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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Additional events:

May 10: Burdock. “A Strange Impulse.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emergent Events:

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

Quick Picks:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Finally here are some additional Quick Picks for this month:

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

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

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

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

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

Mar 18: Caution Tape Sound Collective. Array Space.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2205 New 1With the beginning of 2017, Canada is about to enter into a year-long marking of the fact that the country began 150 years ago in 1867. Some will be celebrating, and others will have more ambivalent feelings about it all, aware of how much indigenous cultures have suffered and lost under a political system that attempted to destroy them. On the musical end of things, much is being planned as a celebration, and no doubt this theme will return in various ways in this column throughout the year.

One significant player in the creation of musical events to mark this moment in Canada’s history is the Toronto Symphony. Their major initiative, Canada Mosaic, will involve performance, education and collaboration initiatives across the country. One of their projects is the commissioning of two-minute orchestral works from Canadian composers called Sesquies, to be performed throughout the year by the TSO and 38 partner orchestras across the country. During February, the TSO will be premiering a series of these at several of their regular concerts, beginning on February 1 with Yatra, composed by Dinuk Wijeratne. Other Sesquies during the month include works by Vivian Fung (February 4); Jocelyn Morlock (February 8); Louis Babin (February 10); John Rea (February 15); and Andrew Staniland (March 4).

2205 New 2New Creations: One of the major ways the TSO has annually contributed to increase awareness of Canada’s composers has been through the New Creations Festival, and of course this year is no exception. The festival runs from March 4 to 11, with three concerts curated by Toronto-based composer and performer Owen Pallett. It features eight newly-commissioned works, including five from Canadian composers. In order to fit all the three festival concerts into The WholeNote issues, I will feature the March 4 program in this month’s column and follow up with the other two concerts in the March issue. The March 4 program is chock full of TSO-commissioned works: one from German composer and clarinetist Jörg Widmann, another from Canadian Jordan Pal, currently an affiliate composer with the TSO, and finally a collaboration between Tanya Tagaq, Christine Duncan and Jean Martin, with orchestrations by Christopher Mayo.

Some readers may recall a feature story about the 21C Festival that I wrote for last May’s issue of The Wholenote in which I discussed the collaboration between Tanya Tagaq and the Kronos Quartet. Tagaq, originally from Cambridge Bay in Nunavut, is a stunning improvising vocal performer in a style almost impossible to capture in words. Her sounds are influenced by both the deep guttural tones of traditional Inuit throat singing as well as the wild vocal exclamations of avant-rock. When combined with the explosive sounds of her band members, Jean Martin on percussion and Jesse Zubot on violin, both of whom use extensive electronic processing as well, it’s a sonic experience that often shakes audience members to their core. To find out more about how a performer of this nature will collaborate with the TSO, I contacted Christine Duncan, one of the collaborators in the current TSO commission.

Their commission will be a 20-minute-long work titled Qiksaaktuq, the Inuktitut word for grief, and is intended as a musical reflection upon missing and murdered indigenous women. The piece is in five movements inspired by the Kübler-Ross model of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Duncan talked about how the ideas for the piece came together during a series of exchanges about how to create a work combining improvisation and notation. The final verdict was that the piece would be collaboratively composed by Tagaq, Martin and Duncan with the final score orchestrated by composer Christopher Mayo. During the compositional process between the three of them, the primary focus was to create something that would feel familiar for Tagaq to improvise with. Because of Martin’s extensive experience of performing as a regular member of her band, his input was invaluable in creating a structure with the same peaks and valleys she’s used to. The piece came together using a computer software program that uses the traditional symphonic sounds, thus enabling the creators to hear the work unfolding as they worked. These tracks were then given to Mayo to create the final notated parts. The more subtle sounds not available on the computer program were discussed with Mayo and written into the score. Having an orchestrator involved was important Duncan said, as it ensured that everything would be clear to the orchestral players in a format they were used to.

Duncan’s role during the performance will be to use what she calls the “conduction hand cues” she has honed over the last several years working with the Element Choir. Using these cues, she will lead the brass section in an improvisation that will complement the notated score and Tagaq’s live improvisations. The hand cues are visual gestures that suggest the type of sound being asked for and it’s up to each performer to interpret how they will respond. During the composing of the work, the nature and timing of the specific hand cues were carefully chosen and added into the notated score. Duncan emphasized that the “overall effect of the entire piece will be like a large ensemble structured improvisation, sounding like what one of Tanya’s performances would sound like. In order to make it that loose and open it has to be completely and specifically notated to come off that way.” The piece will premiere on March 4 in Toronto and will be performed by at least three other orchestras across the country as part of the Canada Mosaic project.

I was also curious about the story behind Duncan’s creative relationship with Tagaq. It began, she said, in early 2014 when she was invited to sing at one of Tagaq’s performances in France. “Tanya is quite generous and inclusive. She loves to have people and friends around her – to get them up on stage and perform with them. For her it’s a way of having the act of performing be like an extension of family or community – that’s very important to her.” With that positive experience setting the stage, it was later on in 2014 when Tagaq’s band was preparing to perform at the Polaris Prize award show and looking for a way to do something more large scale. Martin suggested inviting Duncan’s improvising Element Choir to join in. Everyone agreed. As a testament to how much Tagaq trusted Duncan’s creative instincts, “The first time Tanya ever met the choir was onstage at the Polaris awards. It was a pretty transformative experience for everyone involved. Right away, Tanya said she wanted the Element Choir on every single gig we can have them on.”

Currently Duncan is preparing to join the band on their upcoming tour promoting Tagaq’s recent album Retribution. She will be training choirs in the conduction method in various cities and, if that isn’t possible at some locations, she will be joining in as a singer on stage with Tagaq. Reflecting back on the work that Tagaq created with the Kronos Quartet at the 21C Festival last May and how utterly original the venerable string quartet sounded in that piece, I am sure audiences will be equally entranced by this new collaborative creation with the orchestra.

Esprit: Continuing on in the spirit of new Canadian symphonic works being performed this month, Esprit’s concert on February 12 will feature three world premieres by Canadian composers, one of which has been co-commissioned by the TSO as part of their Canada Mosaic project. Survivance is the name of this piece, composed by Montrealer John Rea, who has previously received three commissions from Esprit. The program has works by two other Montreal-based composers – José Evangelista’s 2016 work Accelerando, and a world premiere by Analia Llugdar, a former student of Evangelista’s. The third world premiere, Surfacing, is a work by Adam Scime. Alongside these newly created compositions will be the performance of a 1985 piece by American Conlon Nancarrow, known for his complex works for player piano.

Wendake/Huronia: The Canadian-identity theme continues in two early February performances (February 3 and 4) by Toronto Consort of John Beckwith’s work Wendake/Huronia. The piece was originally premiered in 2015, toured amongst several Georgian Bay communities during that summer, and is orchestrated for chamber choir, First Nations drummers and singers, alto and narrator. Created in six movements with the ultimate goal being a statement of reconciliation between First Nations and European-based cultures, the majority of the work goes into an exposé of the reality of the Wendat experience – both pre- and post- contact with the French explorer Champlain. It is fitting that this work is being remounted just a month prior to John Beckwith’s 90th birthday.

Early March EventsMarch is overflowing with new music adventures so I’d like to give a heads-up now to some of what will be happening so you can mark your calendars. March 4 is shaping up to be an epic night, in addition to the New Creations concert.

First of all, Spectrum Music will be presenting “Tales of the Unconscious,” produced in partnership with Musicata: Hamilton’s Voices under the direction of Roger Bergs. Mixing jazz trio and classical choir, the concert will feature three leading jazz musicians – Mike Murley (saxophone), Andrew Downing (bass) and Chris Pruden (piano) – and give the Spectrum composers an opportunity to dig into the murky realms of dreams. Shannon Graham’s piece Bedtime Stories is based on her own dream journals while Ben McCarroll-Butler’s The Night Is Gone, the Light Is Near is based a dream had by a refugee from Syria’s civil war.

Over at the Music Gallery, Thin Edge New Music Collective teams up with the Gallery to present “Raging Against the Machine: Coming Together.” The concert  on March 4 marks the second time the Thin Edge ensemble will team up with Ensemble Paramirabo from Montreal and this year their concert will include Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together, Yannis Kyriakides’ Karaoke Études and new works by Canadians Colin Labadie, James O’Callaghan and Anna Pidgorna. The goal of these collaborations is to create connections amongst creators and organizations across distinct geographical, cultural and linguistic identities.

And finally, from March 2 to 5, Soundstreams will be presenting a concert entitled “R. Murray Schafer’s Odditorium.” It will feature a number of works from Schafer’s Patria cycle, which combines elements from opera, theatre and dance to create a hybrid genre the composer calls “theatre of confluence.” It promises to be full of dramatic surprises and energy, with theatre and film director Chris Abraham from Crow’s Theatre overseeing the entire production.


Feb 4: Toronto Symphony Orchestra. “The Year of the Rooster: A Chinese New Year Celebration.” Works by composers Huan Zhi Li, Chen Qigang, Vincent Ho, Shande Ding: Long March Symphony (Fifth Movement).

Feb 4: Music Gallery. “Emergents II: I=I + Caution Tape Collective.”

Feb 5: Syrinx Concerts Toronto. Includes works by Walter Buczynski.

Feb 7: Isabel Bader Centre for the Performing Arts, Kingston. Evergreen Club Contemporary Gamelan performing Canadian and international commissions.

Feb 11: Music Gallery. Performances by Alex Moskos, Doom Tickler and ZONES.

Feb 12: Kitchener-Waterloo Chamber Music Society. Improvisations with the Penderecki Quartet and the Dave Young Trio.

Feb 16: David Lidov. “Paper and Keys” includes a performance of Lidov’s VoiceMail. Array Space.

Mar 3: Alliance Française de Toronto. “The Work and Ideas of Pierre Schaeffer” with Darren Copeland.

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

Recent world events, and particularly what’s happening to our southern neighbours in the US, have had a great impact on most of us. I’ve been reflecting on the question that always seems to resurface throughout the ages during times of chaos and disturbance: how can music (and other creative arts) affect and support social change, transformation and even revolution? I agree with the notion that pursuing the creative act itself is one form of resistance. Yet I wonder what these times are asking of us regarding the creative process itself.

On November 23, I attended the Rainbow Nation concert presented by Soundstreams. It was a tribute to the legacy of Nelson Mandela and included a beautiful array of artistic styles and performers from South Africa, Canada and the US. During one of the short theatre skits that functioned as interludes between musical numbers, a conversation between a father and daughter brought home a profound truth. The father was distraught that his daughter was involved in student protests, particularly since his generation had struggled so much for the right to education. Her ringing reply was “Just listen.” The importance of listening is a message I’ve seen written over and over again in the numerous articles that have flooded my social media pages since the US election.

Warbler’s Roost

In my September column, I wrote about New Adventures in Sound Art (NAISA)’s programming of three sound installations as part of the in/future Festival at Ontario Place, noting how the practice of creating site-responsive works requires attention to the multi-layered elements of any given environment.

A few weeks ago, I travelled to a place called Warbler’s Roost to participate in a listening and soundscape weekend. A small group of sound artists gathered at this artist retreat and performance space, located about one hour north of Huntsville, to engage in the process of listening, recording and creating. Organized by the Toronto Soundhackers Meetup group in tandem with Darren Copeland, artistic director of NAISA, we began early on Saturday morning with a soundwalk – a collective act of walking in silence and listening to the environment. We then spent time both individually and in small groups making recordings of both the soundscape and of our sonic interactions with the environment. Back in the Warbler’s Roost studio, we listened to the recordings and then, again collectively, created a short composition from them that was performed later that evening as part of a NAISA concert. Within one day, we went from the simple act of being present with the sounds around us to a form of witnessing through recording and interacting to the act of creation and sharing. In a sense, this is the heartbeat that drives the musical creative act: cultivating presence and witnessing through creativity. These simple actions point to a way forward in generating listening behaviours that can inform and model how to live in a complex and diverse world.

I often find myself writing in this column about the culture and practice of listening. For example, in the October column, I spoke about the listening legacies of both R. Murray Schafer and Pauline Oliveros, along with the next-generation approach of Oliveros’ collaborator Doug Van Nort.

Dealing with these larger questions of social impact is an ongoing process of paying attention to what is emerging from the grist of what is being offered by those committed practitioners involved in the day to day music-making world. So with these thoughts as a background, let’s turn now to what is happening locally in the upcoming months of December and January.

Stephen Clarke

2204 In with the New 1

Early in the new year, at Gallery 345 on January 8, Arraymusic Ensemble member Stephen Clarke will present a concert of solo piano works by four composers, each of whom has a very distinctive voice: Giacinto Scelsi (Italy) Udo Kasemets (Canada), Horatiu Rădulescu (Romania/France) and Gerald Barry (Ireland). I talked with Clarke about the repertoire and his interest in the music of these composers, two of whom he has had personal friendships with.

It is the more mystical approach that both Schelsi and Rădulescu share that intrigues Clarke, as both these composers incorporate different influences from Eastern philosophies and religions. In fact it was Rădulescu’s interest in Hindu and Byzantine music and the way it works with natural resonances that sent him in the direction of pursuing what is known as spectral composition, a style that focuses on working with the overtone or harmonic series. Clarke will be performing Rădulescu’s 1968 piano sonata, Cradle to Abysses, a tightly structured atonal work with a mystical atmosphere, which was written just before the composer made his shift to spectral-based music. It is often thought that spectral composition began in the mid 1970s with French composers such as Grisey and Murail. However, Rădulescu’s forays into working with overtones, which can take one into a deeper relationship with the natural acoustic world, predate the French school.

To highlight the contrast between spectral and non-spectral approaches, Clarke chose to include Udo Kasemets’ Feigenbaum Cascades (1995) in the program. Hence the title of the concert:Cascades and Abysses.” The Kasemets piece, a spectral work written originally for Clarke, works with the harmonic series in a “beautifully pure mathematical way that speaks for itself.” In sharp contrast to this simplicity, Clarke will perform two works by Gerald Barry, a composer known for his more hyperactive and ironic approach as demonstrated in his ability to use banal material and infuse it with a highly charged energy. In Humiliated and Insulted, Barry’s piece written for Clarke in 2013, the audience will hear a work that sounds like a congregation singing a hymn, yet something has gone terribly wrong. Everyone is singing together, but not from the same spot in the score and, to make it more pronounced, no one even seems to notice.

Other opportunities to hear Clarke perform include a concert in early March where he will present a complete program of Rădulescu’s music on the Bosendorfer piano at St. Andrew’s Church. This piano comes equipped with extended lower notes, which are called for by the composer in these works. This concert will give fans of spectral composition ample opportunity to hear Rădulescu’s masterful approach. Clarke will also be performing on February 5 in a concert of works by Italy’s Salvatore Sciarrino, this year’s visiting composer at the University of Toronto’s New Music Festival. This final concert of the festival is a collaboration with New Music Concerts during which four of Sciarrino’s works spanning 1981 to 2015 will be heard.

U of T New Music Festival

2204 In with the New 2Sciarrino, one of Europe’s leading composers, writes music that seeks to portray the fragility of life, often creating pieces that are on the edge of audibility and pushing the instruments to their extreme limits. In his biography, he describes his style as “leading to a different way of listening, a global emotional realization, of reality as well as of one’s self.” Sciarrino’s music can also be heard during the festival at a concert featuring music for piano on January 30, which will also include works by Nono, Fedele and Berio.

The festival highlight will be the performance on February 1 of Sciarrino’s opera The Killing Flower (Luci mie traditrici) produced by Wallace Halladay and Toronto New Music Projects. The libretto is based upon the play Il tradimento per l’onore, which was first performed in Rome in 1664. A story of intrigue, love, betrayal and murder, the opera has become Sciarrino’s most often performed work out of his 14 music-theatre pieces composed to date. He recognizes the influence cinema plays in the creation of works for the stage and approaches his own creative process with this in mind. He openly declares that what he really wants through his composing is “to change the world.” Additional festival events include the performance of the Karen Kieser Prize-winning work by Sophie Dupuis, Perceptions de La Fontaine, a noontime lecture by Sciarrino on February 2, and a concert of music by contemporary Italian composers on February 4.

Electroacoustic Technologies

2204 In with the New 3Turning now to innovative performers using electroacoustic technologies, two women making waves in this field will be visiting Toronto over the next two months. First, American composer and sound artist Andrea Parkins, along with her ensemble, will be performing at the Music Gallery on December 20, using interactive electronics to create relationships and contrasts between the real and the ephemeral. She will collaborate in this performance with local artists Lina Allemano, Germaine Liu and Jason Doell. On January 7, theremin virtuoso Carolina Eyck from Germany will perform the world premiere of her latest composition as part of a New Music Concerts program. She will also be in town to celebrate the release of hew new CD, Fantasias for Theremin and String Quartet. Other composers whose works will be presented at the NMC event include Canadians D. Andrew Stewart and Omar Daniel, Bohuslav Martinů from Czechoslovakia and Maurice Ravel.

Two events that Soundstreams will be offering will be the return of the popular “Electric Messiah,” December 5 to 7, featuring wild and wacky renditions of Handel’s classic with singers Christine Duncan, Carla Huhtanen, Gabriel Dharmoo and Jeremy Dutcher, with electronic backup from Cheldon “Slowpitch” Paterson on turntables, Jeff McLeod on organ and John Gzowski on guitar. Moving ahead to February, Soundstreams is celebrating 100 years of Estonia’s independence by bringing the Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir to town on February 2, performing world premieres by Canadian composers Omar Daniel and Toronto-born Riho Esko Maimets (who is of Estonian heritage), along with compositions by Arvo Pärt.


2204 In with the New 4Canadian Music Centre

Dec 12: Centrediscs CD Launch: Canadian Flute Masterpieces.

Dec 15: “Class Axe” – a concert of new works for classical guitar by M. Côté, J. Denenberg, M. Horrigan, A. Jang, T. Kardonne and S. Marwood.

Canadian Opera Company

Jan 5: “Vocal Series” – First Nations mezzo-soprano Marion Newman presents a concert on the theme of reconciliation, featuring works by Canadian composers.

Feb 1: “Dance Series” – Peggy Baker Dance Projects; music by Debashis Sinha.


Dec 12: Toronto Masque Theatre – No Tongue Will Tally by Harry Somers and Claude Bissell.

Jan 10: Music Toronto – Sean Chen plays two works by Ligeti, as well as his own piano transcriptions.

Jan 21: Music Gallery – “The New Flesh.”

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

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