped to inspire, is the extent to which the summer itself encourages performers and audiences alike, to modify their usual balance of continuity and change, to indulge the unexpected, to linger longer at unfamiliar intersections of sound. Consult the GTA Listings in this issue (Thursdays and Sundays) for Bernstein’s intriguing take on where the familiar and the new best intersect when summer’s spirit of adventure is in the air.

You may recall that last month I talked about New Adventures in Sound Art as an organization walking a compositional and artistic tightrope, somewhere at the intersection between music and noise. No coincidence that the summer is one of their favourite seasons. Too late for our listings, but too good to overlook came word of this summer’s NAISA activities. So I recommend that you visit for a comprehensive overview of their doings, including their annual Toronto Island installation, this year featuring a piece called Synthecycltron by Barry Prophet, their Sound Travels Festival of Sound Art August 4 to 31, 2012, and this year including the Toronto Electroacoustic Symposium (August 13 to 18). 

David Perlman has been, for this past season, the patroller of The WholeNote’s new music beat. He can be contacted at


“Sound art” is a performance genre, I think it’s safe to say, that will not ring bells, tuned or otherwise, for the majority of readers of The WholeNote. “We are, as a culture, obsessed with the new,” says blogger John Terauds in a recent entertaining post at, “but it takes only the shallowest scratch on the surface to discover that what we all seek is comfort and continuity — flowers, sunsets, barbequed ribs, cheesecake and a bit of Mozart.”

new_darren_copelandMost of us, maybe, but all? Two mid-career contemporary composers in our midst, both being honoured with significant awards this month, Darren Copeland and Brian Current, would doubtless disagree.

Composer Copeland is probably best known in the new music community as the inspiration for New Adventures In Sound Art (NAISA). NAISA, as their website explains, is a non-profit organization, based at Toronto’s Wychwood Barns, that “produces performances and installations spanning the entire spectrum of electroacoustic and experimental sound art … to foster awareness and understanding … in the cultural vitality of experimental sound art in its myriad forms of expression … through the exploration of new sound technologies in conjunction with the creation of cultural events and artifacts.”

Mind you, Copeland would probably not object to being told that what he does “isn’t music.” In fact you’ll search long and hard for the M-word on NAISA’s own website (among such other terms as noise art performance, soundscape composition, multi-channel spatialization and layered listening excursion). Copeland is nevertheless an associate composer with the Canadian Music Centre, and just this month was selected to receive the Harry Freedman Recording Award by a national jury. Named for a pioneering Canadian composer, the award contributes towards the creative costs associated with making an audio recording of Canadian composers’ music, and is administered by the Canadian Music Centre. In Copeland’s case the award goes toward the recording of his piece called Bats and Elephants which will be published by empreintes DIGITALes. The award will be presented at a performance of the piece, at Gallery 345 on June 23.

The work has an interesting premise: humans can’t hear the full range of sounds uttered by bats or elephants unless these sounds are transposed within the range of human hearing (at which point they start to take on the identity of other animal species, such as birds). Copeland and his guest Hector Centeno play with this concept, using echo-location, the way bats do, to bounce sounds, from two hyper-directional speakers, off the Gallery’s walls. It’s a neat variation on the philosophical question posed at the outset of the column: when does a squeak become a song? Or a bellow turn into a bassline? Or noise into music? I suspect that the answer has as much to do with the tuning of the ears of the listener as the tuning of the frequencies from the source. It should make for a fascinating event.

(A brief digression before moving on to talk about our other award winner, Brian Current: it is entirely unsurprising to me that the Copeland concert is taking place at Gallery 345 — the “little gallery that could” just keeps chugging away with one playfully provocative event after another: “Composers Play” (including the aforementioned Brian Current) Friday June 1; “40 years of Foley” on Sunday June 3; “Art of the Piano” with R. Andrew Lee on June 4; the Architek Percussion Quartet on June 6; astonishing violinist Conrad Chow in his debut CD release concert, June 28; … the list goes on.)

Now, to Current. Just today (May 29) the Canada Council for the Arts announced that seven “mid-career arts innovators” were being honoured with Victor Martyn Lynch-Staunton Awards. The prize carries a $15,000 cash award so it’s “not nuthin,” as these things go. “Sculptor Valérie Blass; contemporary dancer Nova Bhattacharya; interdisciplinary artist Manon De Pauw; playwright, actor and director Denis Lavalou; composer and conductor Brian Current; poet Sylvia Legris; and filmmaker and multimedia artist Graeme Patterson are this year’s winners” the announcement goes. “These seven artists are pushing the envelope in their respective disciplines and are definitely seven to watch” said Canada Council director and CEO Robert Sirman.

Given our focus, Current is the one of the seven we’ve been watching this year, both as a composer and as the conductor of the Royal Conservatory’s New Music Ensemble. His composing and conducting seem to feed off each other. Given the economics of concert music, few contemporary composers get to write for large ensembles; fewer still get the opportunity to explore, using other composers’ works, the creative energy that a composer can alternately harness and unleash in a large ensemble. Some of you may have caught parts of his 2009, 12-hour, 200-person installation-performance of James Tenney’s In a Large Open Space, at the opening of the Conservatory’s new Koerner Hall, or taken in his students’ performance, in the dark, of G.F. Haas’s In Vain last December.

It was while doing some research on Current in the context of this award that I stumbled across the comment from Terauds’ blog with which I started this column. (The blog in question was about Current’s and Anton Piatigorsky’s recently completed chamber opera Airline Icarus).

“It’s no surprise that today’s composers feel … compelled towards the new, the unexplored, the unusual,” Terauds went on to say. “In his recently published memoir, Unheard Of, Toronto composer John Beckwith mentions at least a half-dozen times how he tried to not repeat himself in a new work. It’s a mantra for most contemporary composers. It’s also something I’ve heard many times from the musicians devoted to commissioning and performing new music. But there are two prices to pay for this fetish for the new, I think: Superficiality on the part of the composer, and alienation on the part of a potential audience. … So what does a composer do? Either give in and write film scores, or concert pieces at which serious critics will turn up their noses, or bravely go where their instincts and sense of adventure lead them. It’s a crazy tightrope that, most days, is actually quite thrilling to walk.”

Every living composer must discover his or her own balancing act, on this tightrope between superficiality and alienation. Arguably no one has done a better job of it than Philip Glass, whose Einstein on the Beach is undoubtedly one of the musical talking points of this year’s Luminato. One has only to think of the final aria in his life-of-Ghandi opera Satyagraha where the same eight-note phrase is repeated, but where you’d be hard pressed to persuade a mesmerized audience that all they had listened to was mi fa so la ti do re mi (in the scale of C, no less), 30 times in a row.

One of the truly festive things Luminato does, by the way, is to surround a work of art with opportunities to immerse in the context in which the work arose. Check out our ETCetera listings, on page 44, for example, for some of the screenings and colloquia that will surround the opera itself. And, perhaps best of all, the final moment in the festival will be an outdoor performance by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, in David Pecaut Square, featuring a performance of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, paired with the premiere of a new work by Glass, titled The 2012 Overture.

There’s a shiny intelligence in the idea of it, one has to say. How new the adventure in sound art turns out to be, time will surely tell.

David Perlman has been, for this past season, the patroller of The WholeNote’s new music beat. He can be contacted at

Sometimes by may the new music season is starting to sputter a bit. But not this year. Thanks in part to an astonishing number of events at the two “Galleries” there’s no shortage of sonic solace for adventurous ears. But even without Gallery 345 and the Music Gallery, there is much on offer. The season it seems is going out like a lion.

24_forty_years_of_foley_24Once again, music theatre columnist Robert Wallace, has scooped me on a story with serious new music credentials, Coleman Lemieux & Compagnie’s From the House of Mirth which runs, with various start times, May 9 to 13. (Wallace’s treatment of the show starts on page 15.) Of particular interest for this column are the Rodney Sharman/Alex Poch-Goldin score and libretto. My awareness of composer Rodney Sharman’s work in the genre goes back to the opera Elsewhereless, with Atom Egoyan in 1999. Librettist Poch-Goldin comes to mind, most immediately, for his work with composer Omar Daniel in The Shadow, probably the most striking full-length work of Tapestry New Opera’s 2009 season. Both Elsewhereless and The Shadow, in fact, are the product of partnerships that were struck in Tapestry’s unique composer/librettist laboratory — the “LibLab” as it is called — and came into being through numerous iterations over an extended period of time.

It’s not surprising, therefore, to see another Tapestry alumna, composer Abigail Richardson, drafted for a recent “wordy” Toronto Symphony Orchestra commission. “The Hockey Sweater,” based on the iconic Roch Carrier short story, will premiere Saturday May 12 at the child-friendly hour of 1:30pm, with Carrier himself delivering the text. Richardson’s compositional ability to stick-handle music and text is well earned. With librettist Marjorie Chan, she won a 2009 Dora Award for outstanding new musical/opera for Sanctuary Song, inspired by the true story of an elderly elephant’s journey to freedom. While the show officially “premiered” at the 2008 Luminato festival it too went through successive Tapestry-fostered stages of development after Chan and Richardson first met at “LibLab” in 2003.

CONTINUUM: Returning, for a moment, though, to Coleman Lemieux: Laurence Lemieux’s name caught my eye a second time while working on this month’s column, in the context of yet another interesting, musically significant show coming to the 918 Bathurst Centre, which is rapidly coming into its own as an alternative venue for ambitiously scaled productions. In the fall, 918 Bathurst hosted bcurrent’s production of Nicole Brooks’ Obeah Opera, profiled in the November WholeNote. Now, from May 27 to May 29, it will be home to Continuum Contemporary Music’sContes pour enfants pas sages: 8 cautionary entertainments.” (Caution: The middle two of the four performances are daytime school shows.) “Contes” is billed as “wisdom and bewilderness from the animal kingdom: a multi-layered, multi-media setting of all eight fables of French poet Jacques Prévert by Canadian composer Christopher Butterfield.” Not surprisingly the British Columbia-born Butterfield has other operatic and multi-media fare under his composing belt. During 15 years as a performance artist in Toronto, he played in a rock band (Klo) and worked as a freelance composer and conductor.

It is not surprising to see Lemieux involved in the project, either. For one thing she and Butterfield have collaborated extensively before. For another, the show’s combination of zany edginess and potentially cumbersome large forces (Choir 21, Continuum Ensemble, tenor, soprano, light show) make it a perfect challenge for Lemieux’s deftness at mise-en-scene. David Fallis, no mean musical traffic cop either, will conduct.

While on the subject of Continuum, I should also point out that at time of writing there are still two of the four “New Music 101” Monday evening events to go (May 7 and May 14) and Continuum is “at bat” during the May 7 event, along with Contact Contemporary Music. Jointly presented by the Toronto New Music Alliance and the Toronto Reference Library, and hosted by writer/critic Robert Everett-Green, the two music presenters bringing works to each lecture/demonstration as often as not bring slices of works in progress. So no guarantees, but attendees at the May 7 event might just get a sneak preview of Continuum’s ambitious new work.

Contact Contemporary Music also has a show this month, May 12 at the Music Gallery, titled “Short Stories,” and billed as “an exploration of the symbiotic relationship between sound and vision, from narrative to abstract storytelling.” Expect some insight into that one, too.

And speaking of the Music Gallery, check our listings (or their website), for Saturday May 5, Monday May 7 and Tuesday May 15, all at 8pm, for three events, two of them with out-of-town partners, reflective of the Gallery’s mission and mandate.

CHORAL TO THE FORE: One of these years someone better qualified than I will do a thesis on the subject of the role choirs and choral music play in keeping a culture of contemporary classical and post-classical composing alive. So in honour of The WholeNote’s tenth annual choral Canary Pages, here’s a head-spinningly dense list (the “Begats” we call them round here) illustrative of this choral/new symbiosis: May 5 at 7:30pm, Toronto Children’s Chorus’ “Mystery and Mastery” includes works by Daley, Halley and Patriquin; May 5 at 8pm, Da Capo Chamber Choir presents “Celebrating Home,” including works by Schafer, Chatman and other Canadian composers; May 5 at 2pm, King Edward Choir presents “Feathers on the Page” the world premiere of a commission by playwright/composer Leslie Arden; May 7 at 7:30pm, the Elmer Iseler Singers’ “Get Music! Educational Outreach Concert” is largely built on Canadian works; May 12 at 8pm, Bell’Arte Singers present “Communal: Ways of Being” including a newly commisioned work by Sirett; also May 12 at 8pm, Oriana Women’s Choir’s “Earth, Air & Water” includes works by Telfer, Smallman, Daley and Watson Henderson and premiered works by Barron and Sawarna; May 13 at 4pm, the Canadian Men’s Chorus’ “Out of the Depths: An Exploration of Sacred Music” offers Murray’s Book of Lamentations (a world premiere); May 16 at 7:30pm: Toronto Choral Society presents “Civic Spirits,” song and story inspired by Toronto’s ghost tales including a Finley premiere and other new works; June 2 at 7:30pm, Mississauga Children’s Choir’s “City Scapes” comprises music exploring sounds and sights of modern cities including a new work by M. Coghlan; June 2 at 8pm, Jubilate Singers “A World in Canada” is built on music by Canadian composers with various cultural influences, including Glick, Raminsh, Robinovitch and others.

All that being said, I’ve not mentioned perhaps the nerviest new music choral offering of the lot, namely a performance in Waterloo, Saturday May 5 at 8pm, of Christine Duncan’s Element Choir. The ensemble sometimes consists of 75 singers or more, augmented by percussion, bass, trumpet and organ. For those who think that “choral” and “improvisational” go together about as well as a fish and a bicycle, this is a performance not to be missed. “With these extraordinary sonic resources in these capable hands, the Element Choir promises to be a spectacular experience, a joyful celebration of the human voice in creative music” says NUMUS’ own blurb about the event. And they’re probably right.

GALLERY 345: last, I want to return to a topic I started the “regular” season with: kudos to Gallery 345 at 345 Sorauren. Between Friday May 4 and Sunday June 3, I count no fewer than ten events (May 4, 9, 11, 13, 22, 24, 25 and 26, and June 1 and 3), that are likely to be of interest to readers of this column.

Again, check our listings for details, or scroll the Gallery 345 website. It’s very functional. You will find yourself viewing in microcosm the astonishing range of performances and events that keep the new music scene ticking along. I will single out only one, because it exemplifies the aspect of community that places like Gallery 345 serve to foster: Sunday June 3, at 8pm, in celebration of composer Daniel Foley’s 60th birthday, Gallery 345 presents “40 Years of Foley” featuring chamber works by Daniel Foley composed over the past four decades, in celebration of his 60th birthday, and performed by the likes of Robert Aitken and Dianne Aitken, flutes; Scott Good, trombone; Joseph Petric, accordion; Trio Poulet (violin, cello, piano); Tiina Kiik, accordion; Richard Herriott, piano; and others. The event is free.

David Perlman can be reached at

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