Margaret Bárdos in Music für das Ende - Blake HannahsonNearly 35 years after Claude Vivier’s abrupt death, something about his musical spirit is in the ether.

Claude VivierIn Vivier’s opera Kopernikus, a child named Agni, recently deceased, is revisited by what Vivier calls several “mystical figures borrowed from stories” – characters such as Merlin, Lewis Carroll, the Queen of the Night, a witch, a blind prophet – all of whom presumably would have been part of the child’s dream repertoire while alive. As she enters the afterlife, these characters gravitate around her, and she becomes the axis around which they revolve – she becomes, as Copernicus’s great discovery did, a new “centre of the universe.” Now, in the wake of a landmark performance of Kopernikus at the Banff Centre this summer by Toronto’s Against the Grain Theatre, a wave of Vivier’s music is about to pass through Toronto – such that Vivier himself is about to become, much like Agni, the main character in his own drama.

Along with Against the Grain’s production of Kopernikus at Banff, several other local groups will be presenting his music this season. On October 15, Esprit Orchestra will open their season with the Toronto premiere of his large orchestral work Siddartha. There will also be two performances of his string ensemble piece Zipangu: first with the Lapland Chamber Orchestra in a show hosted by Soundstreams on October 16, and second in a concert co-presented by New Music Concerts and the RCM’s 21C Festival in the spring. Perhaps most unusually, from October 27 to November 4, Soundstreams is mounting a production called Musik für das Ende, a three-part theatre presentation of Vivier’s music based around his piece of the same name.

There’s no particular reason why these performances are all happening now – and when pressed, the various players involved all insist it’s a coincidence. But it seems less like chance and more like a convergence of like-minded feeling, around a man who many in Toronto’s new music community regarded as a mentor and a friend.

Vivier’s own life was a remarkable one. Born in 1948 in Montreal of unknown parents, Vivier was adopted at the age of three and brought up for the priesthood, before leaving the seminary and devoting his life to composition. Studying in Quebec and abroad – most notably in Germany with Karlheinz Stockhausen – Vivier’s works mirrored his personal life, always circling back to themes of death, ritual, loss, and a wild, sensual understanding of beauty. In a final disturbing parallel, his body was found in his Paris apartment in 1983 after picking up a young man at a local bar – murdered at the age of 34.

Vivier remains one of Canada’s best-known composers, but his works aren’t as frequently performed as one might expect – which makes this present-day convergence around him difficult to explain. Perhaps it’s because on the one hand, his work feels big – slow-moving, mythical soundworlds that have the spectre of death in them. Something about Vivier’s music still reads as monumental: Kopernikus was chosen as the piece to herald a new era of arts programming at the Banff Centre, Musik für das Ende is the keystone of Soundstreams’ 35th anniversary season, and Siddartha, on a concert for which Esprit (also turning 35) has enlisted 93 performers, is in that sense one of the biggest works that the orchestra has ever done.

But at the same time, there’s more to his music than that. Among the individuals involved in the upcoming concert programs of his music, those who knew him personally describe a singular, thoughtful, sometimes reckless man, with a type of music-making that was uniquely his own; those who know him only from his music say the same. Something about Vivier’s music, especially the music he created later in his life, is so independently crafted that it still sounds wholly inhabited by his voice. Something about his work, and the vibrant life that he drew from to create it, feels for many – even over three decades since his death – incredibly intimate, and intensely alive.

Alexina LouieComposer Alexina Louie clearly remembers the blow of Vivier’s death. “I was in Brussels having a premiere of a piece,” she recalls. “I had run into Claude on a street in Montreal, and he was excited because he’d just gotten a Canada Council grant to go to Paris to write. I’d said I was going to be in Brussels at that time and he said, ‘Well, why don’t we meet up [in Paris]? Just give me a call.’ So I was calling him from Brussels and the phone never made a connection. And that was the weekend that he died.”

She also remembers his friendship – visiting him whenever she was in Montreal, and him doing the same in Toronto. “We would talk about music – he had very strong ideas about what constituted good music and bad music, and of course we had little tussles about things,” she says. “But he was a very special person. [And] his tragic death hit our community really hard.”

Thinking back on his life and music, Louie describes a composer who was relentless – someone who stuck to his convictions, no matter what. “He took a lot of criticism for his music,” she explains. “It shifted from this European take to this soundworld that was uniquely his own, based on one melody line with colours that were built around it. Compared to what was going on in European art music at that time it was very simple…[But] now, all of these decades later, it’s that music that he wrote, that is so fascinating, exotic, unusual, that is now being embraced.”

“Not everyone likes Claude’s music,” she adds. “But it’s so strong, you can tell it’s his voice when you hear it.”

One of Louie’s major compositions from the year of Vivier’s death – a large ensemble piece titled Music for a Thousand Autumns, commissioned by Montreal’s Société de musique contemporaine du Québec (SMCQ) – was written, in part, for him. “I wrote two pieces [that year] that were quite important to me at that time,” says Louie. “One was Music for a Thousand Autumns; one was O Magnum Mysterium – in Memoriam Glenn Gould. And these premature deaths really made me reflect a lot about what it takes to be a creative artist. Because – it’s my experience anyway – that it takes every ounce of your being to create a piece that you feel worthy. And both of them did that. They lived life like that.

“I had just moved back to Canada in 1980, and I received a commission from Serge Garant [at SMCQ],” she continues. “I was working with these ideas of eternity and what lives on after the death of a person – and also the fear of writing a piece for Montreal, which at that time was a city where an outsider was not necessarily always embraced warmly. There’s a theme in the piece, Music for a Thousand Autumns, that I connect with Claude. It’s a very simple theme, and it’s got colouration around it, and it’s my call to Claude. I’m calling out to Claude: ‘I need inspiration for your town – I want to write a good piece, I want to write a worthy piece.’ I wrote it with him in mind.”

Louie’s partner Alex Pauk, the founder and director of Esprit Orchestra, was also a close friend of Vivier’s. Louie describes the climate in which she, Pauk and Vivier all came of age: one where no composers had immediate institutional support, and where they were all used to channelling their own determination to succeed. Pauk was president of the Canadian League of Composers at a time when Canadian orchestral music wasn’t being heard on Canadian stages, Louie explains. That was a big part of why he started Esprit. In those first years, without an administrative team or the resources one might expect from an orchestral leader, Esprit was based out of the living room of Pauk and Louie’s home.

In Esprit’s concert on October 15, titled “Eternal Light,” Vivier’s Siddartha is slotted between the music of two other composers. Compositionally, they seem to embody Vivier’s own past and future. Colin McPhee’s Tabuh-Tabuhan (1936), a work that combines elements of orchestral composition with Balinese gamelan, seems a predecessor to the fervour for Asian (particularly Indonesian) music prevalent during Vivier’s time. The other piece is a 2016 work titled Spacious Euphony by Christopher Goddard – a doctoral student at McGill studying under a colleague of Vivier’s, John Rea.

Esprit gave its first public concert in August of 1983, just months after Vivier’s death. In the years that followed, Esprit played plenty of Vivier’s music, but never Siddartha – for which now, Louie says, the timing is right.

“Alex knew he wanted to do this piece for a long time,” Louie says. “And it just never happened. But because it’s the 35th anniversary of Esprit, he said, ‘This is the time to actually do it.’”

“Because Alex found Claude’s music compelling, and worthy,” she adds. “And it just felt right.”

Lawrence Cherney - photo by Trevor HaldenbyLawrence Cherney, artistic director of Soundstreams, never knew Vivier personally – but from the moment he first saw his music years ago, he knew that it was something special. “Somehow, I had been given a copy of the manuscript of [Music für das Ende],” he says. “It was literally written in his hand. And every once in a while for a year or two, I’d pull this thing out and think, ‘What have we got here?’

“We began to think about producing it then,” he adds. “But quite honestly, in those early days, I think we had no idea what this was. For me, it was just an intuition that there was something.”

The production this month, created by Soundstreams around Vivier’s music, is in three parts. The first, featuring Québécois actor Alex Ivanovici, is an original monologue inspired by Vivier’s letters. The final section is the title piece: Ivanovici alongside ten singers in a staged version of Music für das Ende. And in the centre will be a performance of the uncanny, eight-minute work Glaubst du an die Unsterblichkeit der Seele (Do you believe in the immortality of the soul?) – the last piece of music Vivier ever wrote.

“There’s this very eerie connection between what he wrote [and his life],” says Cherney. “Always this flirtation with life and death and beyond.”

This particular Soundstreams production has been a long time in the making – seven or eight years of planning, with rehearsals that have been going since August. “It’s immersive theatre, in a way that we’ve never really done before,” Cherney says. “I’m very proud of the things that we’ve done over the years and it isn’t about better or worse, but this is definitely different.”

Cherney describes how Musik für das Ende is structured: highly precisely, but with a lot that depends on interpretation. It was crafting that interpretation and developing it with the cast that proved to be one of the company’s biggest challenges. “It takes place in this twilight between theatre and music and opera...and it’s not any one of those, and yet it’s every one of them,” he says. “In terms of what a vocal ensemble can do, there’s a tremendous freedom in that.

“All that I can say about this is that I feel a little bit like what biographers must feel,” says Cherney. “The more I found out about this work, and about Claude, the more mysterious and the more intriguing it got. It’s not that I got close to him personally, but in a sense that mystery around the piece, and the depth of interpretation that we had, amplified as time went on.

“In a way, [Vivier’s music] keeps receding,” he says. “Every time we think we’re getting closer, there’s another horizon there. I think that’s a good sign.”

Rehearsal of Musik für das EndeThe title page of Vivier’s manuscript for Musik für das Ende bears a dedication, written in German, to “die Leute die heute sterben werden” (the people who will die today). “Living in the midst of beings destined for death I have often reflected upon this,” Vivier writes. “Instinctively I see these beings no longer in life but in death. In my dreams I was living more and more the strange ceremony of beings who vanish for ever, who become an ‘infinite moment’ in the eternal silence.”

If you trace the coming performances of Vivier’s music throughout the year, what you seem to get is a series of moments that are suspended in time. This fall at the Soundstreams season opener on October 16, the Lapland Chamber Orchestra will collaborate with Indigenous choreographer Michael Greyeyes on a new interpretation of Vivier’s Zipangu. Later this season, Zipangu will be reprised by New Music Concerts, the group that first commissioned it in 1980, alongside a new work by Brian Harman that was inspired by it. For Alexina Louie and Alex Pauk, Esprit Orchestra’s performance of Siddartha on October 15 feels like a bridge between the past and the future, and a way of treasuring the memory of a friend. And for the second Soundstreams production of the season, Musik für das Ende from October 28 to November 4, Lawrence Cherney and his team have been forced to confront these ideas of legacy and immortality onstage, dredging up the past in ways they hadn’t expected.

In the days before his unexpected death, Vivier’s work Do you believe in the immortality of the soul? was concerned with asking about life, and about the permanence of the loss he saw all around him. In his music, he seemed to be searching for a way to not vanish after death, and to move from silence towards a new type of sound. It would seem like he’s found it.

Benjamin Grosvenor - courtesy Patrick Allen: operaomnia.co.ukBenjamin Grosvenor has an uncanny knack of getting to the essence of any piece he plays. Add to that a burnished tone (he is one of the supreme colourists performing today) and impeccable, unfettered, seemingly effortless technique and you have one of the best pianists on the current concert stage.

Grosvenor is a unique creator of sound, worlds within worlds, attentive and nuanced; a riveting performer with keen musical insights. In the public eye for more than half of his life, the 25-year-old returns to the Jane Mallett Theatre November 7 for his third Music Toronto appearance since March 2014. The following email exchange took place in mid-September and focuses on that upcoming recital.

WN: You became the youngest-ever winner of the keyboard section of the 2004 BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition when you were 11. How life-changing an event was that?

BG: I think the competition cemented in my mind the idea that I would like to be a pianist. It was a great experience at the time, in particular the final which gave me the opportunity to play with a professional orchestra for the first time. The attention it brought began my career, although in those early years I did not give many concerts as naturally I needed the space for schooling and simply to grow as a musician.

Who was the first composer you fell in love with as a child? Who were the first performers you fell in love with?

The first composer I really fell in love with was Chopin, and the first piece I played that I felt a significant connection with was by him - one of his waltzes. The first performers who had an attraction for me were those that I saw playing live (Stephen Hough and Evgeny Kissin, for example) as well as Argerich, Horowitz and Lipatti, who were artists whose recordings we had in the house. It was only in my early teens that I began to listen more widely to other pianists and musicians and discovered many other names both current and historical, becoming fascinated by artists such as Cortot, Feinberg, Schnabel and others.

You said in a 2013 YouTube webcast that your attraction to composers like Chopin, Beethoven and Bach initially came from listening to recordings by pianists from the first half of the 20th century. Are you still inspired by these giants of the piano? What has been inspiring you recently?

I still find these pianists to be a source of inspiration - I was recently listening once again to some of Cortot’s Schumann recordings which are a marvel. I find these days though that I have less time for listening than I would like, and particularly not enough time to attend live concerts. Something I often relish about playing with orchestra is the opportunity to hear the second half of the program.

Our previous email exchange was prior to your 2015 Toronto concert with its Baroque rearview-mirror quality. Your program consisted of most of the pieces you recorded shortly thereafter for your Homages CD. I’d like to focus on your upcoming Music Toronto recital, beginning with Mozart’s Sonata No.13 in B-flat Major, K333 “Linz.” What in Mozart speaks to you in general? And what in the “Linz” sonata in particular?

There is a distilled quality to Mozart’s music - it has such purity and directness of emotion. But it is not just gilded, elegant music, rather music that teems with energy, complexity and life, with such a range of character and emotion. He had an extraordinary gift for juxtaposing diverse ideas and elements in ways that seem natural and effortless, and it is music always filled with the surprising and the unexpected.  

The piano sonatas are fascinating works to play in that there is such vivid characterization of the material. His ingenious uses of textures make the most of the instrument’s limitations, and the music seems so often to refer to other timbres and instrumental combinations. With one instrument responsible here for the whole dialogue, the writing is even more varied than that of the piano concerti (where the piano only needs to be a piano!) and though written in a pianistic context, one can imagine wind solos, quartets and tuttis. The Linz sonata is a great example of this. The outer movements have a tremendous sense of nervous energy and joie de vivre, both rich in thematic material and character. The last movement seems - with its written-in cadenzas and apparent solos/tuttis -  almost like a piano concerto without orchestra. The slow movement is incredibly tender and lyrical, with wind serenades and string quartets, and has a particularly unsettling and affecting middle section.

Brahms’ Four Pieces for Piano, Op.119 are so contemplative, eloquent and emotionally rich. Clara Schumann famously described the first as a “grey pearl, veiled and very precious.” How would you characterize them?

They are four singular and contrasted works. The first has a sense of sadness and resignation, with a large amount of dissonance, particularly in the opening bars which give the piece from the start a particularly searching and doubting atmosphere. The second is agitated in the outer sections, with a luminous waltz in the middle, all based on the same material. The third intermezzo is light-hearted and humorous, and the Rhapsody is largely defiant and joyous, though it ends with darkness and agitation in the tonic minor.

Brett Dean conceived his Hommage à Brahms as three interludes to be played interspersed between the Op.119 Piano Pieces. What moved you to take the audience on that journey?

I worked with Brett as a conductor in Australia when we did Mozart K466 together. I was at that point considering programming Op.119 when he sent me these pieces, written for Emanuel Ax. I thought it was very effective as a set, with the pieces providing illuminating contrasts to the Brahms works, and that it was fascinating to have this juxtaposition of old and new.

The second half of the recital begins with a piano arrangement of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. Did you discover it through George Copeland’s 1918 recording? Is it a variant of Leonard Borwick’s arrangement? What attracted you to it?

I had been interested in playing some more Debussy, and a friend pointed me in the direction of the Copeland recording which I thought was very effective in capturing the spirit and essence of the piece. There is an interesting quote from Copeland about his transcription: “I spoke to [Debussy] of my desire to transcribe some of his orchestral things for the piano – music which I felt to be essentially pianistic. He was at first sceptical, but finally agreed, and was in complete accord with the result. He was particularly delighted with my piano version of L’après-midi d’un faune, agreeing with me that in the orchestral rendering, which called for different instruments, the continuity of the procession of episodes was disturbed. This has always seems to me the loveliest, the most remote and essentially Debussyan, of all his music, possessing, as it does, a terrible antiquity, translating into sound a voluptuous sense that is in no wise physical.”

 However, examining the scores of the original and these two transcriptions, I came to the view that Copeland was a little sketchy in places, almost as if a reminiscence of the work; Borwick better preserved compelling subtleties in these passages. What I have ended up playing is mostly Borwick, with a few touches of Copeland and of my own.

I find it intriguing that the original version of the Debussy was written in 1894, just a year after the Brahms Op.119, and that the final two works on your program, Berg’s Sonata Op.1 and Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit, were both written in 1908. How did you decide on the repertoire for the Toronto concert?

This was part of the idea for the construction for the program. Indeed, with the Mozart as a kind of preface, there are four seminal works here that were written within two decades, and I think it fascinating to hear them together.  The Debussy, with its whole-tone scales and unstable tonality, is the bridge in that sense. Indeed, Pierre Boulez called it the beginning of modern music.  

What drew you to the Berg sonata?

I have loved Berg’s music since playing some of his early songs during my studies at the Royal Academy. I had also had a good experience getting to know his violin concerto by reading it through with a friend who was preparing it. I love this rich and dense harmonic world, with its tonal ambiguity, whole-tone scales and chromaticism. It is an emotive work, dramatic and uneasy, with a sense of tension that stretches from the first cadence until the final coda when the tonic triad is finally reinstated.

Gaspard has been a staple of yours for many years and it appears on your first Decca CD (2012). What fascinates you about it?

Gaspard contains some of the most evocative music written for the piano. In playing this music, you feel somewhat like a painter, with so many colours at your disposal, but it is perhaps above all about invoking atmosphere – casting a spell. The poems by Bertrand always add a particular fire to the imagination. I think my favourite piece of the set remains Le Gibet, which is so hypnotic and awe-inspiring. There is one phrase in particular in the middle of the piece which I never cease to find deeply moving, where – among all this that seems larger than the individual – suddenly there emerges this sense of personal vulnerability, and of incredible sadness.

I’ve read that you find the stage to be liberating. Please elaborate.

Performing onstage can feel liberating, but I think performances feel very different from occasion to occasion. I would say the form of music making I find most consistently liberating is chamber music.  You are making music with others - all striving for the whole to be greater than the sum of the parts - yet the intimate scale means that it is a true partnership of equals. It can be entirely magical!

Lands End Ensemble - photo by Bo HuangIt was a pleasant, late summer sunny day, and I was having a nice, relaxed conversation with composer Elisha Denburg, at the Canadian Music Centre on St. Joseph St. in downtown Toronto.

Denburg serves as the general manager of the Canadian League of Composers (CLC). We were reflecting on the coming uptick in CLC activity towards the end of October, as the pre-eminent annual international contemporary music festival, the ISCM World New Music Days, approaches, returning to Canada for the first time since 1984, and to Vancouver for the very first time.

The CLC is home to the Canadian Section of an international organization, the International Society of Contemporary Music (ISCM), which sponsors this contemporary music festival each year in a different country. The stated purpose of the festival is to “present music from each of our members, showcasing the incredible diversity of musical practice in our time.”

Elisha DenburgIn the course of our conversation, Denburg reminded me that the previous time the ISCM festival was in Canada, in 1984, it was not the CLC, but rather the now defunct Canadian Music Council (1946–1990) that hosted the Canadian Section of the ISCM, and thus the festival. His observation triggered a flood of memories for me, as I vividly recalled participating in that earlier edition of the festival, both as a broadcaster with CBC Radio, and as a composer/performer with the Canadian Electronic Ensemble (CEE).

The 1984 ISCM festival had been a grand event, held over 13 days, with concerts presented in both Toronto (September 21 to 28) and Montreal (September 28 to October 3). Many of the concerts were recorded for broadcast on CBC’s English and French language radio services, including those heard on Two New Hours, the national network new music series I had created in 1978.

Over the course of the festival, a great number of new and recently composed works by internationally recognized composers were performed, including those by Canadians such as Serge Arcuri, John Burke, Brian Cherney, Micheline Coulombe St.-Marcoux, Denis Gougeon, Alex Pauk, John Rea and many others. Esprit Contemporaine (now Esprit Orchestra), only in its second season, gave the world premiere of one of Cherney’s most important works, Into the Distant Stillness, as well as the Canadian premiere of Ritratto by Finnish composer Magnus Lindberg. Toronto’s New Music Concerts presented the Canadian premiere of Laboratorium by French composer Vinko Globokar. The CEE presented the Canadian premieres of two outstanding electronic compositions, Klang by British composer Jonty Harrison and Love in the Asylum by American Michael McNabb, as well as repertoire works by the members of the ensemble: David Grimes, Larry Lake, Jim Montgomery and me. And of course, there were dozens more concerts with compositions from nearly 50 different countries.

It was not my first World New Music Days. I had also been to the 1983 ISCM festival, which had been held in Århus, Denmark. Steen Frederiksen, the head of music for Danish Radio had contracted to broadcast the entire festival on the Danish national radio network. He noted that there were an unusually large number of Canadian compositions in the programming that year, and persuaded CBC Radio Music to send me and members of my Two New Hours team to produce CBC broadcasts from Århus. Being at the Århus festival also served to prepare us for the 1984 ISCM festival in Toronto and Montreal, which had already been confirmed back in 1981.

The new concert hall in Århus had opened just the year before, and at that time was the largest in Scandinavia. We made several Two New Hours broadcasts there, and were able to include major interviews with such notable Danish composers as Per Nørgård, Bo Holton and Bent Sørensen, as well as with visiting composers from other countries. In the course of making this series of broadcasts we came to appreciate the magnitude of the organizational effort such a festival entails.

In 1990 a funding crisis forced the Canadian Music Council to fold, and the designation of Canadian Section of the ISCM was transferred to the CLC. Nineteen years later the idea to host the ISCM festival in Canada was rekindled. “I had the initial idea to do this, while talking with ISCM Canadian Section president André Ristic in June 2009, sitting outside a house in Vancouver after a reception,” Winnipeg composer Jim Hiscott told me. “I had just been elected as vice president of the Canadian Section, and was thinking about how great it would be to have the festival in Vancouver. Many new music groups are in the city and province, and there’s a different aesthetic and cultural range than in most European communities. We both started developing it immediately.”

The CLC made its bid to present the 2017 edition of the festival in 2014, in partnership with the Vancouver series Music on Main and its artistic director, David Pay. The pitch was accepted, and the process of organizing and producing the concerts in Vancouver began. The first Canadian edition of the ISCM festival in 33 years will take place November 2 to 8, with more than 30 concerts and events in a number of popular Vancouver venues. The Vancouver team shortened the festival title, calling it simply ISCM2017.

Which brings us back to the CLC office and my conversation with Elisha Denburg. Near the end of October, Denburg will travel to Vancouver to set up and host the Festival Hub, a centre for festival information which will act as a space that provides opportunity for artists, delegates and audience members to connect, network, share resources and refresh between concerts. The Festival Hub will be in a space know as The Post at 750, which houses the offices of Music on Main near the CBC Vancouver building on Hamilton St., and close to many of the concert venues. There will be concerts at The Centre in Vancouver for the Performing Arts, Christ Church Cathedral, the Orpheum, The Annex, the Roundhouse, UBC School of Music, Vancouver Playhouse and the Vancouver Public Library.

There will be many programming highlights during ISCM2017, as can be expected in a festival this large. Artistic director David Pay was successful in attracting a number of touring groups, including the National Arts Centre Orchestra and music director Alexander Shelley; the Ensemble contemporaine de Montréal; the Aventa Ensemble; Land’s End Ensemble; the Bozzini Quartet; and the Victoria Symphony, as well as a number of internationally recognized soloists. Add to these the many local Vancouver ensembles, such as the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, the Hard Rubber Orchestra, the Turning Point Ensemble, the Vancouver Chamber Choir, Elektra Women’s Choir, musica intima, the Emily Carr String Quartet, the Standing Wave Ensemble and many more, and you realize that this is an event of enormous scale and potential impact on new music in Canada.

There are too many concerts to single out a fair selection of significant works to be performed. Having said this, I will confess that, on my personal wish list, I’m eager to hear violinist Andréa Tyniec give the world premiere of Evta, Ana Sokolović’s violin concerto, with ECM+; as well as Land’s End Ensemble performing Omar Daniel’s compelling Trio No. 2; and a late-night, free concert in the atrium of the Vancouver Public Library’s downtown branch, featuring the spatially deployed Redshift Vertical Orchestra, with surround sound performances of music by seven Canadian composers – Jordan Nobles, Lisa Cay Miller, Alfredo Santa Ana, Rita Ueda, James Maxwell, Tim Brady and Benton Roark.

(None of this, of course, can happen without significant resources, and the ISCM2017 team acknowledges the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, Creative BC and the Government of BC, the City of Vancouver and the SOCAN Foundation as its major funders.)

If you’re able to be in Vancouver the first week of November, it’s an opportunity to hear some of the best new concert music in the world. As of this writing, two of the concerts have been cleared for what the festival team are calling viewing events. See the ISCM website for up-to-date information. There will also be a documentary of the entire festival, scheduled for release later in November.

Perfection, and in particular, the pursuit of perfection in the performing arts, can be an infectious thing. An artist who has attained a high standard of perfection cannot tolerate anything less than that standard in their ongoing work.

Thus it was with pianist, composer and media artist Glenn Gould, whose obsession with and ability to achieve perfection in his recordings is well documented.

I experienced this on a personal level during our work together, making broadcasts on CBC Radio during the last eight years of his life. His approach to making radio paralleled his philosophy as a recording artist: every last detail would be determined by him as the creator of an artistic act.

Glenn Gould at Stratford, Ontario, 1956 - photo by Herbert NottGould and I met early in 1974, when I was producing with CBC Radio’s national network music department. This was the same music department through which Gould’s very first broadcasts were heard in the 1950s, before he signed as a recording artist with Columbia Masterworks. And it was through CBC Radio that Gould also honed his skills as a radio artist. He related so completely as an artist to the medium of radio, that his many radio documentaries were, essentially, his symphonies.

Prior to 1974, Gould had already begun to plan a series of CBC Radio broadcasts to celebrate the centennial that year of the birth of a composer he admired every bit as much as J.S. Bach or Richard Strauss: Arnold Schoenberg. Gould told me that these three composers were his avatars, and this was precisely the word he used. These were the three composers whose complex counterpoint most fascinated him, and whose music satisfied his need for a convincing musical, intellectual and spiritual discourse. The celebration of Schoenberg’s centennial was of enormous importance to Gould, and he managed to convince the senior managers of CBC Radio music to devote ten one-hour-long broadcasts on the national network to mark the occasion. The programs, naturally, would be planned, written and hosted by Gould, and much to my surprise, he approached me to serve as his producer. And so it was through an exploration of Schoenberg and his music that I came to encounter the workings of Gould’s very particular and ever so precise mind.

“Perfection was the focus of everything we did,” audio engineer Lorne Tulk, Gould’s lifelong friend, told me. It was Tulk who spent countless hours with Gould after his recording sessions, reviewing takes and marking the musical scores with him, to show where the edits would be made. Gould once proudly showed me one of these resulting “paper edits” with its detailed markings. It was a Mozart sonata, and he was eager to show me where a certain passage had been “regenerated” by Lorne and inserted into the edited master, every time that particular passage appeared. Regeneration was, to the world of analogue recording, what cloning is in the digital world.

The point was, once Gould had determined that a key ingredient of an edited performance was perfect, nothing less than that perfect representation would be allowed to stand.

Likewise, in making Gould’s radio broadcasts, every detail was scripted, including his and his co-host’s supposed personal opinions and observations. For example, there was this brief exchange in episode nine of the Schoenberg series:

Ken Haslam: Oh, wait a minute, Glenn, John Cage studied with Arnold Schoenberg?

Glenn Gould: Of course he did. I assumed you knew that, Ken.

Ken Haslam: No, I didn’t. That’s the most unlikely bit of casting, yet!

Such was a moment of scripted spontaneity in Glenn Gould’s wondrous world of radio. As a broadcasting collaborator, he was always inventive, provocative and stimulating, and as a friend he was delightful and considerate, if occasionally demanding, such as when his late night phone calls came at inconvenient moments.

The 85th anniversary of Gould’s birth is being marked in a great variety of ways. Perhaps the most notable of these is the release, by SONY Classical, of a new multi-disc album titled GLENN GOULD, The Goldberg Variations, The Complete Unreleased Recording Sessions, June 1955. As the title indicates, the album documents Gould’s complete takes of Bach’s Goldberg Variations from those famous recording sessions, which took place between 10 and 16 June 1955. It was the 22-year-old Gould’s debut recording for Columbia Masterworks, and took place in Columbia’s 30th Street Studio in New York.

In the extensive album booklet, writer Robert Russ calls the new release, “...the chance to attend the birth of a legendary album and gain an insight into the analogue recording process.” The booklet documents every aspect of the recording, from the background story leading to Gould’s signing his original contract, to his choice of the piano, to technical matters such as the qualities and limitations of recording to analogue tape. There’s a discussion of how the recording team dealt with Gould’s singing along with his playing, as well as a detailed transcript of the spoken exchanges between pianist and producer, associated with every recorded take. There’s also an interview with the late Howard Scott, the producer of the recording, in which Scott, among other things, comments on the advisability of such a release.

I asked Lorne Tulk what he felt of the decision to release these unedited sessions, given the constant striving for perfection in their work together. Lorne was unconcerned and of the view that Gould wouldn’t have objected. Ray Roberts, the man who served as Gould’s aide in all practical, non-artistic matters, responded to the same question somewhat differently.

“There are two sides to that particular coin,” Ray told me.

It’s a question that can never be answered definitively, but the speculation may continue a good long time, adding to the fascinating Gould legacy.

David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto.

The Tragically Hip in Jennfier Baichwall and Nicholas de Pencier's 'Long Time Running' - photo courtesy of Elevation PicturesThe WholeNote’s sixth annual guide to the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) takes a look at 20 of the films in TIFF’s 42nd edition, in which music plays a notable role. After sleuthing through the credits of many of the 255 features in the program and previewing 14 of them, what follows represents a cross-section of titles that music lovers with a taste for cinema can use as a guide.

Long Time Running: As Jennifer Baichwal said at the TIFF Canadian films’ press conference earlier this month, when she and Nicholas de Pencier made the seminal doc Manufactured Landscapes they never imagined they would ever film a rock tour. But filming The Tragically Hip’s final tour proved to be an intense and emotional experience for them. When it was announced last year that singer Gord Downie had been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, it seemed as though the 30-year career of that quintessential Canadian band was over, but Downie convinced his bandmates to go on tour. Long Time Running captures the exhilarating result.

Singular Performers: There is a handful of music documentaries this year that focus on singular performers of popular music. Programmer Thom Powers describes Lili Fini Zanuck’s Eric Clapton: A Life in 12 Bars (the title couldn’t be more apt) as “an intimate, revealing musical odyssey” about the blues-influenced guitar virtuoso. Powers writes that Sophie Fiennes’ Grace Jones: Bloodlight and Bami, filmed over the course of a decade, “offers a stylish and unconventional look at the Jamaican-born model, singer, and new wave icon.” Sammy Davis, Jr. was a dancer, singer, impressionist and actor of unparalleled charisma who, according to Powers, “began dazzling audiences at age three and never stopped until his death at 64.” Sam Pollard’s Sammy Davis Jr.: I’ve Gotta Be Me shows how he “broke racial barriers and defied societal norms around interracial romance, religion and political affiliation but paid a heavy price. If you’ve never beheld Davis in action,” Powers writes, “prepare to gasp in awe and delight.”

Child of Arc: French director Bruno Dumont calls his bizarre new film, Jeannette, the Childhood of Joan of Arc, a cinematographic opera since it takes the writings of  Charles Péguy (1873-1914) with his socialist world view and fervent Catholicism and sets them to music arranged by French composer/performer Igorrr (whom Dumont describes as “an experimental electro multi-instrumentalist who can switch in a second from Scarlatti to heavy metal.”) The focus is on Joan’s spiritual questioning and political awareness, first as a winsome eight-year-old (Lise Leplat Prudhomme), then as a mature thirteen-year-old (Jeanne Voisin). It’s often surreal, sometimes blasphemous but overwhelmingly devotional as Dumont manages to have his satirical cake and (reverently) eat it too. Not to be missed: a nun played by twins (Aline and Elise Charles) singing evocatively and dancing awkwardly about her love for the Holy Spirit. Dumont was so impressed by the twins’ musical talent that he asked them to compose most of the songs in the film. As to Dumont’s own musical taste: “After Fauré come Brel and the Rolling Stones, and then I can skip on until Igorrr.”

Lanthimos: There is no more rigorous filmmaker working today than Yorgos Lanthimos. Always compelling, sometimes outrageous, in The Killing of a Sacred Deer – an unsettling, gripping homage to Greek tragedy in which a 16-year-old boy (Barry Keoghan) whose father died on the operating table takes revenge on a cardiac surgeon (Colin Farrell), with dire consequences – he again creates a singular universe with its own internal logic. Everything in the film, from the most mundane to the most crucially relevant, is spoken in a flat, matter-of-fact, otherworldly tone. Which only adds to impact of the horror as Lanthimos deliciously explores his premise and doubles down on his attack on the hypocrisy and smugness of the bourgeoisie.

The majority of the music on the atmospherically striking soundtrack was sourced by Lanthimos himself. Following the sepulchral opening chorus of Schubert’s Stabat Mater D383 the film plunges into the unearthly tones of Gubaidulina’s Rejoice! (for violin and cello). Other Gubaidulina works used include the evocative bayan (Russian accordion) pieces,  Sonata “Et Expecto” the ominous De Profundis and Fachwerk for Bayan, Percussion and String Orchestra.

Past the midway point, Ligeti joins in with large excerpts of his early Cello Concerto and the second movement (Lento e Deserto) of his Piano Concerto, both of which reinforce the ominous events unfolding onscreen. Greek composer Jani Christou’s atonal orchestral work Enantiodromia also supports the director’s vision. Herr, unser herrscher from Bach’s St. John Passion plays its special part as does the Waterboys’ catchy How Long Will I Love You. Rarely has a soundtrack of sourced classical music been as integral to a film’s mood as this one.

The Day AfterThe Day After: By contrast, the only music in Hong Sangsoo’s perfectly crafted little gem about male-female relationships, The Day After, is a simple melody composed by the director himself. But whether used as a bridge between scenes or as subtle emphasis to one of several revealing conversations, it makes an essential contribution to this tale that is elegantly shot in glorious black and white.

Buzzed About at Sundance: One of the most buzzed-about films at this year’s Sundance Film Festival was Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, a love story starring Armie Hammer and Timothée Chalamet that has been compared to Moonlight. Guadagnino is another director who likes to curate the soundtracks of his films. This one includes tracks by John Adams, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Satie and Ravel, as well as a song by Sufjan Stevens created specifically for the movie. In addition, Chalamet performs Bach’s Capriccio on the Departure of his Beloved Brother on guitar and piano. The movie is set in the 1980s so a lot of period Italian pop music (including Giorgio Moroder’s Lay Lady Lay) can be heard on the radio and Hammer dances to the Psychedelic Furs’ Love My Way. “It’s kind of autobiographical, because I remember listening to that song when I was 17 and being completely affected by it,” says Guadagnino. “I wanted to pay homage to myself then.”

High praise for Vega: A Fantastic Woman, Sebastián Lelio’s follow-up to his fondly remembered Gloria, has already generated high praise for its star, the trans singer/actress, Daniela Vega. Guy Lodge touched on the film’s music component in Variety: “The light hot-and-cold shiver that characterizes [the film] sets in from the first, head-turning notes of the score, a stunning, string-based creation by British electronic musician Matthew Herbert that blends the icy momentum of vintage Herrmann with spacious gasps of silence. This disquieting soundtrack plays enigmatically over the film’s opening image of cascading waters at the spectacular Iguazu Falls on the Argentine-Brazilian border — a projection, we come to learn, of a romantic vacation that will never take place.

“Music, too, is ingeniously used to define her [Vega] from either side of the looking-glass: Lelio pulls off a daringly literal song cue in Aretha Franklin’s (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman at a point when his protagonist most requires such blunt self-assertion, while the character’s own high, ethereal rendition of Handel’s Ombra mai fu later on amounts to an act of regenerative grace.”

Herbert also composed the score for Lelio’s other film in the festival, Disobedience, adapted from Naomi Alderman’s novel about a woman (Rachel Weisz) who returns home to her orthodox Jewish community in London and rekindles a romance with her cousin’s wife (Rachel McAdams).

Seven Suggestions: A new film by François Girard, the director of Thirty Two Short Films about Glenn Gould and The Red Violin, always gets our attention. We’re giving a special look to Hochelaga, Terre des Âmes, not only because of its ambitious subject matter (the history of Montreal spanning 750 years) but because the soundtrack is credited to minimalist avatar Terry Riley and his guitarist son Gyan.

Kim Nguyen, whose powerful earlier film, the Oscar-nominated War Witch still resonates, has filled the soundtrack of his new film, Eye on Juliet, with music by Timber Timbre, the masters of reverb, spooky synths and evocative vocals that seem to come from a deep emotional space. With the exception of one or two songs from their previous albums, they wrote new music specifically for Eye on Juliet, described by programmer Steve Gravestock as a “distinctive romance set in a time of surveillance, terrorism and prejudice.”

Writer/director Sadaf Foroughi uses excerpts from the classical music canon on the soundtrack of her first feature  AVA, about a 16-year-old upper-middle class girl in Tehran whose stifling relationship with her parents fuels her rebelliousness. Boccherini’s charming Minuetto from String Quintet in E Major, OP.11, No.5 is one of the most famous examples of Baroque gentility. Vitali’s Chaconne in G Minor contains some of the most divine Baroque violin music ever written. And Purcell’s The Cold Song from his opera King Arthur is a truly chilling work. It will be interesting to see how Foroughi works them into her film.

According to Fat Cat Records, Montreal-based Olivier Alary (who wrote the score to Carlos and Jason Sanchez’s psychological thriller A Worthy Companion) “explores the grey areas between noise and musicality and likes to blur the boundaries between what is acoustic and what is generated electronically.”

Toronto-based Ingrid Veninger turns her lens on the friendship between two young teenage girls in Porcupine Like, which has a soundtrack consisting entirely of 17 tune-worthy songs by Carlin Nicholson and Michael O’Brien most of which are performed by their retro indie band Zeus.

Canadian film programmer Magali Simard describes Black Cop as having a free form jazz feel and a number of songs that stand out. On his website, composer Dillon Baldaserro describes his style as a “combination of acoustic, orchestral and electronic elements to create an emotional and thematic soundscape that first and foremost communicate a feeling and a narrative.”  

Maggie Lee (in Variety) calls Mouly Surya’s Marlina the Murderer in Four Acts  “the first Satay Western.” She singles out Zeke Khaseli and Yudhi Arfani “for their exceptional score, which grasps the spirit of Morricone then reinvents it with original Indonesian elements, such as the soulful folk songs in Sumba dialect that the bandits sing or their use of local instruments.”

And By Reputation: Other films that look promising based in part on the name recognition of their composers include:

Kings, soundtrack by the team of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, is the first film in English (starring Halle Berry and Daniel Craig) by Deniz Gamze Ergüven following his acclaimed Mustang;

Lady Bird, soundtrack by Jon Brion (who’s worked with Paul Thomas Anderson, David O. Russell and Charlie Kaufman), is Greta Gerwig’s highly anticipated directorial debut;

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, soundtrack by Carter Burwell (who’s scored all but one of the Coen brothers’ films and all but one of Spike Jonze’s films), is Martin McDonagh’s eagerly awaited follow-up to In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.

We’ll give the last word, for now, to Burwell: “There’s just too much music in movies,” he says. “Almost always more than I think there should be. It’s either lack of confidence on the part of filmmakers or a tradition of scoring things. It’s always better to have less than to have more.”

The Toronto International Film Festival runs from
September 7 to 17. Check tiff.net for further information.

Paul Ennis is the managing editor of The WholeNote.

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