Fight of the Bumblebee (and no, it’s not a spelling mistake)

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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.

Onyx Trio

My view from the office: Onyx Trio recording at the Vancouver Academy of Music. Marcus Takizawa (left) and Joy Yeh (right).

My view from the office: Onyx Trio recording at the Vancouver Academy of Music. Marcus Takizawa (left) and Joy Yeh (right).

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!

Sins & Fantasies CD

Sins & Fantasies cover image

Sins & Fantasies cover image

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!

Track listing page from Sins & Fantasies

Track listing page from Sins & Fantasies

Piling Sand-Piling Stone IV by André Cormier

Soundcheck for Piling Sand - Piling Stone IV by André Cormier at Galerie sans nom, Moncton.

Soundcheck for Piling Sand – Piling Stone IV by André Cormier at Galerie Sans Nom, Moncton.

Back in September I was in New Brunswick to premiere Piling Sand – Piling Stone IV, for flute and Max MSP, by André Cormier. This mammoth, ninety-minute work was performed in both Moncton and St. John: every six minutes the flute is recorded and looped back through speakers surrounding the audience. Gradually, over the course of an hour-and-a-half, the music becomes denser, richer, and more elaborate, until the final six minutes reveal the “complete” piece: all swirling flute lines, Tibetan finger cymbals, and whistle tones. My final day in Moncton included an absurdly large portion of fried clams, some local beer… and a recording session, where we laid down André’s piece for posterity. Below is an excerpt from this utterly unique and otherworldly piece.

IAMA Montreal 2013

McGregor performing "Foundry" by Paul Steenhuisen.

McGregor performing “Foundry” by Paul Steenhuisen.

This week I’m heading to Montreal for the IAMA (International Artist Managers’ Association) Conference. This is the first time the Conference will be hosted in North America. Moreover, thanks to the incredible efforts of the folks at the Canadian New Music Network, there will be two evenings devoted to the performance of Canadian music — and this is where you’ll find me on November 7th. I’m thrilled and honoured to be presenting three solo flute works that are very dear to me: Foundry (1991) by Paul Steenhuisen, the alto flute movement from Three Reflections on Pride by Owen Underhill, and Lachrymose for solo piccolo by Derek Charke. This concert will also feature the Montreal based Fiolûtröniq as well as my good friends from Victoria, the Emily Carr String Quartet. The following evening (November 8th) will feature performances by Montreal’s ARTefact, the pianists Eve Egoyan and Roger Admiral, and Vancouver’s own Orkestra futura

Montreal is a very special place for me: for two years I studied at the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal, obtaining my Concours de musique in 1997. My “Montreal years” were definitely interesting times: even by student standards I lived in squalor. I shared an apartment near Berri-UQAM with half the McGill Symphony double bass section, scavenged my furniture from back alleys, and committed culinary atrocities too horrid to print. But they were fabulous years, too: it’s difficult to describe how thrilling it was to hear the Orchestre symphonique de Montréal on a regular basis, as well as powerful performances of contemporary music by ECM+ and SMCQ. I also studied in a passionately francophone conservatory, practised six hours a day, and made friends who remain close to this day. I think it’s safe to say that the cultural energy in Montreal is unique in North America and I’m looking forward tremendously to experiencing that energy all over again — this time with maybe not quite so many double bass players…

Canadian New Music at Off-IAMA Montreal

Fiolûtröniq (6:00pm) — Emily Carr String Quartet (6:30pm) — Mark Takeshi McGregor (7:00pm)

Red Roof Church

137 President Kennedy (across the street from Maison symphonique), Montreal, QC 

FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

The Little Chamber Music Series That Could relaunches tonight!

After tonight I expect my good friend Mark Haney will be a wee bit more relaxed. Just over a year ago, Mark took the reins of The Little Chamber Music Series That Could — a contemporary chamber series that defined the lives of so many of us back in the 80′s and 90′s. In its heyday LCMSTC provided Vancouver with a myriad of vital and powerful performances — when I was seventeen I witnessed my very first Pierrot Lunaire thanks to Little Chamber; a few years later I saw Maxwell Davies’ Eight Songs for a Mad King, again for the first time (I actually screamed when he smashed the violin). These were visceral, dedicated stagings of these seminal works — not to mention career-defining moments for me. When LCMSTC’s artistic director, Wallace Leung, died suddenly and tragically in 2002, the spirit of the organization essentially left with him and for many years the company lay dormant….

Until tonight. October 26th, 2013 marks the relaunch of the Little Chamber Music Series That Could. Mark Haney has stepped up as the new Artistic Director and is taking LCMSTC into amazing new directions. First up: on October 26th we’ll be treated to a dance party at the Roundhouse, featuring Nicole Lizée, SaskPower and the Little Chamber Strings. Then on October 31st I’ll be teaming up with Haney, violinist Rebecca Whitling, and percussionist Ben Reimer for the premiere performances of Lizée’s new quartet, Ouijist. This free event will take place three times — at 7pm, 8pm, and 9pm — at Mountain View Cemetery (5455 Fraser Street, in Celebration Hall) as part of an All Souls event that honours the dead.

But just right at this moment, I’m dusting off my old Zanni mask and getting ready to shake my be-costumed booty at the Roundhouse! Composer Jocelyn Morlock and I will be wearing matching bedsheets. Very exciting…

SaskPower

Bach CDs have arrived!

J.S. Bach: Obbligato Sonatas, fressh off the printing press!

J.S. Bach: Obbligato Sonatas, fresh off the printing press!

Way, waaaay back in 2011, organist Michael Murray and I set out to record the obbligato sonatas of J.S. Bach — and today, they finally arrived! This project was the result of an Indiegogo campaign where we were absolutely overwhelmed by the amazing response from our friends, family, colleagues, and community. To read more about this project and the incredible individuals involved, please check out the Bach: Obbligato Sonatas tag above, or simply click HERE. If you are one of those lovely, lovely people who donated to our campaign, we’ll be mailing your CD to you first thing next week. Michael and I are currently discussing a date for a CD launch concert (most likely in November). More details on that soon — in the meantime, we would be honoured if you took four minutes out of your day to listen to the first movement of Bach’s G minor sonata BWV 1020:

 

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