Picture it: Vancouver, November 2010. We can assume that it was raining. Véronique Lacroix and her ensemble, the ECM+ from Montreal, have just finished performing the Vancouver leg of their Génération Tour. With an acceptable amount of liquid courage coursing through my veins, I was determined to speak to Véronique about the possibility of a future collaboration. After all, one of the many incarnations of ECM+ is a flute ensemble called Alizé, which is dedicated to the commissioning and performance of new Canadian works. Over here on the West Coast, I direct the Tempest Flute Ensemble, a group with virtually the same instrumentation and mandate — I mean, it would be ridiculous to not work together, right? But still, I was nervous: Véronique is one of the country’s great interpreters of new music and an enormous personality to boot. Would she dismiss my proposal? Would she scoff? Flutists are typically sensitive creatures; we worry about these things.
Happily, she was just as keen about the idea as I was.
This Thursday, Lacroix, Montreal virtuoso cellist Mariève Bock, and the Tempest Flutes will present The Four Elements at the Orpheum Annex. The idea for the concert was simple: we asked four Canadian composers — two from Montreal, two from Vancouver — to each write a piece based on one of the Four Elements. The result is stunning: new works by Éric Champagne (Water), Emily Hall (Air), Jocelyn Morlock (Fire), and Edward Top (Earth). These pieces are colourful, complex, evocative, virtuosic… and damn beautiful. Hall’s piece, Qui a vu le vent?, is a kaleidoscopic display of trills and tremolos, as well as a deftly crafted study of that essential element of flute playing: the human breath. Morlock’s salute to Fire, entitled Salamander, may be her most whimsical piece yet, playfully evoking the mercurial mythological monster. Top’s piece, AS8 Earthrise, is a tour-de-force for eight flutes and solo cello, inspired by the Earth as viewed from space (complete with radio transmissions from astronauts!). Champagne’s Rivières et Marées concludes the programme, chillingly capturing the sounds of surf crashing against the shore and swirling eddies, interspersed with an achingly beautiful maritime lullaby. But perhaps the most exciting thing about Rivières et Marées is that it’s scored for a whopping twenty-two flutes plus cello. For this piece Tempest will be augmented by an additional fourteen flutists who will be spread throughout the hall, surrounding the audience — a Ben-Hur of flute ensembles! (Minus the chariot race, alas.)
The programme is rounded out by two solo flute pieces, both in the spirit of the concert’s theme: Paolo Bortolussi will perform East Wind by Shulamit Ran and I’ll be tackling Paul Steenhuisen‘s Foundry — a thrilling, percussive warhorse if ever there was one! Jordan Nobles was kind enough to stop by one of the rehearsals and photograph us all in action (a couple of these photos are included here). But as pleasing as they are, they don’t capture the visceral power of this music — you’d have to come out to the Orpheum Annex this Thursday to experience that…
As many people know, when pianist Rachel Iwaasa and I activate our Wonder-Twin powers we magically transform into our flute-piano duo, Tiresias. Back in the summer of 2008, Rachel and I, still basking in the glow of our first album, Delicate Fires, decided it was time to start work on a new CD.
All I can say is: wow, time flies.
Today — almost five years later — the CD stork (disguised cunningly in a brown UPS outfit) dropped off a box full of sleek little packages containing our new recording, Trade Winds. One of the nice things about taking five years to make a CD is that you have time to record a lot of music — in fact, Trade Winds is so freaking huge we had to make it a double album! That’s right, there are two discs: one recorded in 2008 at the UBC Recital Hall in Vancouver, the other in 2012 at the Banff Centre for the Arts. Disc One explores the musical ties between Canada and Japan — a theme that Rachel and I have great affection for, given that we’re both Hapa (a mixture of Japanese and Western heritage). This cultural exchange is explored from a number of angles: Japanese composers with ties to Canada, Canadian composers of Japanese lineage, and Canadian composers of Western heritage who had been influenced by some aspect of Japanese culture. Works on this disc include staples of the 20th century flute/piano repertoire by Toru Takemitsu and Jo Kondo, as well as new and recent works by Canadian composers Kara Gibbs, Elliot Weisgarber, Anthony Genge, Hiroki Tsurumoto, and Derek Charke. Disc Two showcases the music of three generations of West Coast Canadian composers: Jean Coulthard, Paul M. Douglas, and Christopher Kovarik. These works continue in the vein of Brahms, Mahler, and Debussy, reveling in lush harmonic tapestries and unabashed lyricism. Both programmes are incredibly diverse, ranging from the dissonant savagery of Derek Charke’s Distant Voices to the virtuosic post-Romanticism of Christopher Kovarik’s Sonata for Flute and Piano to the Asian-inflected melodies of Elliot Weisgarber and Paul M. Douglas. And all of it encased in a beautiful package designed by Simon Butler at Thinksavvy Designs (Simon, you continue to rock my world). None of this could have happened without the incredible skill and patience of our recording technicians, Emma Laín, Zana Corbett, and David Simpson, as well as the generous financial support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the UBC School of Music, and the National Association of Japanese Canadians. Trade Winds is released on Redshift Records. I’ll be posting again soon about our CD launch concert, but in the meantime here are some images from the CD jacket and booklet design (photos by SD Holman and Jack McKeown), as well as some Soundcloud snippets of select tracks — enjoy!
“Energetically” from Untitled Scenes: Two Remembered and One Imagined by Kara Gibbs:
“Misty Evening at Saga” from Miyako Sketches by Elliot Weisgarber:
On March 26th the folks at Music on Main will be fêting the Canadian composer Jocelyn Morlock with a concert dedicated exclusively to her music. This is a singular opportunity to hear a hand-picked selection of some of her very best vocal and chamber music — including the premiere of a brand new piece for violin and piano entitled Vulpine. For this event I’ll be presenting two works of hers: I conversed with you in a dream for flute and piano with Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, and Vespertine for flute and harp with Joy Yeh. Moreover, you’ll be able to hear what I consider to be some of her most beautiful writing for voice: Involuntary Love Songs, featuring the soprano Robyn Driedger-Klassen and pianist Rachel Iwaasa. This concert is part of a series of events naughtily known as “One Night Stands”: evening-long musical exposés of a particular contemporary composer. To call this a special event is a profound understatement: Morlock’s music is positively fecund with gorgeous melodies, dark humour, and dreamy mysticism. (And yes, I really wanted to use the word “fecund”.)
Jocelyn’s work is well-documented on the internet. She maintains a website and a blog which is updated regularly, so learning more about her and her music is not a difficult thing to do. So instead of repeating details that are easily found elsewhere, I’ve decided to let you in on some of the darker machinations of this composer. You see, I’m not just Morlock’s colleague — I’m her roommate. We’ve shared an apartment (with Smokey, my geriatric pet newt) for some five years now in Vancouver. So, in the spirit of exposé, here are three oddities surrounding this Canadian composer that may (or may not — probably not, now that I think about it) help you appreciate her music:
1. The Kitchen Rule. In our apartment, gossip and secrets tend to be divulged in the kitchen. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it has something to do with the proximity of both coffee and beer. That said, if one of us proclaims that what’s about to be said is “in the kitchen”, the listener is bound to secrecy and cannot judge the speaker in any way. Furthermore, one can “invoke the kitchen” without actually being in the kitchen — the most common non-kitchen location being the living room (because we’re simply too lazy to get up and walk five feet), though other “makeshift kitchens” have included public transit, the izakaya bar down the street, and a hotel room in Kelowna.
2. She might be a vampire. Morlock is convinced that she composes better at night. Unfortunately for her, there are all those pesky daylight hours getting in her way. So what does she do? Why, she convinces her body that it’s nighttime. All the time. When a commission deadline looms, she draws the blinds, lights candles in her room, and shuts out the world. On those rare occasions when she emerges from her studio, one finds her donning a housecoat and slippers — all this at 1:30pm in the afternoon. If you find me in a housecoat at midday it usually means I’m slacking off; encountering Jocelyn in a housecoat is like stumbling upon a head-bobbing iguana: stay out of the way, deadline is imminent!
3. She knits. To call Morlock an avid knitter is like saying it occasionally rains in Vancouver. If she isn’t composing, she’s knitting things that are both practical and beautiful. See, for example, the lovely red scarf she knitted me — it’s actually helping me play the marimba. Alright, I admit that’s a total lie: I was really just looking for an excuse to post this photo of me pretending to play a marimba (but seriously, she did knit me the scarf).
This photo doesn’t really do the scarf justice: they’re only a slightly visible here, but the scarf is covered (covered!) with round, wooly teats. Yes, that’s right: teats. When adorned properly, the scarf can make one’s torso resemble the underside of a she-wolf — striking to say the least, and a wonderful ice-breaker in almost any social situation. I ask you: when was the last time your roommate made you a scarf with teats? Hmm??
Music on Main presents
Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Cellar Restaurant & Jazz Club
3611 West Broadway
Door opens at 6:30 pm, Music starts around 8:00 pm
I’ve never been a devout believer in astrology, but I have to admit: I’m the archetypal Sagittarius. The “typical traits” of the Sagittarius will vary from source to source, but there are a handful of characteristics that seem universally agreed upon. For example, we tend to exaggerate everything (I mean it! Absolutely everything!). We’re also known to be short-tempered (guilty), tactless (yup), and garrulous (my students know that I have six moderately amusing anecdotes that I recycle mercilessly). But there’s also this: Sagittarians love to travel. So when presented with the opportunity to tour and perform with ensembles like Aventa and Ensemble 1534, I practically pee myself with excitement (please see earlier comment regarding tendency to exaggerate).
Aventa’s 2013 Tour will kick off in Montreal, where we’ll be performing as part of the SMCQ’s festival, Montréal Nouvelles Musiques, on February 27th. The very next day we’ll be heading down to Brooklyn, NY where the band is being presented by Roulette. From there we’ll head to Winnipeg (my first time in Manitoba!) to perform as part of GroundSwell‘s series on March 2nd, followed by New Works Calgary on March 4th, and finally back to Aventa’s home base in Victoria on March 5th. The tour repertoire includes new and recent works by Michel Gonneville, Jocelyn Morlock, Laurie Radford, Kaija Saariaho, and Simon Steen-Andersen. If you live in or near any of these cities, come out and hear this truly audacious and beautiful programme.
Immediately after Aventa’s Victoria finale, it’s off to Toronto for Ensemble 1534′s second concert of the season. Named for the year of Jacques Cartier’s first voyage to the New World, Ensemble 1534 is comprised of musicians throughout Canada who have dedicated themselves to the performance of contemporary music. The programme includes two virtuosic ensemble works by the French composer Philippe Leroux: AAA and VOI(rex), as well as recent pieces by Laurie Radford and Giorgio Magnanensi. But I also have the honour of giving the Ontario premiere of a work for solo flute entitled Avarice by the Toronto-based composer Gregory Lee Newsome. A couple years back I asked seven composers to each write a solo flute piece based on one of the Seven Deadly Sins — Greg chose “Greed” and the resulting piece, Avarice, deftly portrays the sin’s ability to corrupt and destroy by gradually disintegrating the sound of the flute. Avarice was commissioned with assistance from the Ontario Arts Council, so it’s a nice feeling being able to “bring it home”. Ensemble 1534 will be performing this programme twice: the first on March 9th at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, the second on March 10th at the Music Gallery in Toronto.
The Call for Scores went out yesterday for a new trio I’m performing with: McGregor-Nesselroad-Barnes Trio, featuring Brian Nesselroad on percussion, Ariel Barnes on cello, and yours truly on flutes. Brian, Ari, and I have all worked together on various occasions, but this will be our first attempt as a trio. The folks at Vancouver Pro Musica will be presenting our inaugural concert in May of 2013, which will consist entirely of new, submitted works by BC composers. If you are one of those BC-based composers, and the idea of writing for us tickles your fancy, you can download all the necessary information here. The deadline for submissions is February 4th, 2013. Selected pieces will be workshopped on February 17th, allowing time for any revisions before our May performance. Any further questions, feel free to give me a holler directly: firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy Holidays!
People say that CDs are going the way of the dinosaur, but a new CD can still engage me in a way that downloaded music does not. Beyond the sheer joy of listening to good music performed well, I’ve always been a big fan of thoughtful, beautiful packaging. A CD isn’t just a means of presenting music; it can also be an opportunity to showcase great artwork, excellent design, and liner notes that can both enlighten and entertain the listener.
Nearly six years ago Tiresias Duo (my flute-piano duo with Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa) released Delicate Fires: Canadian Music for Flute and Piano, thanks to a grant from the Canadian Music Centre BC Region. This CD was a “first” in a number of ways: for both Rachel and me, it was our first commercially available CD recording; the disc also featured three beautiful, newly commissioned pieces by BC composers Jennifer Butler, Jocelyn Morlock, and Rodney Sharman — all of which have enjoyed multiple performances over the years; finally, Delicate Fires was the first CD to be released on the Redshift Records label (the catalogue is is now up to six CDs, with another three on the way). I still remember sitting at the kitchen table with (my then) Co-Artistic Director Jordan Nobles, both of us giggling like a couple of pathetic nerds when we decided to give Delicate Fires the catalogue number “TK421″ (hardcore Star Wars fans will appreciate the reference).
Some time last year we realized that we would soon deplete our stock of Delicate Fires CDs, but thanks to generous funding from the City of Vancouver, we were able to afford a second run that not only would keep this CD available for years to come, but would also allow for a sleek new graphic makeover by Simon Butler at ThinkSavvy Designs and bilingual programme notes by Caroline Gauthier. The reissue also features some shots from a photo session Rachel and I did a few years back with the incredibly talented S.D. Holman. And the CD still features cover art by my good friend, the gifted Vancouver-based painter Nancy Blanchard.
And the most exciting part? The CDs arrived on my doorstep today. I’ve included some highlights from the booklet below.
We all have moments that define our lives. For me, one of those moments is hearing Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire for the first time. I was seventeen when I first heard it performed by the Little Chamber Music Series That Could, conducted by the late and great Wallace Leung. I know statements like “it changed my life forever” are overused…. but seriously, it changed my life forever. I was haunted by it for months after. I couldn’t believe something so psychologically twisted could be so luminously beautiful. I was even reassured by it — all that internal psychobabble that we’re so afraid to admit to in public, it was all there. I often say Pierrot is one of my favourite pieces of music from the 20th century, but that’s not entirely fair: it’s one of my favourite pieces ever.
I’ve been fortunate to have played this piece on numerous occasions: in Victoria, in Prince George, in Montreal, in Vancouver for my DMA degree, and even once in Switzerland alongside an all-star cast that included Stephen Isserlis, Dmitry Sitkovetsky, Sharon Kam, Kent Nagano, and the Icelandic pop sensation Björk (an event that remains one of the more bizarre experiences of my life). But these next couple of days are truly special: I’m honoured to perform Pierrot Lunaire with an amazing roster of musicians: Robyn Klassen (soprano), Cris Inguanti (clarinet), David Gillham (violin), Marcus Takizawa (viola), Ariel Barnes (cello), Corey Hamm (piano), and Marguerite Witvoet (conductor). The energy in this group is unbelievable: this is a Pierrot that is vital, throbbing, passionate, and so, so incredibly dark and twisted.
For anyone who isn’t familiar with the world of Pierrot: Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21 was written by Arnold Schoenberg in 1912 for singer/actress and chamber ensemble. The poetry is by Albert Giraud (translated into German by Otto Erich Hartleben). Schoenberg selected twenty-one of these poems and set them to music; they remain some of the eeriest, cleverest, most beautiful stuff ever written. This half-hour song cycle describes the antics of Pierrot, a sadistic clown from the Commedia dell’ arte, drunk on moonlight, carrying out the most outrageous antics: at one point he grabs his friend Cassander and plays him as though he were a giant viola; another time he is convinced that he will be decapitated by the sickle-shaped moon; elsewhere he captures the hapless Cassander, drills a hole in his head(!), stuffs it full of Turkish tobacco and smokes him like a pipe. Seriously, you can’t make this stuff up — well, unless you’re Giraud.
In order to pull Pierrot off, you need an exceptional singer. And I’m so thrilled that we’re working with the incredible Robyn Klassen (yes, she’s better than Björk. Like, way better). Robyn perfectly captures the demented side of Pierrot while still imbuing him with heartbreaking humanity. In fact, it’s a little unsettling how easily she slips into the Pierrot psyche. Just sayin’…
Pierrot Lunaire is presented by those monsters at Music on Main, who continue to provide Vancouver with some of the most innovative programming ever. Come join us at the Western Front either Monday the 15th or Tuesday the 16th, grab a drink at the bar, and hear one of the greatest, darkest, most beautiful masterpieces of the 20th century.
Monday, October 15 & Tuesday October 16th, 2012
Western Front 303 E 8th Ave, Vancouver
Bar opens at 8:00 pm, Concert starts at 9:00 pm
Single Tickets: $35 ($15 for students)