p26_remembering_hsomers002Harry Somers was a man who was always noticed. He had a presence that would fill a room: whatever room he entered, large or small. He had an enormous intellect and potent creativity, and a physical frame and a big, resonant voice to match. And his composer’s voice was and continues to be more than noticeable: it knocks you over with the force and beauty of its sound and its message. He died in 1999, but like all great composers, Harry remains with us, living in his music.

The release of a Centrediscs DVD of the historic CBC Television production of Harry Somers, Mavor Moore and Jean Languirand’s opera Louis Riel, together with another CD volume of Somers’ orchestral works, gives us an occasion to look back and to remember Harry Somers. It more or less completes, at least for now, the Canadian Music Centre’s Window on Somers project. There has never been a project on this scale to document the music of a Canadian composer; it embraces 12 volumes of CDs (several of them multiple-disc sets), and now its first DVD.

Harry was, for me, both a colleague and a friend. He was a respected composer, a creative powerhouse who could astound us with his bold new ideas and the brilliant scores that embodied them. And he was also a fellow musician who would easily and happily lend an ear to whatever topic we might wish to chat about. Harry loved big, ambitious projects and he also liked to have fun. It’s been 12 years since he died, and I still miss him.

His voice was as strong as it was diverse and multi-faceted. Over the span of his more than 100 works there are monumental creations, such as the operas Louis Riel and Mario and the Magician, and there are miniatures and other small-scale pieces like the choral works Gloria and The Wonder Song. There are chamber works such as the four string quartets and five piano sonatas, and there are media compositions such as Images of Canada and Absract for Television. And there are numerous works that defy classification, like Chura-churum for voices, instruments and electronics, and Zen, Yeats and Emily Dickinson for actors, singers and instruments. His is a compositional voice that has such range that it can at various times express itself via romantic, neo-baroque, indeterminate, interactive, graphic, polyspatial, polytemporal and other advanced means. In all cases, though, it remains distinctly and characteristically Harry’s voice. That unique, noble, glorious, sacred and profane voice that was and is Harry Somers’.

Over the course of the last 12 years Harry’s widow Barbara Chilcott and his friend Robert Cram have, with the help of many supporters, spun out a long series of recordings and other projects known as A Window on Somers. I was lucky enough to have been the person selected to produce the CDs. There are 12 volumes of CDs on the Centrediscs label, plus a few extra discs originally released as CBC Records but now distributed by the Canadian Music Centre. These recordings collect together a majority, although not yet all of Harry’s musical output. The performances are by musicians whom Harry knew and with whom he chose to work while he was alive. The underlying artistic policy embraced by Barbara and Robert throughout the project was, “just work with the best possible talent – the results will speak for themselves.”

The performances and recordings are made with great skill and superb musicianship, coupled with the affection these artists shared with Harry. The artistic achievement of A Window on Somers is one to be proud of. And it gives us all that unique possession: Harry’s music.

Of course, we would have traded all of this just to have Harry back. His passing at 73 years was, needless to say, premature. He still had so much to say. I bloody well do still miss him. But he gave us a pretty great ride, and inestimable musical riches, along the way. This moment in Canadian musical history is something of a milestone. And we all thank Harry for that.

David Jaeger is a broadcaster, composer, senior music producer at CBC Radio 2 and friend of the late Harry Somers.

For a review of the Centrediscs Riel DVD see CD Editor David Olds’ Editor’s Corner.

5aSCHOENBERG ONCE SAID there was great music still to be written in C. Ann Southam proved him right. As she said of some of her pieces, they “cheerfully hunted for Middle C”– and in doing so had a disconcerting way of reinterpreting familiar forms and techniques.

A graduate of the University of Toronto and the Royal Conservatory of Music, Ann wrote music in a wide range of styles. Her lyricism and fascination with an instrument’s body, resonance, tone and sensuality re-invented the art. Although she continued to use a 12 tone row and spin it out, one note at a time for 20 years, Ann hoped she could bring some tonal sense to the serial technique. It may be called “minimal,” but her works embroider the layers of tonal fabric created through the serial row – weaving in a manner that reflects traditional women’s work.

Starting off as one of Canada’s pioneers in electronic music, Ann created her early work for dancers. She loved working with them, and felt that because they could sense the time space as much as the physical space, she didn’t have to write anything down. She just created her music directly.

When she wrote for piano, she continued to work directly on the instrument, as she did in composing her series of solo piano pieces, Rivers. “After the exotic and ‘disembodied’ world of electroacoustic music in which I’d worked for many years,” she said, “there was the sheer pleasure of making music by hand – the pleasure of touch.”

Some of Ann’s major piano compositions include works in the virtuosic tradition of Chopin and Liszt. Her pieces are characterized by a flow and energy produced by rhythmic cycles that repeat within interchanging melodic motifs. Her slow music suspends our sense of time, while the fast pieces, with their undercurrent of recklessness, become hypnotic and surprisingly tranquil and reflective. Although maintaining an angular tone row, both extremes reveal a serene lyricism that is a common thread in her music.

A generous philanthropist and strong advocate of Canadian women artists, Ann also mentored young composers and was always eager to learn about their music. One young composer, who is completing his doctorate at the University of Toronto, was surprised when Southam came to his concert last year. She said that she no longer wanted to talk about her work. She was more fascinated with how their encounters influenced his music.

Ann was also a fun-loving woman who loved east coast fiddle music and bagpipes. She was without pretence or artistic snobbery and could see humour in any situation. While we were working on a recording project, Ann was sitting on my floor with her manuscript laid out in front of her. One of my dogs, a puppy at the time, bolted from the kitchen and headed straight for Ann, but seeing the paper on the floor did what puppies are expected to do. I was horrified. As we ran to the bathroom with the dripping manuscript, Ann turned to me and remarked, “I hope that wasn’t a comment on my music!” Her irrepressible sense of humour is one of the qualities that made her a joy to work with.

Ann Southam will be remembered for her unique voice and individual style in musical compositions that allowed interpreters and dancers the freedom and flexibility for their own creativity to flourish. Her collaborators, who included the best artists, dancers, choreographers and musicians in Canada, are feeling her loss with immense sadness and remembering her with admiration and gratitude for the legacy she left.

Her generosity of spirit and her music will stay with us forever.

Christina Petrowska Quilico is professor, piano and musicology, and director of classical piano in the Department of Music, York University.

56_ken_wintersCANADA’S MUSIC WORLD LOST one of its most eloquent supporters last month. Critic, broadcaster and scholar Ken Winters passed away at his farm in Orono, Ontario on Tuesday, February 15, 2011. Born into a musical family in 1929 in Dauphin, Manitoba, Winters had a rich and varied career in music in Canada. He worked as an organist, choirmaster and arts critic in Winnipeg from 1954 to 1966, at which point he moved to Toronto to write dance and music reviews for the Toronto Telegram. He served as the executive director of the Ontario Federation of Symphony Orchestra and the Association of Canadian Orchestras from 1971-1975. During this time, he also was the co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Music in Canada. He and his co-editors Helmut Kallmann and Gilles Potvin brought a rigour and scholarship to a vital and important project.

Also a first-rate broadcaster, Ken was the host of CBC Stereo’s Mostly Music for many years, presenting concerts, documentaries and series full of insight, passion and a particular appreciation for thoughtful, forward-looking performers, composers and teachers. His sonorous, well-modulated voice suited radio and his meticulously written scripts were full of poetic turns of phrase.

More recently, Ken wrote music reviews for the Globe and Mail. These were beautifully written and always gave the sense that he was holding the performance he was reviewing up to a high standard of musical emotion and meaning. That being said, he was generous and encouraging, especially towards young talent and new ventures. From my own perspective, Ken’s reviews of Toronto Masque Theatre were positive, fair and challenging and I was always happy to hear he was coming. More generally, it was just always a supreme pleasure to open the paper and read Ken’s sumptuous prose. The music always came first for him and he had no time for gimmickry or nonsense.

I have kept copies of his reviews of ventures in which I was involved and there are many excerpts I could share by way of example of Ken’s lovely turn of phrase. Of Anton Kuerti’s appearance last summer at Music at Sharon, with the Tokai String Quartet in a performance of Robert Schumann’s Piano Quintet, Op.47, Ken wrote:

“All four strings played like souls inspired, as indeed they must have been by Kuerti’s phenomenal, minutely and grandly collaborative account of the piano part.”

I think what runs through all of Ken’s critical writingand his distinguished broadcasting career, is a passion for well-crafted and well-performed music, and a very public desire on his part to be moved by it. I also appreciate that Ken kept alive the memories of the significant and supremely talented composers, performers and others connected with Canada’s rich music community. He often made reference to Harry Somers, Jon Vickers, Lois Marshall, Ernest MacMillan, Maureen Forrester, the Orford String Quartet, but he never made it sound as though those figures represented a golden age. He was just as anxious to pay tribute to the young emerging musical leaders of this generation and seemed to recognize that his well-chosen and honest words carried weight and importance. Ken’s final review was of the Tafelmusik performance of Mass in B Minor on February 13. Of those special musicians he wrote:

“This choir and orchestra are deeply inside what they do. They listen raptly. They mean what they play and sing. There are no others quite like them.”

Needless to say, there was no other quite like Ken Winters.

Larry Beckwith is the artistic director of Toronto Masque Theatre, co-artistic director of Music at Sharon and a violinist, singer and teacher. He is a frequent contributor to The WholeNote.

56_anton-kubalekANTONÍN KUBÁLEK WAS A GREAT AND GOOD MAN whom I had the honour of knowing for some 30 years. Always quick with a smile, a joke, and a drink, Anton reveled in the absurd. Life never failed to supply him with suitable material, even in his childhood. He attended a school for the blind following an accident with a post-war bazooka, though he eventually regained partial site in his remaining eye. As as a citizen of a Socialist paradise however he was required to wear a bag over his head in the classroom so that his comrades should not feel disadvantaged! Later, as a rising young pianist, he would be sent out on tours by the Czech concert bureau, arriving at back-water recital halls to wrestle with ill-tuned instruments with missing keys and even legs and, on one memorable occasion, finding an accordion laid out for him. He knew from experience to always have a packed bag ready, so that when Prague seethed in turmoil in 1968 he was well-prepared to flee to Vienna. There, at the Canadian Embassy, he was shown a map and chose a city called Toronto, because he was impressed by the size of its lake.

His arrival here soon caught the attention of Glenn Gould, who produced a unique album of his playing. Anton was incredulous that in the middle of July Gould still stuck with his trademark overcoat, cap and gloves in the sweltering Eaton Auditorium. The CBC also took note; producer David Jaeger in particular employed Anton to bring to life numerous new Canadian works, including several of my own. Among Anton’s finest recordings are those he recorded in Troy, N.Y. in the 1990s for the Dorian label, which he independently re-released this past summer on-line at CDbaby.com.

His last decade was blessed by the presence of two angels, his second wife Pat and daughter Karolina. They had travelled as a family to Prague this fall and planned to spend a year there so that Karolina could advance her piano studies. Cruel though it is to have lost him there so unexpectedly, I cannot imagine a happier end to a fruitful life, so thoroughly enjoyed and savoured, than to be surrounded by those he loved best.

 

56_ahmedhassan__photo111THERE ARE MUSICIANS AND COMPOSERS AMONG US who do not find their artistic legs in concert halls, churches or clubs. A brave few find a livelihood providing music for choreographers, exploring together the ancient marriage of dance and music. Ahmed Hassan, who died in Toronto on January 19 aged 55 did just that, moreover developing his passion into a successful career.

Born in New York City to Egyptian parents, Hassan’s family moved to Cairo, then settling in Halifax in 1969. While a student of biochemistry at Dalhousie University, his life’s path took a decisive turn toward music after encountering the charismatic drummer Ricardo Abreut of the Toronto Dance Theatre, another self-taught dance musician.

Starting in the late 1970s Hassan began playing for dance classes and collaborating with a long list of leading Canadian modern dance choreographers. Hassan moved to Toronto in the early 1980s to work with the Desrosiers Dance Theatre. With fellow composer John Lang, Hassan co-composed the music for Desrosiers’ acclaimed Blue Snake (1984/5) for The National Ballet of Canada. The National Film Board documentary film Inner Rhythm (1986) records the composers’ creative process. Hassan also played a role in the city’s emerging world music scene. For a time his home was the base for Arabic music classes where musicians such as his sister Maryem (Hassan Tollar), Debashis Sinha, Ernie Tollar, and other members of the future group Maza Meze congregated.

Sable/Sand (1995) for which Hassan composed the music won a Dora Mavor Moore Award for choreography for Serge Bennathan, Dancemakers’ Artistic Director. The moving film Sanctum (1996), the score by Hassan, explores the work of his life partner and colleague the renowned dancer-choreographer Peggy Baker. Hassan’s last creative project Fourteen Remembered, a requiem to commemorate the lives of the murdered women of Montréal’s École Polytechnique, was performed annually from 1998 to 2001 at various Toronto venues including Massey Hall.

Hassan had suffered from progressive MS since 1987; nevertheless he courageously continued to perform into the mid-1990s with Peggy Baker.

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