It’s usually my intention to blog about concerts and events before they occur so that anyone interested would have a chance to go. Alas, that didn’t quite happen with the Orpheus Project, Music on Main’s monster project at the Cultch, which ran from July 17 – 20. Real life (specifically a stint of work in Toronto, immediately followed by moving apartments, prepping for a music appreciation course, and, finally, saying farewell to my dear old pet newt, Smokey) conspired to make an already busy month even more hectic. But now, two weeks later, I’m still haunted by the Orpheus Project: I find myself daydreaming about it, playing over images and sounds in my head… I’ve even been dreaming about it. So today I’m going to reflect on what was one of the most ambitious, daring, and satisfying music events I’ve ever been involved in.
The Orpheus Project was an immersive event that opened up the entire Cultch Theatre to the audience and transformed it into a surreal playground of myth and music. Inspired by the many tellings and retellings of the Orpheus legend — his loss of Eurydice, his decent into the Underworld, and his ultimate grisly demise — the audience is divided into groups, each one taken on a unique journey throughout the theatre, from the main stage, to the catacombs beneath, even to a creepy shower stall at the top of the building. Over the course of the evening, they piece together their own account of Orpheus’ plight — a life full of love, loss, heroism, doubt, violence, and of course, music. New works were written especially for this event by Veda Hille, James Beckwith Maxwell, Cassandra Miller, Jocelyn Morlock, and Alfredo Santa Ana. These new commissions were placed alongside pre-existing interpretations of the Orpheus myth, including those by Monteverdi, Stravinsky, Cocteau, Andriessen, Handel, and Truax — though no single audience member could hear all the works in a single evening (inspiring some listeners to go a second night and follow a different group). Everyone came away from the Orpheus Project with a different narrative, a different interpretation.
Instead of sitting still for 90 minutes in a theatre and witnessing a musical narrative unfold before them, the audience is sent off to discover the story themselves. Each group follows a unique path, stumbling across events that gradually, over the course of the evening, form a bizarre mosaic of the Orpheus legend: some of these events are musical performances; others are ominous meetings with oracles (who were, in fact, composers Cassandra Miller and Jocelyn Morlock, and poet Colin Browne).
For me, the cellar was the most exciting part of the Orpheus Project — the deepest level of the Cultch was only visited by two of the five groups, giving it a slightly exclusive feel. But there was also this idea of stumbling upon the darkest corners of the Orpheus myth: cellars are dark, sunless places full of secrets and regrets, and I think a beautiful job was done creating a deliciously unsettling atmosphere here. Flutist Laura Barron and I performed a duet by James Maxwell that was cunningly coordinated to clips from a Cocteau film in a room full of mirrors and candles, while down the hall Cassandra Miller presided over the unsuspecting with wordless benedictions — and provided a glimpse into their future through scraps of music retrieved from boxes placed before them.
Some of the most exciting parts of the Orpheus Project took place when the audience wasn’t even there. Many times, Laura and I would calmly finish a piece and wait patiently until the last person had left the room… and instantly bolt out another stairwell to ensure we were in place for the next group about to arrive in another part of the theatre. In fact, the Project had an interesting way of creating comradery with the performers involved (which, it should be mentioned, included the outstanding soprano Carla Huhtanen, baritone Steve Maddock, violist Matt Davies, cellist Rebecca Wenham, pianist/harpsichordist Christopher Bagan, singer/pianist Veda Hille, and actor Patti Allan); as musicians, we aren’t often asked to contribute “physically” to an event. Everything we did before the audience — whether it was playing, or moving from one part of the stage to another, or simply picking up the instrument — had an incredible sense of purpose to it, and it made every musician more committed to the task at hand. As a result, throughout the run there was a unique sense of bonding, of contributing to a greater whole. It was unforgettable, really.
Enjoy the photos that are attached here — photos are, of course, only photos (though the ones by Jan Gates are exceptionally beautiful) and can never give you an accurate idea of the beautiful and chilling soundworld that accompanies them. So here’s hoping the Orpheus Project sees the light of day sometime soon!
Onyx is a banded variety of chalcedony. The colours of its bands range from white to almost every colour (save some shades, such as purple or blue). Commonly, specimens of onyx contain bands of black and/or white. — Wikipedia.org
Also, it should be added that as of today, June 21st 2014 — Summer Solstice to be precise — Onyx is the name of a new trio of musicians, specifically harpist Joy Yeh, violist Marcus Takizawa, and myself on the flute. Here, can you tell which one is us?
(I’ll give you a hint: it’s the photo taken by the incredibly gifted Nimus Dilasso one afternoon out at the Vancouver International Airport.)
So today, on the brightest, longest day of the year, one of the darkest stones will be making music in public for the very first time — in mere hours, we’ll be performing some glorious music by Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel (cunningly arranged by Jocelyn Morlock) and Arnold Bax at the Surrey City Centre Library as part of Music on Main’s Surrey Sounds. Come check us out — or wait for our upcoming season which will include many more performances throughout BC! In the meantime, the Onyx Trio will hold court at its very own website, www.onyxtrio.com, designed by our very own Marcus Takizawa.
I suppose if one is going to shamelessly horn-toot, a personal blog would be one of the very few places where such an indulgence might be considered socially acceptable (God, what did the boastful introvert do before the internet?). My latest album, Sins & Fantasies, which features seven new works by Canadian composers, each inspired by one of the Seven Deadly Sins, received a wonderful review by Alison Melville in the most recent edition of WholeNote Magazine. Melville writes:
“What a brilliant conceit – seven pieces, each by a different living Canadian composer, and inspired by the Seven Deadly Sins. Beginning in 2010, Vancouver-based flute virtuoso Mark Takeshi McGregor gave life to this project, and the results are gloriously presented here. The disc begins with Dorothy Chang’s Wrath, a hissing, spitting and raging exploration of tone, breath and vocal sound, followed by Gregory Lee Newsome’s Avarice and Owen Underhill’s Three Reflections on Pride which employ flute, piccolo and alto flute. Jocelyn Morlock’s take on lust makes exquisitely erotic use of the alto flute, McGregor’s voice, and words from a 20th-century icon which completely spooked me out. James Beckwith Maxwell’s Invidere (envy) wanders into the far reaches of extended techniques, and Benton Roark’s Untitled gives a meditative and melancholy spin to sloth.
In all these, McGregor’s remarkable gifts as a player are mesmerizing. Besides his extraordinary technical mastery, his is playing of the most imaginative and creative kind. And to top it off, the disc closes with McGregor’s own Le dernier repas de M. Creosote, inspired by the infamous Monty Python character and an absolute tour de force any way you slice it. … As Chaucer says in The Parson’s Tale, the deadly sins “all run on one Leash, but in diverse manners,” and here their diversity is astonishing, inspiring, and only dangerous in the best possible way.“
The entire review is available online HERE. Needless to say, I’m over the moon about this review — and I’m particularly thrilled that these outstanding works are getting the national spotlight they so intensely deserve. Dorothy Chang, Gregory Lee Newsome, Owen Underhill, Jocelyn Morlock, James Beckwith Maxwell, and Benton Roark: I can’t thank you enough for contributing such savage, weird, colourful, erotic, virtuosic, and introspective music.
Last week I headed off to the Banff Centre to work with Toronto composer Gregory Lee Newsome for a few days at the Leighton Artists’ Colony. Many of us know the Banff Centre as one of the world’s great oases for artists, providing support, resources, solitude, and time to focus on special projects. (I’ve always thought of it as a real-life Rivendell from Lord of the Rings — but without all those Elves. Or wizards. Or Nazgûl circling the perimeter. Alright, forget it, it’s nothing like Rivendell.) The Leighton Colony is part of the Banff Centre, but slightly removed from the rest of campus in order to give writers, visual artists, and musicians that extra little bit of space, and it was here that Greg and I mapped out the beginnings of his new piece for alto flute and electronics — a special commission by the Toronto philanthropist Daniel Cooper. Daniel has helped create a number of solo pieces over the last few years including a solo viola piece by Cassandra Miller (written for Pemi Paull), a solo percussion piece by Michael Oesterle (written for David Schotzko), and a solo cello piece by Andrew Staniland (premiered by Frances-Marie Uitti). For five days Greg and I explored the traditional and extended soundworlds of the alto flute — the deeper, huskier cousin of the traditional concert flute (also affectionately known as the “Lauren Bacall of the flute family”). The gallery above shows some of the Colony grounds and studios — and provides sobering proof that, while we Vancouverites are being inundated with pink and white cherry blossoms, the rest of Canada is still pretty frickin’ cold in April.
Back in December 2013 CBC producer Denise Ball asked if I’d be available to participate in an unusual little project: she wanted to pair me with a rap artist in a “music duel” video. The words “Flight of the Bumblebee” were mentioned. Along with “green screen”. And “director from Toronto”.
I have to admit, my initial reaction was pure, raw fear. I had never been in a video before. I had definitely never worked with a rap artist before. And, weird as it may sound, virtuosic showpieces like Rimsky-Korsakov’s famous little gem are the sort of repertoire I’ve spent most of my adult life avoiding — not because I don’t think they’re fun, but rather because I’ve never really seen myself as a “virtuosic” player. Flight of the Bumblebee is a blatant showcase of those aspects of instrumental playing (flying fingers, machine-gun articulation) that I perhaps feel the least comfortable with.
All that said, curiosity quickly overcame trepidation. I wanted to meet this person they were to pair me with: hip hop artist Kia Kadiri. We all met at CBC Vancouver: Kia and her beatmaster, Russ Klyne, along with Denise and fellow producer Jon Siddall. Kia presented her first draft of the “Bumblebee rap” — and it’s safe to say that the entire room was gobsmacked. “Rapid fire” doesn’t even begin capture the what she does. But what is perhaps most remarkable is that through all that vocal virtuosity, there is a core warmth, wit, and humour that is absolutely irresistible.
So I bloody well knuckled down and practised. And I added a few touches of my own (with a tip of the hat to iconic flutists Roland Kirk and Greg Patillo). The result is pure fun: in fact, the video shoot was a scream. Oddly, one of the highlights of that afternoon came from the makeup artist: before the video shoot, she sat me down, studied my complexion and asked what colour of foundation I usually take. When I stared back at her blankly, she put a hand to her face and whispered, “Oh my God… A virgin.”
Well, virgin no longer — bring on that foundation! To watch the video, click the link below.
When a group of artists sets out to work together, there can be any number of complicating factors: will everyone share a common vision? Will there be an effective chemistry and comradery? Will there be an egalitarian division of labour? But when harpist Joy Yeh, violist Marcus Takizawa, and I convened to form a new trio last month, we didn’t seem to have any of these issues. We get along well, we all bring a diversity of strengths to the group, and we share a love for the music of the 20th and 21st centuries.
But for the love of all things good, we couldn’t come up with a name.
We wanted what all new enterprises want when name-hunting: something that’s catchy, appropriate, simple yet multi-layered. And we also thought it would be great to have a name that paid tribute to our Asian heritage (Joy is originally from Taiwan; Marcus and I are Canadian-born of Japanese backgrounds). Try as we might, there wasn’t anything that leaped out at us — searching for commonalities between Taiwan and Japan produced names that were (at best) difficult to pronounce by Western standards or (at worst) evocative of the rather bloody history between the two countries. Thankfully, it was the composer Jocelyn Morlock who came to the rescue with the name “Onyx”. Onyx is a gemstone formed in the gas cavities of lava. It can appear in many colours, but black is the colour that we most often associate with this stone — and thus very subtly alludes to our Asian heritage, in that we all have black hair (well, those of us who still have hair, or course). And, I gotta admit, it sounds great rolling off the tongue and it looks wonderful in print.
Thanks to Marcus’ skills as a recording engineer, the Onyx Trio recently recorded the second movement of Debussy’s remarkable Sonate pour flûte, alto et harpe as well as Takemitsu’s And Then I Knew ‘Twas Wind — both of which have been included here for your listening pleasure. Expect to hear more from us soon!
This may seem like a strange post to make on December 24th, but timing has never been one of my strong points. Last night Sins & Fantasies arrived on my doorstep — three boxes full! To clarify: Sins & Fantasies is a CD recording I made this past summer, featuring new works for solo flute by Canadian composers, each inspired by one of the Seven Deadly Sins. This album includes premiere recordings by Dorothy Chang (Wrath), Gregory Lee Newsome (Avarice), Owen Underhill (Pride), Jocelyn Morlock (Lust), James Beckwith Maxwell (Envy), Benton Roark (Sloth), and my own composerly debut with Gluttony. The programme is rounded out with a handful of solo Fantasias by the Baroque composer Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 – 1776). These little gems of the 18th century provide the perfect counterpoint to the Seven Deadlies, which take the listener on a virtuosic and demented (and occasionally hilarious) tour of humanity’s underbelly. The recording and editing was done by Vancouver’s monster technician, Don Harder, the design by the amazing Simon Butler, and the album released on Redshift Records. I’m extraordinarily thankful to the Canada Council for the Arts for their amazing support of this project. Below are a couple excerpts from the new album: an excerpt from invidere by James Beckwith Maxwell and Telemann’s Fantasia in D major. Merry merry & Happy happy!