Ian Cusson. Photo by John AranoIn early December of 2018, the Canadian Opera Company announced that Ian Cusson had been newly appointed composer-in-residence. A composer of Métis heritage, his work has largely focused on writing vocal music – both art song and opera – as well as orchestral music. Currently he is in residence with the National Arts Centre Orchestra and will begin this new appointment at the COC in August 2019. I spoke with him about what this new position will mean for him, and also about the broader issues he explores in his creative work. Being composer-in-residence will not only offer the opportunity to compose an opera for the COC, but also the opportunity for an inside look at the inner workings of an opera company: observing and participating in rehearsals for main productions; as well as observing vocal coaching and diction sessions. The commissioned opera will be a 50-minute work with librettist Colleen Murphy whom he met this past summer during Tapestry Opera’s Composer-Librettist Laboratory. They connected so well that Cusson invited her to participate in this opera project that will be geared towards families and young audiences. It will be a lively adventure story, he says, based on an urban tale of two young people trying to rescue a mother who has been taken captive.

On March 5, three of Cusson’s vocal works will be presented at the COC’s noon-hour Vocal Series held in the large Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre lobby space. The first work will be a song cycle for mezzo and piano quintet, Five Songs on poems of Marilyn Dumont, a Cree/Metis poet from Edmonton, and sung by mezzo Marion Newman, whose heritage combines Kwagiulth and Stó:lo First Nations, English, Irish and Scottish. The other two works on the program will be sung by Marjorie Maltais, with Cusson at the piano: J’adore les orages, a concert aria with text by Michel Marc Bouchard; and the premiere of Le Récital des anges, a song cycle based on poems of Émile Nelligan, a Quebecois poet whose life straddled the end of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

For Cusson, finding the natural dramatic arc within the texts he is working with is key, and he makes it a priority to write for the specific singer who will be performing the piece. “I have a great respect for singers and their ability to use their bodies in front of people, and I keep the fact that they are human beings, not machines, in mind while writing,” he said. He chooses to work with texts that are in either English or French, the two languages he speaks. He feels it’s essential for him to know the specific cadences of the language he is working with in order to write well for the voice.

He is also drawn to working with Indigenous texts and stories from his own tradition, seeing this as both an opportunity and a challenge. One topic we explored more deeply was how he approached integrating his classical background with his Métis heritage. He spoke about his current orchestral project, Le Loup de Lafontaine, to be performed by the National Arts Centre Orchestra in late September, and based on a particular personal story from his own community. “As I’m writing it, I’m thinking of the fiddle tradition – how it’s used and how it could exist or be referenced within a larger orchestral piece. This is the most direct connection I’ve had to my own Metis tradition in my composing.” In the past, one key way he has approached Indigenous culture is through texts and story and he has incorporated one such story in this piece. It tells of “a wolf coming to town and terrorizing farmers and people from a community comprised of Métis, First Nations and French settlers, none of whom communicate with each other. Although the wolf is killed in the end, the animal succeeds in bringing the community together.”

This question of integrating Indigenous tradition and classical concert music requires Cusson to think deeply both about how those stories are being told, and about what story his own participation tells. “It sounds wonderful to create an Indigenous opera,” he says, “but as you move into that work, many questions start to reveal themselves, such as the depiction and representation of people, and what it will sound like.”

Many of these pressures are internal and self-imposed. “I want to do this successfully and in a way that honours and doesn’t demean. It takes a process and appropriate consultation, patience, conversation, learning and growing. I’ve been doing that, and will probably continue for the rest of my life, as I think about how to create works within this classical tradition that touch on very difficult, sensitive, painful places, and often involving people who are still alive and have been traumatized by events in the past.”

So the question becomes, what stories should be put on stage, and how should they be told? “These are very complex questions with no quick answers. Also, it’s important to become more aware of the protocols and processes related to specific types of traditional music, like ceremonial songs for example, which are only to be sung at specific times, by specific people, for specific purposes, and not by anyone else. I’m also learning about this, especially within other Indigenous traditions that are not my own. There are many different nations and they all have different processes and protocols.”

Coming up in February, Cusson will be participating in a special ten-day gathering at the Banff Centre for the Arts that will bring together various Indigenous musicians involved in classical music. The goal is twofold: first to have some co-creation time together and second, to think through best practices and protocols for artistic companies, presenters and other artists, when working with Indigenous musicians. “It will be an opportunity to think through how things are, where things could go, and how we can be a part of leading that,” Cusson said. The goal is to come out of this meeting with a tangible document that will outline starting places for the entire classical musical community who want to have better information on how to integrate and support Indigenous culture in their concert productions and creative works. “What are the good steps we can take to insure that we are making well-informed projects that are acts of reconciliation? This seems to be missing in a formal sense, so this document will be helpful in continuing that dialogue.” From my birds-eye perspective of writing this WholeNote column focused on the contemporary music world, I envision that this will be a very rich and valuable conversation that I hope will having lasting impact on how we think, create and engage in building musical culture.

Pauline Oliveros in February:

The Music Gallery will be co-producing three events in February centred around the music of Pauline Oliveros, the well-loved composer, performer and pioneer of the Deep Listening process. For a special Valentine’s Day event on February 14, Oliveros’ longtime partner, IONE, will be presenting a reading titled Today With All Its Hopes And Sorrows where she will reflect on the topics of community, lineage, and the potency of text and sound as forms of remembrance. Two days later on February 16, IONE will join cellist and improviser Anne Bourne for an afternoon workshop experience exploring Oliveros’ text scores. And finally, on February 17 there will be a concert performance of Oliveros’ To Valerie Solanas and Marilyn Monroe in Recognition of Their Desperation, written in 1968 as a response to the turbulent political events of the time. Appropriately, it will be performed by a group of local musicians in the City Hall council chambers. In order to give the reader a more personalized account of the impact of these events exploring the ideas within Oliveros’ music, I am planning a follow-up concert report which should be available on The WholeNote’s website during the third week of February. 

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

FEB 2, 8PM: Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. Soundstreams offers up a special performance of Steve Reich’s Different Trains with the Rolston String Quartet performing in tandem with a video realized by Spanish filmmaker Beatriz Caravaggio. Reich wrote this Grammy Award-winning work in 1988 as a musical meditation on the Holocaust. Perhaps the most personal of his works, Reich calls Different Trains a “music documentary” bearing witness to his childhood train journeys across the US in the 1940s, and the realization that as a Jew, had he grown up in Europe, his train journeys would have been very different. The concert will also feature Quartet #2 (Waves) by R. Murray Schafer, Swans Kissing by Rolf Wallin, and Streams by Dorothy Chang.

FEB 13 AND 14, 8PM: The Toronto Symphony Orchestra conducted by Barbara Hannigan. For lovers of the virtuosic contemporary music soprano, this will be an opportunity to experience her work as both conductor and vocal soloist. On the program is a series of mainly early 20th-century works by Debussy, Sibelius, Berg and Gershwin, as well as a classical period work by Haydn.

FEB 15 AND 16, 8PM: Trinity-St. Paul’s Centre. The Toronto Consort concert, “Love, Remixed”, offers a program of contemporary music written for early instruments and voice. James Rolfe’s Breathe uses texts by the 12th-century abbess, composer, poet and healer Hildegard of Bingen. Her texts often speak of rapturous experiences with the divine as well as of the greening life energy of nature. The Consort’s artistic director David Fallis will be presenting his Eurydice Variations, the story Monteverdi’s Orfeo tells, but from the point of view of Eurydice.

Moritz ErnstFEB 17, 7PM: Gallery 345. New Music Concerts offers this special fundraising event featuring the acclaimed German keyboard virtuoso Moritz Ernst performing the masterpiece Klavierstück X by Karlheinz Stockhausen, along with works by Mike Edgerton, Arthur Lourié, Miklos Maros and Sandeep Bhagwati.

FEB 22 AND 23, 8PM: Factory Theatre. The Music Gallery and Fu Gen Theatre present Foxconn Frequency (no.3) – for three visibly Chinese performers. This interdisciplinary work of “algorithmic theatre” combines real-time game mechanics, piano pedagogy, 3D-printing and the poetry of former Foxconn worker Xu Lizhi. The creative team includes the members of Hong Kong Exile – Natalie Tin Yin Gan, Milton Lim, Remy Siu, and musical performers Vicky Chow, Paul Paroczai and Matt Poon. The goal is to expand awareness beyond the musical instrument itself and bring attention to the performer’s identity by engaging both the eyes and ears, and thereby shifting the audience’s perception to multiple modalities.

FEB 23, 8PM: Gallery 345. Spectrum Music presents “The Rebel: Breaking Down Barriers” with the premiere of seven new works by Spectrum Music members Hanus, McBride, Victoria, Welchner, Wilde and others. This concert will be the second of five concerts this season that are exploring five prominent Jungian archetypes. Continuing in Spectrum’s tradition of pushing genre boundaries, the concert will combine classical and jazz elements.

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

Gyan and Terry Riley. credit Scott CrowleyChange is not the only measure of a new music festival’s success, as witnessed by the eagerly anticipated visit to this year’s 21C of Terry Riley (now 85 years of age), an individual who for more than 

60 years has helped define the course of new music.

The 21C Festival, produced by the Royal Conservatory of Music, is now in its sixth year and is, by definition, committed to presenting new sounds and ideas. That being said, opening up the flyer for this year’s 21C Music Festival was like a breath of fresh air. I couldn’t help but compare it to last year’s experience – a gasp of disbelief, even despair, when I realized that there was barely a female face to be seen or name to be read. Not so this year. The gasp this time round was more of delight, surprise and yes, relief. Finally! There is definitely a huge sea change occurring this year and for that reason alone, all the more incentive to attend and listen to what is percolating with creative innovators in music. Not only are there a significant number of works and premieres by women, but also by culturally diverse composers as well.

Another key change is the move to a January timeslot from the previous one in May, with this year’s festival happening January 16 to 20, dovetailing with the U of T New Music Festival, a short stroll away, which runs from January 16 to 27.

Change is, however, not the only measure of a new music festival’s success, as witnessed by the eagerly anticipated visit to this year’s festival of Terry Riley (now 85 years of age), an individual who for more than 60 years has helped define the course of new music.

Riley’s music has had a significant influence not only on contemporary classical composers but also on rock composers such as Lou Reed and Peter Townsend. His attitudes and approaches to music making have contributed to the radical sea change in compositional ideas and practices that began in the 1960s. He was a key player in the experimental traditions that originated in the USA which filtered across the border.

In Toronto, it was the Arraymusic Ensemble that picked up on these currents, making it a priority in their programming to feature composers who were part of that scene, including people like Morton Feldman, Christian Wolff, Steve Reich, Jim Tenney and of course, Riley himself. I had a chance to talk with Robert Stevenson, former Arraymusic Ensemble member and artistic director about his memories and experiences working with Riley and his music.

One of the big festivals that occurred throughout the 1980s in the USA, he told me, was called New Music America and in 1990 it had travelled to Montreal as New Music Across America. That year the festival organizers partnered with Arraymusic to commission a work from Riley titled Cactus Rosary. (The piece appears on Array’s New World CD released in 1993.)

Stevenson remembers well the collaborative process involved in the creation of Cactus Rosary. “Most composers in the Western art music tradition aren’t strong in collaborating. It’s not part of the tradition and you’re not trained in that when you study composition. Rather, you’re learning how to tell people what to do. When we got the score for Cactus Rosary there was hardly anything on the page. ‘Where is the music?’ we wondered. There were a few notes, some pitches, no metre. Some of the notes were whole notes, others filled in but no stems. There were no rhythmic details, no dynamics, and no explanation of the tuning system, which was in just intonation (rather than the standard equal temperament). All we had that indicated the tuning was a DX7 synthesizer patch. Once Riley began to work with us, though, you began to realize that what was on the page was there to be fleshed out. A lot of what we did is not in the score.”

Stevenson gave the example of the vocal part he performed that was more like speak-singing a text. “I started reading and he said: ‘Can you change the harmonic content by changing your throat shape? Can you move the pitch around? There’s a delay line on the voice so we should set that up.’ Everything happened collaboratively in a very subtle yet determined kind of way. It was never, ‘This is what I want.’ He was clear about what he didn’t want and gave us instructions that would lead us in a direction to what he would like without having to say anything. It’s a different approach to composition. There’s not a blueprint but an invitation to a process.”

Using just intonation tuning is an important aspect of Riley’s work. Stevenson described the difference that it made for Cactus Rosary. “At the first rehearsals the acoustic piano had yet to be tuned to just intonation, so all we had was the DX7 patch. The ensemble was tuning itself to the DX sound but with the acoustic piano in equal temperament, everything was quite chaotic. When the piano was finally tuned it was extraordinary what happened to the music. Suddenly there was this resonating thing happening – the tuning was in the air.”

The staging of the piece was also a change from the usual. “There was an old-style wingback chair that conductor Michael Baker sat in facing the audience. He played two peyote rattles which Riley acquired specifically for the piece from a Wichita tribe member who made them himself. Baker made occasional hand gestures to signal when to move to a new section, but otherwise he played these rattles, coming in and out of the piece, often when the texture was less dense. From an audience point of view, you got the sense that you were watching someone’s aural meditation being made manifest, an internal experience being made external.”

Array took the piece on tour when they visited Europe spanning the years 1993 to 95. “That’s when the piece really started to take shape,” Stevenson said, “and the duration shifted from 33 minutes to close to 50. It became more expansive and we developed the trance meditative aspect. Tour organizers in Europe didn’t want Array to come and play European music, they wanted music they didn’t have a chance to hear. They went nuts over things like the Claude Vivier music we played and with the Riley piece, we were a big hit. People went crazy and were trancing out. They didn’t have many people in Europe who were authentically connected to the music who could play it.”

At the time in Toronto, there weren’t other groups performing his music, except his classic hit In C, which was much more of a communal experience for open instrumentation. Stevenson himself played that piece several times, often with people from Array, and once at a concert by New Music Concerts at The Copa, a massive dance club in Yorkville whose heyday was in the 1980s. In C appealed to some performers because of its collaborative nature, and it was devoid of the extreme demands made by composers like Boulez and Stockhausen, for example. With any number of ways to play it and the outcome undetermined, players could relax and enjoy the moment. “This type of process was very new to people at the time.”

Bob Stevenson with Red Rhythm at Communists Daughter, 2014.  photo by Ori DaganStevenson concluded our conversation by saying that “Riley had a light touch. Nothing was too serious or worth breaking a sweat about. That’s why it was easy to collaborate with him. He wasn’t stuck on an idea but rather always asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ He was always confident that things would be accomplished and I never got the idea that he was dissatisfied with how the process was going.”

The January 18 21C concert celebrates Riley: On the first half of the evening, Tracy Silverman on electric violin will perform excerpts from Riley’s Palmian Chord Ryddle and Sri Camel, both arranged by Silverman. On the second half of the evening, Terry and his son Gyan will perform five of his works including Mongolian Winds and Ebony Horn, along with selections from Salome Dances for Peace.

This year’s 21C

Surrounding that January 18 Riley celebration concert, there is much else to enjoy in this edition of 21C.

The opening concert on January 16 features the Toronto Symphony Orchestra conducted by Tania Miller and Simon Rivard. Since there will be no New Creations Festival at the TSO this year, this is one way for them to continue to support the work of contemporary composers.

Their 21C concert features two world premieres – one by Emilie Lebel (who has been appointed the TSO’s new affiliate composer) and the other by Stewart Goodyear. (Goodyear will also be performing in a full concert of his own works on January 17, including Variations on Hallelujah and other takes on various pop and rock songs.) Other composers featured in the TSO concert are Dorothy Chang, Dinuk Wijeratne, Jocelyn Morlock and Terry Riley.

Other Toronto-based presenters offering programs at this year’s 21C festival include Continuum with an all-female program featuring compositions by Cassandra Miller, Monica Pearce, Linda Smith, Carolyn Chen, Unsuk Chin and Kati Agócs. On the weekend, the performing ensembles of Cinq à Sept and Sō Percussion (both on January 19) as well as the Glenn Gould School New Music Ensemble (January 20) will be performing entire programs of new compositions, again featuring an abundance of works by women. Check the listings for a full rundown of all the composers you can hear.

Esprit bridge to U of T

As mentioned previously, the U of T’s Contemporary Music Festival picks up where 21C leaves off. On January 20 there will be an Esprit Orchestra concert which, fittingly, closes one festival and opens the other with works by Claude Vivier, Toshio Hosokawa, Alison Yun-Fei and Christopher Goddard. The two festivals are partnering to present the North American premiere of Hosokawa’s Concerto for Saxophone and Orchestra, performed by Wallace Halladay. Hosokawa is Japan’s pre-eminent living composer, creating his musical language from the relationship between Western avant-garde art and traditional Japanese culture. His music is strongly connected to the aesthetic and spiritual roots of the Japanese arts and he values the expression of beauty that originates from transience.

Hosokawa, who is this year’s Roger D. Moore Distinguished Visitor in Composition at the U of T Festival, will also be offering composition masterclasses on January 21 and 22, and his music will be presented in a concert by faculty artists on January 21, in a concert of Percussion and Electronics on January 23 and as featured composer for the New Music Concerts performance on January 25.

In with the New Quick Picks

DEC 11, 7:30PM: Gallery 345. PAPER: New Compositions and Improvisations by Nahre Sol, a pianist and composer who creates music that combines a unique blend of improvisation, traditional Western form and harmony, jazz harmony and minimalism. She teams up with clarinetist Brad Cherwin for this free concert.

DEC 14, 8PM: Music Gallery, Rejuvenated Frequencies. A showcase of music curated by Obuxum featuring groundbreaking music by women of colour, music that is “progressive and healing all at once.” Performers include VHVL from Harlem with her thumping beats and bright melodies, Toronto-based YourHomieNaomi with roots in spoken word, and Korean-born, Toronto-based classically trained pianist Korea Town Acid whose DJ sets create an avant-garde journey.

JAN 17, 7:30PM: Canadian Music Centre. A mixed-genre evening of jazz-inflected works by Alex Samaras, one of Canada’s leading jazz vocalists, and Norman Symonds, a leading figure in the third-stream movement in Canada that combines jazz and classical forms. The concert will include works by the CMC’s 2018 Toronto Emerging Composer Award-winner Cecilia Livingston, who specializes in music for voice and opera.

JAN 29, 7:30PM: Tapestry Opera presents Hook Up at Theatre Passe Muraille. This opera by composer Chris Thornborrow, libretto by Julie Tepperman, raises questions of consent, shame and power in the lives of young adults navigating uncharted waters on their own. Content warning: Contains explicit language and discussion of sexual violence. Runs to February 9.

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

In last month’s column, I wrote about the Music Gallery’s X Avant festival and the vision of the Halluci Nation. From both my personal experience of attending some of the concerts and from talking to other concertgoers, it was an inspiring and exciting four days of listening to a wide and diverse array of music which also helped to further expand the Halluci Nation community. The last set on the Sunday evening (October 14) saw A Tribe Called Red performing together with other featured musicians to bring the whole festival to an exhilarating close. For this month’s column, I’d like to pursue this thread of building community further, and talk about other ways this is happening amongst presenters, composers and performers of new music in the city.

Arraymusic

Starting this fall, Arraymusic has appointed a new artistic director, percussionist David Schotzko. He succeeds Martin Arnold who stepped down to pursue a wonderful opportunity to teach at Trent University. Fortunately, Arnold will be staying on as artistic associate as well as continuing to curate his Rat-drifting series which will happen on December 7 and January 11 of this current season. I had a chance to speak with Schotzko about his vision moving forward for Arraymusic, and also to Allison Cameron whose music will be the focus of a mini-festival occurring on November 23 and 24.

Schotzko moved to Toronto in 2011 and has had an active career as a performer for several new music ensembles including Esprit Orchestra, New Music Concerts and also as a member of the Array Ensemble. Prior to 2011 he performed in New York City where he was a founding member of the acclaimed International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). In addition to performing, he also has been involved in composer advocacy work throughout his career.

We spoke about where Array has been in the past and the direction that Schotzko would like to take in the future. Historically, the ensemble has generally had composers or composer-performers as artistic directors, and was focused around specific individual performers developing repertoire for a quirky instrumentation of two percussion, piano, violin, double bass, trumpet and clarinet. Once these original players moved on in their careers, it’s been challenging Schotzko said, to replace them.

With both Arnold and Rick Sacks (AD from 2011 to 2016), the process of moving away from the original instrumentation began. Coming from a performing background, Schotzko would like to create an ensemble with a regular group of individuals who are able to perform more and more without a conductor. Essentially, he wishes to move the group towards becoming a true chamber ensemble – an ensemble similar to a string quartet who perform together for years without a conductor and have a unique way of both rehearsing and performing together. This is challenging to achieve with an ever-changing group comprised of freelance musicians.

Schotzko sees adding more artistic associates such as Arnold in the future and broadening the range of voices coming out of Array. One step in this direction has been the signing of the Canadian League of Composers Gender Parity Pledge. The issue of balanced programming has surfaced in several of my columns over the last year or more, making this recent initiative by the CLC all the more welcome. The pledge is intended for presenters across the country to adopt and can be read in full on their website. It begins with these words: “We pledge to achieve or maintain gender parity in our programming and commissioning by our 2022/23 season. We welcome the opportunity to add our voice to a growing international movement that acknowledges artistic choices must be representative of the gender diversity within the community of creators.” This is a direction that Array has already taken on and their programming is already at 50/50, Schotzko said.

Array will also continue its community-based focus through a commitment to co-productions with several resident artists and organizations, such as the Thin Edge New Music Collective, the Evergreen Club Gamelan and Frequency Freaks, amongst others, as well as presenting mini-festivals highlighting the music of specific composers, such as the one featuring Allison Cameron’s music, an event planned during Arnold’s tenure as artistic director.

Allison Cameron. Photo by Jolene Mok.Allison Cameron

The mini-fest will present a variety of pieces that Cameron has created over the years, including composed works as well as improvised music. Her current group c_RL will perform both nights, first with the Arrayensemble on November 23 and on their own on November. c_RL is an innovative improvising trio featuring Cameron, electronics/found objects/keyboards; Germaine Liu, percussion; and Nicole Rampersaud, trumpet. The composed works on November 23 will include a newly commissioned piece from Array (which for now is remaining untitled), Kid Baltan, and In Memoriam Robert Ashley. Kid Baltan was written for Dutch composer Dick Raaijmakers in 2013; its title is the alias that Raaijmakers gave himself during the late 1950s when he was creating some of the first electropop music ever written. It is a graphic score for mixed ensemble and was first performed at The Music Gallery’s X Avant festival with Trio 7090 and others from Toronto and Amsterdam. Cameron wrote this piece for Louis Andriessen’s 75th birthday and has reworked the piece for the current instrumentation of the Array Ensemble plus c_RL.

We spoke at length about the aesthetic vision behind both the newly commissioned work and the more recent pieces that use graphic scores, and she told me about one inspiring experience she had a few years ago in Amsterdam that has significantly influenced her thinking. It occurred when she met with the performers for a rehearsal of one of her works. The performers had all received their parts ahead of time, but had not had a chance to practise on their own. Cameron was quite surprised by how the music unfolded. “It was like they were coming to the score without preconceptions. It was very refreshing and innocent-like.”

Cameron realized she had structured the score in a more open way, allowing each player to make their own unique contributions. This experience inspired her to create pieces with more flexibility. “I used to write things where everything had to be perfect, where this note had to happen at this time.” With so little time and money for extensive rehearsals, this became a very frustrating experience and she wanted to find a way of moving away from the constraints of the rehearsal environment in order to create pieces that allowed players more freedom to contribute to the overall work.

The newly commissioned piece we will hear on November 23 has several short movements that can be changed around and played in no particular order. Some aspects are fixed and others are mobile, and the graphic score allows the players to make their own decisions. Over the years, Cameron has created various performing ensembles that have given her a platform to develop her own performing skills and to create work for a consistent instrumentation. Participating within the improvisational community in Toronto and developing relationships with performers has been a key aspect of her creative process that has also influenced her compositional practice. The second night of the festival will be dedicated to her improvised music with one set featuring c_RL and one solo set.

A Mini-Tour of Upcoming Concerts

Continuing with the theme of community building, here is a short walk through some of the events happening in November within new music.

First of all, it’s noteworthy to see the influence of Array’s contribution beyond their own activities as two of their resident ensembles will be presenting concerts this month. The Thin Edge New Music Collective are performing at the Canadian Music Centre on November 8 and the Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan will be appearing at the Aga Khan Museum on November 25 with a premiere of a new work by Canadian composer Peter Hatch. Also, c_RL member Germaine Liu will be teaming up with Sarah Hennies for a concert of percussion pieces on December 6 at the CMC.

Veteran composer and influential educator John Beckwith has a new work titled Meanwhile, for marimba and piano, which will be played by percussionist Zac Pulak (who commissioned it) and pianist Edana Higham at the CMC on November 22 at 5:30pm [not in our listings]. The piece, which received its first performance this past July in Ottawa, can be viewed on YouTube.

Esprit Orchestra’s concert on November 28 will feature works by Alexina Louie and Murray Schafer, as well as a piece by Icelandic composer Anna Thorvaldsdottir, who was chosen in 2015 as the New York Philharmonic’s Kravis Emerging Composer. She is currently composer-in-residence with the Iceland Symphony Orchestra and Esprit will be performing Dreaming, her work from 2008. Schafer’s 1973 composition, North/White, sets the stage for an North-inspired evening, with Louie’s Take the Dog Sled capturing the essence of life in the Arctic.

Early in the month on November 2, Continuum Contemporary Music begins its new season with “Super Hot Sax,” featuring saxophonist Wallace Halladay in a number of works. This new season Continuum’s programming features 60 percent female composers, works that engage with new technologies and their newly expanded ensemble. The November 2 concert is dedicated to the memory of Daniel Cooper, a longtime supporter of contemporary chamber music in Toronto. Cooper’s commissioned work The Wind Wrests My Words by composer Jimmie LeBlanc will receive its world premiere.

On November 11, the Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal will be performing in Toronto as part of their Generation2018 Canadian tour presenting works by four emerging composers. Toronto’s New Music Concerts will be hosting this project as they have since 2000. The featured composers selected from across the country will be interviewed as part of the performance and audiences will be able to vote for their favourite work.

NMC will then continue their season on December 2 with a program of works selected by Michael Koerner who has served on their board since 1978. The concert includes works by several key composers from the 20th century: Igor Stravinsky, Darius Milhaud, Charles Ives, Elliott Carter and Murray Schafer, whose String Quartet No. 6 “Parting Wild Horse’s Mane” was a commissioned work from Koerner.

And finally, a community building workshop on November 25 hosted by the Music Gallery will feature composer-improviser Anne Bourne guiding participants through various text scores by Pauline Oliveros. This will be the first of four opportunities this season to experience Oliveros’ Deep Listening process through listening and sounding and is aimed towards cultivating a shared creative expression. 

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

"We are the Halluci Nation. We are the tribe they cannot see. Our DNA is of earth and sky. Our DNA is of past and future. We are the Halluci Nation.” These words written and spoken by Indigenous poet, author, musician and activist John Trudell on the first track of A Tribe Called Red’s album We Are The Halluci Nation (2016) reverberate with strength and conviction. Based in Ottawa, A Tribe Called Red (ATCR) currently consists of musicians Bear Witness from the Cayuga First Nation and 2oolman from the Six Nations of the Grand River. Their powerful blend of music mixes traditional pow wow dance music with electronic dance music, otherwise known as EDM. Their collaboration with Trudell on the Halluci Nation album has sparked a movement that continues to grow and expand.

The poem describes “an imagined nation made up of people living within the philosophy of remembering what it is to be human, and what it is to treat other people like humans,” Bear told me during our recent phone interview. Not only do the words that articulate this vision appear as the opening track, but the entire album itself is a model of the idea of that nation. Each track is a collaboration with other musicians who by their very participation are expanding the scope of the Halluci Nation and were invited to participate “because the work they are doing already makes them part of Halluci Nation,” Bear said. Tanya Tagaq, Lido Pimienta, Chippewa Travellers, Jennifer Kreisberg and Northern Voice are some of the participating musicians. They are coming together to advocate for change, particularly around the issues of reconciliation and reparation, and to resist the mainstream, exploitative “ALie Nation.”

As Bear states: “The Halluci Nation are a group of people that break off from society to return to natural ways of life. It’s not just for Indigenous people, although it is a movement led by Indigenous people. It’s open to anyone as a mind frame and rallying point for those who understand there is something wrong with the current system.”

Bear Witness CREDIT Matt BarnesX Avant

With this year’s X Avant festival at the Music Gallery, the Halluci Nation will grow and expand even further. Artistic director David Dacks has invited Bear to be the guest curator for the 13th edition of this annual festival. Bear, in turn, has taken this opportunity to bring together a Canada-wide lineup of artists to create this next iteration of the Halluci Nation. Musically, the overall sound of this festival will be a distinct contrast to earlier festivals, as many of the invited musicians come from backgrounds in the plethora of approaches that have grown out of electronic dance music since the first devices for performing electronic music were developed at the end of the 19th century.

With the manifesto of the Italian futurists in the early 20th century, various sounds not previously considered musical began to be heard in artistic settings. Electroacoustic music as a European art form was introduced mid-20th century, with Canadian pioneers Hugh Le Caine and Norman McLaren contributing to the development of unique electronic technologies. Before the introduction of digital synthesizers and the MIDI system in the 1980s, the production of electronic music was largely limited to radio and university-based studios as the equipment was not easily transportable. Eventually, large-scale studios became somewhat obsolete with the introduction of laptops and iPads and other portable gear, making it possible for live and interactive performances. Electronic Dance Music arose in the late 1980s as music created largely for nightclubs, raves and festivals, and was produced for playback by DJs seamlessly mixing tracks. This club-based artform has mushroomed over the years, and this year’s X Avant festival will be a perfect opportunity to hear the latest innovations in these genres.

The opening concert of the festival on October 11 promises to be a visual feast with sets by Tasman Richardson, See Monsters, and Creeasian & Bear Witness. Before becoming a musician, Bear had a visual arts career that was mainly video based. Working with images that depicted misrepresentations of Indigenous people in the media, he sampled and reworked this material to create installations and short experimental films, highlighting the empowering aspects of the images and discarding the negative ones. Once ATCR began to take up more of his time, he folded his video work into his DJ sets.

Toronto-based Richardson was a huge influence on Bear’s visual work. Richardson will present two new three-channel live A/V performances, the first of which will use glitches from an Atari game console, and the second will use satellite-based images. See Monsters are a duo that come the closest to what ATCR do, using video, sound and sampling of traditional music. Being based in Northwest Coast traditions however, they have a very different aesthetic than ATCR. Bear’s collaboration with dancer and musician Creeasian will give him an opportunity to use some of his video work outside of the Tribe context and is for him another extension of the Halluci Nation idea. Sound artist and DJ, Maria Chávez, who will open the October 12 concert, was a new discovery for Bear who was intrigued by one of her signature DJ processes – using broken LPs layered on the turnable to create her unique sonic language. Bear cites Geronimo Inutiq as one artist who started working in a similar way as ATCR over 20 years ago, working with throat singing as well as electronic music and video production. The October 12 concert will conclude with respectfulchild, a solo instrument project of Gan from Saskatoon on Treaty 6 Territory. These ambient soundscapes are created from nuanced improvisations on their violin, resulting in a sound that takes the listener on an introspective reflective journey.

Saturday night’s events on October 13 will feature an all-out beat fest with Los Poetas, Above Top Secret and Ziibiwan at the Music Gallery, then wrapping up the evening with a dance party at The Mod Club. Headlining the dance party will be the sounds of El Dusty’s Colombian cumbia music, an artist with whom ATCR is currently collaborating. Following this will be mixes by two of Toronto’s most highly regarded DJs Dre Ngozi & Nino Brown; finishing off the evening is a set by Bear and his ATCR colleague 2oolman.

Narcy. credit TAMARA ABDUL HADIClosing out the festival on October 14 will be the music of veteran performers and innovators Narcy, Jennifer Kreisberg and Lillian Allen. Narcy is a pioneer of the Arab hip-hop movement working in Montreal, while Kreisberg innovates using multilayers of stunning vocal harmonies. Allen, of course, is well known in Toronto for her groundbreaking work in dub.

The festival also offers two occasions for audience members to engage with some of the festival artists. There will be a panel discussion at 6pm on October 14 about the concept of the Halluci Nation and a Sampler Café at 1pm on October 13 hosted by Creeasian where participants will have a chance to try out and play with different digital equipment. This is open to people of all ages and abilities.

Currently, Bear is developing material for the next album, and is reaching out to various artists that come across his path in Los Angeles. This album will be a contrast to We Are The Halluci Nation, although the very creating of it will be another extension of the Halluci Nation concept by bringing in other artists to collaborate. “This time the focus will be on celebration rather than dealing with the dystopian sci-fi vision of what the Halluci Nation could be,” Bear told me. When I asked the reason for this change, he replied that he feels that “people are getting stuck in the ideas of fighting and struggle. We need to start envisioning what it would be like beyond struggle.”

We concluded our interview by discussing how he would sum up the current issues facing Indigenous people, or whether that was even possible to do. “It’s a hard question to answer as there are hundreds of nations across one of the largest land masses in the world. One important thing for people to realize is that the things we talk about as Indigenous issues aren’t just that; they are human issues. Water rights, clean water, oil pipelines – we all need clean water, we all need to live on this planet. This is one of the most important things for people to realize at this point in time.”

The Halluci Nation vision is an invitation and call out for all those who find themselves seeking a more just world for all peoples and are committed to helping that come into being. 

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

OCT 12, 8PM: Soundstreams, “Six Pianos,” Koerner Hall. Steve Reich’s music returns to Toronto with a performance of Six Pianos (1973), a work that the composer originally wrote for all the pianos in a piano store and subsequently pared down to six pianos. This concert will feature the veteran Reich performer Russell Hartenberger who will be joined by five other local pianists. Other works on the program include music by Ristic, Cage, Lutosławski, Louie and Palmer.

OCT 15, 8PM: The Azrieli Music Prizes Gala Concert, Maison symphonique de Montréal. Although a bit of a drive away, this concert will feature Ottawa-based Kelly-Marie Murphy’s composition En el escuro es todo uno (In the Darkness All is One). Murphy wrote this piece after winning the 2018 Azrieli Commission for Jewish Music, one of the biggest prizes for composers in the country. An interview with Murphy about her vision for this composition can be read in the October 2017 edition of The WholeNote.

Esprit Orchestras Alex Pauk studies a score (2015)OCT 24, 8PM: Esprit Orchestra. “For Orbiting Spheres,” Koerner Hall. Esprit Orchestra opens their current season with four orchestral works inspired by the various phenomena of the cosmos. Two Canadian premieres of works by Missy Mazzoli (USA) who composed Sinfonia (For Orbiting Spheres) and Unsuk Chin (Korea) are paired with Netherlands composer Tristan Keuris’s Sinfonia and Charles Ives’ tour de force An Unanswered Question. A heavenly night of music.

OCT 26 TO 28, 8PM: Arraymusic/Exquisite Beat Theatre, Rat-drifting 2: SlowPitchSound presents: Alternate Forest, Array Space. Rat-drifting is a concept developed by Martin Arnold to bring together free improvisation, noise, psychedelic process music and DIY para-punk composition. This month’s version features SlowPitchSound’s multidisciplinary adventure into a mystical forest space combining sound, dance and video.

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

Christina Petrowska Quilico (left) and Ann Southam at the launch of the Rivers CD. Photo by André LeducFor the opening column of the new season, I thought I’d take a look at two new CDs being released by the prolific and virtuosic Canadian pianist Christina Petrowska Quilico. The first CD, Soundspinning, offers a series of older works composed by her friend and colleague, the late Ann Southam. It will be released on the Canadian Music Centre’s (CMC) Centrediscs label, with the official launch happening on September 25 at the CMC in Toronto. The second CD, Global Sirens, on the Fleur de Son/Naxos label, features the music of 15 different internationally-based composers and includes a total of 19 compositions, including two works by Canadians.

Southam: Petrowska Quilico is well known for her interpretations of Southam’s music, having already released seven CDs of Southam’s compositions including Glass Houses, Pond Life and Rivers, each one released as box sets. However, this recent CD is unique, as it consists of a number of rarely heard Southam works from 1963 to 1999. As Petrowska Quilico told me in our recent interview, Southam used to joke: “I love it when you root around in my old pieces and come up with something new.” When it came to choosing repertoire and creating an order for this new CD, Petrowska Quilico crafted it with careful attention to the flow of changes in mood and tempo between the works, quipping that in a sense she was creating a sonata in a very unorthodox way – a sonata whose contrasting movements were being fashioned from the different Southam compositions.

The album opens with Stitches in Time, composed in 1979 and revised in 1999. This work is comprised of two small collections of pieces: three pieces in Sonocycles and eight in Soundspinning. They are all short and fast pieces that reflect Southam’s love of nature, and are precursors to the larger Rivers and Glass Houses works. Petrowska Quilico spoke about how they were harder to play than they look, and have no indications regarding phrasing, dynamics or pedalling. Because of the 30-year working relationship she had enjoyed with Southam, this didn’t create a stumbling block for her. She approached them in a similar way to Rivers, accentuating hidden melodies and altering the tempos to create a more shimmering effect, making each one shine with its own unique characteristics. During their work together in preparing the Rivers CD, Southam had told her she trusted Petrowska Quilico’s musical judgment completely. And even though they are fast virtuosic pieces, they still require control, which Petrowska Quilico admits may seem like a bit of a contradiction.

She follows this intense, fast-flowing opening cycle of pieces with Slow Music (1979), a more meditative work composed using Southam’s signature 12-tone row, one that she used repeatedly for many of her pieces. One distinguishing feature of Southam’s approach to working with the serial technique was the freedom and openness she allowed herself, in comparison to the more strict approach used by composers such as Webern or Boulez. Altitude Lake is next, described by Petrowska Quilico as “massive” due to the presence of so many large chords that suggest images of immense landscapes and intense weather activity. It was written in 1963 at the same time as Southam began working in the electronic music studio at the University of Toronto. (As an aside: Southam also began teaching electroacoustic composition in 1966 at the Royal Conservatory of Music in a small studio in the sub-basement that she and composer John Mills-Cockell started up, offering drop-in classes for $10 each.) The score that Petrowska Quilico had of this early piece was handwritten and was so hard to read that she had to use a magnifying glass. Once she figured out the notes, she discovered how much she loved the piece, describing it as “a real treasure. It was written so early in such a different style, that you’d never realize it was her.”

The next few works are a series of Southam’s jazz-inflected pieces – Three in Blue (1965), Five Shades of Blue (1970) and Cool Blue; Red Hot (1980), all of which Petrowska Quilico selected due to her own love of playing jazz. The concluding work on the CD is Remembering Schubert from 1993 – a piece that also appears on the CBC album Glass Houses: The Music of Ann Southam, performed by pianist Eve Egoyan, who also enjoyed a special bond with the composer.

Petrowska Quilico spoke about how joyful and fluid Southam’s music is, and how the composer loved watching the light refracting on the water. She described playing Southam’s works as being similar to performing pieces by Chopin and Liszt, all of which require fast fingers. “If you don’t have good technique and are not in control, it will sound heavy, choppy and muddy. At the same time, you can’t think about the technique or all the notes you’re playing, otherwise you won’t be able to get through it. You have to think about the long line.”

Christina Petrowska Quilico. Photo by Bo HuangGlobal Sirens: Petrowska Quilico has spent a good deal of her career promoting the music of women composers, and this love and commitment is reflected in her second CD coming out this fall – Global Sirens. Her desire with this CD is “to show the great wealth of women’s compositions. Not to denigrate men’s compositions, but we hear more of them than we do the women,” she said. Arising out of the research she’s undertaken for her York University Gender and Performance course, she has uncovered many lost compositions and composers, a selection of which are on the CD. Primarily these are works that span the 20th century, and include composers from numerous backgrounds. One such example is the opening piece Langsamer Waltz composed by Else Fromm-Michaels, whose compositions were banned during the Nazi period because her husband was Jewish. Other composers represented include Else Schmitz-Gohr and Barbara Heller, also from Germany, Ada Gentile (Italy), Priaulx Rainier (South Africa), Peggy Glanville-Hicks (Australia) and French composers Lili Boulanger and Germaine Tailleferre, who was one of Les Six along with Milhaud, Poulenc and others. The two Canadians represented are Larysa Kuzmenko and Sophie-Carmen Eckhardt-Gramatté. Petrowska Quilico has included four pieces by American composer Meredith Monk, whose music she loves, as well as Wireless Rag (1909) by Adaline Shepherd, a woman who was forced by her husband to give up composing, until she was able to resume her creative life after his death (an event which made her quite happy, Petrowska Quilico remarked). Shepherd had great success with her rag Pickles and Peppers, which sold over 200,000 copies in 1906 and was used as a theme song by William Jennings Bryan during his presidential campaign in 1908.

This little slice of Shepherd’s experience offers us just a glimpse at the hostile environment many women composers faced in the past. But what about now? I asked what she thought about the current climate for women music creators in Canada and Toronto. She began by recounting the story of performing Violet Archer’s Piano Concerto No.1 in 1982. At that time, an entry in an American encyclopedia had listed it as one of the major concertos written in Canada – it had been composed in 1956 – and despite this acknowledgement, the piece had only received one performance in 1958 under the baton of Victor Feldbrill with the CBC Symphony. This was something that was quite upsetting to Archer, and so Petrowska Quilico set out to perform it again and eventually released it as a recording. It’s now available on the Centrediscs album 3 Concerti, which also includes works by Alexina Louie and Larysa Kuzmenko. On the subject of gender parity in programming, Petrowska Quilico feels that music composed by women should definitely be played more often, and concerts should include a good balance of pieces by both genders, as well as older works along with newer ones. “Let’s make sure we don’t forget the women and Canadian composers of the past, and sprinkle them through the programs.” The problem, she stated, is that the emphasis is on premieres, and it is often a fight to get women’s music played more than once.

In looking at the overall scope of Petrowska Quilico’s prolific career, the question that comes to mind is how she manages to do it all. Her discography alone is extensive – 50 CDs with four JUNO nominations. Many of these recordings are from live performances – and even when in the recording studio, her preference is to record with only one or two takes. Regarding her technique, earlier in her career she undertook a process of slowly relearning everything, which was particularly important after suffering a broken wrist. She described how she approaches her touch on the keyboard as being like Zen meditation. “The fluidity comes from the fingertip – that’s where you have to focus your energy. All extra movements such as in the elbows take away from the energy you need to play a line. The body needs to be aligned, and you need to be both flexible and strong at the same time.” Another important aspect that she learned early on was the importance of maintaining the electrical current within the music itself, a current that begins with the first note and continues up until the last one. Keeping the energy moving requires focus on the melodic line. “No matter how many chords and notes, what is important is the melodic line.”

All the training, practice and inner focus come together for the performance – and these two new CDs will be a welcome addition to her ongoing contribution to Canadian musical life.

IN WITH THE NEW QUICK PICKS

Brodie West Quintet. Photo by Martin ReisSEP 8, 7:30PM: CMC Centrediscs, Bekah Simms’ impurity chains CD launch, Canadian Music Centre. In the spirit of celebrating new CDs by women creators, this launch marks the first recording of Simms’ music that abounds with the sounds of 21st-century chaos. Combining both acoustic and electroacoustic soundworlds, Simms weaves references to diverse traditions, from folk to concert.

SEP 12, 8PM: Guelph Jazz Festival. SUNG RA, Guelph Little Theatre. Rory Magill’s take on the legendary Sun Ra with his own Rakestar Arkestra combined with Christine Duncan and the Element Choir.

SEP 16, 8PM: Guelph Jazz Festival. Allison Cameron and Ben Grossman, Silence. These two eclectic composers join forces to perform improvisations on a wide array of instruments and objects, percussion, and electronics.

SEP 21, 6PM & 8PM: Music Gallery and Musicworks, The Brodie West Quintet “Clips” album release + Wow And Flutter. Join hosts Fahmid Nibesh and Joe Strutt for an interactive look-back at the 40-year legacy of Musicworks magazine & CD, to be followed by the music of the Brodie West Quintet for their Clips album release and the improvisations of the Wow & Flutter trio

SEP 27, 12PM: Canadian Opera Company, Awasaakwaa (Beyond, on the Other side of the Woods), Richard Bradshaw Amphitheatre. A solo recital by acclaimed Odawa First Nation composer and performer Barbara Croall, presenting her own compositions for voice and pipigwan (Anishinaabe cedar flute). Croall is currently preparing for a major performance piece about Saint Kateri Tekakwitha, a Mohawk woman who was made a saint. More details about that coming later this fall.

OCT 6, 8PM: New Music Concerts, Linda Bouchard’s Murderous Little World, Betty Oliphant Theatre. NMC begins its new season with this music and theatre performance work, directed by Keith Turnbull with texts by Anne Carson. Combining an electronic score with live performers who double as actors, this event promises an emotional experience full of artistic electricity and intellectual prowess.

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

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