I had the wonderful opportunity the other day to catch up with a dear friend, Kathleen Gallagher: a Sydney based flutist, interdisciplinary performer, and educator. Kathleen and I were enjoying an izakaya lunch on Darling Harbour: the food and service were excellent, but entirely secondary to our conversation, which was impassioned, hilarious, and even occasionally teary. We talked about our careers, our relationships, our families, and, perhaps more than anything else, our desire for change. I announced that 2015 was to be a year of personal and professional change for me – not because I’m dissatisfied with what I’m doing…. except that, well, I am a bit dissatisfied.
In 2012 I stepped down as Co-Artistic Director of the Redshift Music Society. This organization, which I co-ran with composer Jordan Nobles, remains an important part of the Vancouver cultural landscape, and I’m immensely proud to have had a part in its development. Since then, I’ve had a great time focusing on personal projects and my own development as a flutist (and by “great time” I’d like to clarify: rewarding, diverse, and challenging at the best of times; anxiety-inducing and failure-riddled at the worst of times). But there came a point when I realized that my ability to affect positive change in my community could only extend so far as a flutist. I wanted to explore collaboration and dialogue with other arts and artists – a thing that we, as artists, often talk about, while knowing that the reality is a much more complicated beast. Also, as I get older, my connection to my Japanese Canadian heritage is something that is becoming more and more important to me. I remember as a child I wanted to be as “white” as possible: blonde hair, blue eyes… I resented my epicanthic folds. Now, especially in the years following the death of my mother, I’m discovering how rich, fascinating, and evolving Japanese Canadian culture really is – and I’m both delighted and reassured to find that artists of Asian heritage throughout the world have similarly complex relationships to East/West culture and are creating works that address the bridge/divide in incredible ways.
Enter the Powell Street Festival Society.
Founded in 1977, the Powell Street Festival Society celebrates the history of Japanese Canadians and acts as an important platform for established and emerging Asian Canadian artists. The heart of the Society’s activities is their summer festival, inspired by the matsuri of Japan: a weekend of cultural activities, family events, crafts, and food, held the first weekend of August in Oppenheimer Park, the heart of Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside. Beyond the festival, PSFS presents events throughout the year that showcase Japanese, Japanese Canadian, and Asian Canadian artistic talent, and provides an arena for the ever-evolving discourse between Eastern and Western artistic practices.
On March 24th, I’ll be assuming the role of Artistic Director for this incredible institution. It’s a newly created position, one that I hope will enable us all to continue honouring the past while creating, nurturing, and bearing witness to the exciting future trajectories of arts and culture on local, national, and international levels. It goes without saying that I’ll continue to perform and teach: music is and always will be my primary form of communication, and I know my work in this field will continue to develop and mature. But I’m beyond thrilled to be joining the PSFS family and am looking forward to a future of connecting communities, artistic growth, and change. (And spam sushi.)
Philippe Leroux’s Voi (Rex) is, at least in my mind, the 21st century’s answer to Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21. Thrilling, demented, haunting, and deeply, deeply beautiful, this masterpiece for soprano voice, ensemble, and electronics uses poems by Lin Delpierre, the words for which are transformed through electronic enhancement and a dizzying array of vocal techniques. Aventa, the Victoria-based contemporary music ensemble (with whom I’ve been playing for ten years! Gawd, time flies), presents this work tonight with guest soprano Helen Pridmore, along with Leroux’s Continuo(ns); Zosha di Castri’s La forma della spazio for solo violin and ensemble (featuring our own concertmaster, Müge Büyükçelen); and Gordon Fitzell’s Evanescence for ensemble and electronics. It’s an extra treat having both Leroux and Fitzell in town for the occasion; in particular, it’s wonderful to see Gordon on the heels of his recent Juno nomination for the recording of his piece Magister Ludi (which, I’m pleased to humble brag, includes a certain half-Asian West Coaster honking away on the bass flute). If you’re in or near Victoria, this will be a stunning show. Some snapshots of our rehearsals have been included here for your visual enjoyment!
Voi (Rex): Sunday, February 8th, 2015 8pm
Bill Linwood, conductor; Helen Pridmore, soprano; Müge Büyükçelen, violin; Philippe Leroux & Gordon Fitzell, live electronics
Phillip T. Young Recital Hall (UVic School of Music, MacLaurin Building)
Tickets at the door $20
Pre-concert talk 7:15pm
This past weekend (January 17th to be precise) I was asked to participate in a most unusual event: Music on Main teamed up with Here There to present ROAM at the Juice Truck (which is, I was somewhat relieved to learn, an indoor venue). I was asked to present a handful of solo works (I chose Bach and Takemitsu) alongside a performance of Hildegard Westerkamp‘s beautiful electroacoustic work “Kits Beach Soundwalk”, and chef Annabelle Choi created a three course meal inspired by the music. It was fascinating to see (and taste!) how someone might interpret these pieces through food. Choi’s dishes — spiced persimmons, goat cheese tapioca, and ginger tuile for the Takemitsu; butternut squash & chickpea falafels for the Bach; and a seaweed Miyoek soup with mussels for the Westerkamp — were all as delicious as they were inventive. Some photos below, courtesy of Grady Mitchell.
This morning I saw this in my Facebook feed:
Ahh, truer words were possibly ne’er spake, Maggie. But that said, I do see the attraction of looking back on a year before diving into the next — personally, I find it’s a great way to focus, reflect, and prepare for what’s ahead. Is it necessary to publicly post these reflections? Well, probably not…. but it does force me to organize and articulate my reflections in a way I wouldn’t if they were just a collection of stray thoughts dancing around in my balding, scatterbrained head. Those who know me know that this past year was by no means a perfect one, but amidst the chaos there were some things that happened that, professionally speaking at least, made 2014 a bit of a watershed. They’re presented here, for me more than anyone else, as a friendly-but-firm kick-in-the-arse as I spend that weird little week between Christmas and New Years gaily ignoring my To-Do Lists.
January 2014: Sins & Fantasies CD release
Alright, technically it was late, late December when these puppies arrived on my doorstep. But the satisfaction of completing a long-term project like this was still going strong in early January. Sins & Fantasies is my second solo album, featuring new works for solo flute by Canadian composers, each inspired by one of the Seven Deadly Sins (along with some Telemann fantasias for good measure). This album went on to receive a very generous review from the WholeNote, which can be read here.
February/April 2014: Schoenberg, Stockhausen, & Top with the VSO
The opportunity to play as a member of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra is always a thrill but the opportunity to play principal flute in their Annex contemporary music programmes is a rare (and, I’ll admit, occasionally terrifying) honour. Luckily, I had two such opportunities this year: in February I performed with the VSO in a programme including new and recent works by Edward Top, Brian Current, and Bramwell Tovey, alongside one of my favourite pieces of all time, the virtuosic, post-romantic Kammersymphonie Op. 9 by Arnold Schoenberg; and again in April, where the programme included Karlheinz Stockhausen’s monstrous Kontrapunkte — apparently the first time ever the VSO performed a piece by Stockhausen. The April performance also included music by Kurt Weill, Edward Top, and James Rolfe.
March 2014: Fight of the Bumblebee with Kia Kadiri
March saw the release of one of the most unusual projects I’ve ever been a part of: a CBC video shoot with rap artist Kia Kadiri celebrating the 170th birthday of Rimsky Korsakov. The video, entitled “Fight of the Bumblebee” stages a rather cheeky showdown between flutist and rapper. It was an invitation that initially terrified me — until I had the chance to meet Kadiri and realize what a focussed and professional artist she is. She was a joy to work with and the video shoot was a a tonne of fun. 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.”
March 2014: Aventa Tour to New York, Seattle, Ottawa, and Regina
I’ve said it so many times now I sound like a broken record, but I’ll say it once again: more often than not the Aventa Ensemble seems more like a second family than a job. Our tours are always incredible experiences but this year’s was particularly special, featuring Norwegian composer Rolf Wallin‘s Strange News with the Ugandan actor Arthur Okman Kisenyi. Strange News is a powerful work about the atrocious use of child soldiers in African conflicts, as narrated by Kisenyi. In keeping with all things strange, the tour also included Strange Matter, my first introduction to the music of Canadian composer Zosha di Castri.
June 2014: Recording Gordon Fitzell’s Magister Ludi with ECM+ in Montreal
In early June I headed out to Montreal to be a part of the ECM+ flute ensemble, directed by Véronique Lacroix. We recorded Winnipeg based composer Gordon Fitzell’s Magister Ludi for eight flutes and cello for the Centrediscs label. That week I got to experience the incredible rarity of taking a single piece of music and spending nearly a week prying it apart, getting inside it, and truly understanding the nuances and subtleties of not only my own part but each of the other eight parts. I came away with Gordon’s ethereal soundworld ringing through my ears for weeks afterward.
AND they used my artwork for the CD cover! How cool is that?
July 2014: The Orpheus Project
Since it was founded by Dave Pay in 2006, Music on Main has been consistently bringing some of the most interesting concert ideas to life in Vancouver. But this summer they outdid themselves with The Orpheus Project: an immersive event that opened up the entire Cultch Theatre to the audience and transformed it into a surreal playground of music and myth. The music — much of it especially composed for this event — was sometimes ecstatic, sometimes nostalgic, sometimes almost unbearably dark, and sometimes plain old demented, but it was all luminously beautiful and the sounds and images continue to haunt me. Read more about the Orpheus Project here.
August 2014: Recording Ouijist by Nicole Lizée
The summer of 2014 included another recording project of an incredible piece of music: Ouijist by the Montreal composer Nicole Lizée. This was a piece that I commissioned from Nicky in 2012 which was presented by The Little Chamber Music Series That Could as part of the All Souls celebrations at Mountainview Cemetery in Vancouver. Soon after, Nicole decided to include the piece as part of her new Centrediscs album, Bookburners, so violinist Rebecca Whitling, double bassist Mark Haney, and I were joined once again by Montreal percussionist Ben Reimer and Lizée for two days of intense rehearsing and recording at Pyatt Hall. Excerpts from Lizée’s chilling and introspective work can be heard below:
October 2014: In an Autumn Garden
This was absolutely one of the year’s highlights for me, as it was a project that I was immersed in from the very beginning to the very end: the initial idea was to present a concert of new works inspired by Japanese gagaku (Imperial court music) for the Chrysanthemums and Maple Leaves Festival, presented by the Vancouver Intercultural Orchestra. This event initially began as a straightforward Tempest Flute Ensemble concert, but like many arts projects, it grew as it gestated: we were joined by Naomi Sato, sho virtuoso, from Amsterdam; Jeffrey Stonehouse, flutist from Montreal; conductor Edward Top; percussionists Jonathan Bernard, Martin Fisk, and Brian Nesselroad; and even Tiresias Duo, my 10-year + partnership with pianist Rachel Iwaasa joined the fray. The programme featured premiers by Brian Harman, James Beckwith Maxwell, and Hiroki Tsurumoto and concluded with Toru Takemitsu‘s gagaku masterpiece, In an Autumn Garden, arranged for our combined forces.
An excerpt of Maxwell’s new flute and piano piece, ruduo, can be heard below:
November 2014: Onyx Trio at Open Space
I have to say, October and November were a couple of the craziest months on record for me. They were full of fascinating projects that I was delighted to be a part of but, like Bilbo Baggins, by the end of it I was starting to feel like a pat of butter being scraped across way too much bread. Still, they were a couple of months I wouldn’t change for all the world. Among the many performances in November, the Onyx Trio (my trio with harpist Joy Yeh and violist Marcus Takizawa) had their first full-length concert in Victoria. Presented by Open Space and the Blue Moss Ensemble, Onyx performed new works by Blue Moss founders Anna Höstman, Emilie LeBel, and Mitch Renaud, along with a special commission by Vancouver/Sunshine Coast composer Giorgio Magnanensi and a short (but deadly!) work by Giorgio’s former mentor, the Italian composer Franco Donatoni.
It was a thrill to immerse ourselves in such incredibly diverse and original works, and I think it’s safe to say we emerged from the experience sounding tighter than ever — just in time for our college shows in January and February, which will feature works by Gubaidulina, Takemitsu, and Debussy. Our premiere performances of Anna Höstman’s Lehtiä and Giorgio Magnanensi’s Introduzione and Tableaux (complete with electronics) can be heard below:
Well, I’m happy to report that I think this post has done exactly what it was meant to do: frighten me enough to get my arse away from the computer and back in the practise studio (aka: my living room). Happy New Year to anyone who finds themselves this far down the page!
I’ve long since learned not to complain about the weather to the rest of Canada when one lives in Vancouver — especially as we approach winter. So instead of using this post to tell you how my banana tree finally experienced the indignity of being moved indoors this week (he’s much happier now, by the way), I’ll take this time to talk about some of the wonderful music events that are taking place this month, both in Vancouver and Victoria.
I’ve posted a few times now about the Onyx Trio, my new chamber group with Marcus Takizawa (viola) and Joy Yeh (harp). These past couple weeks we’ve been armpit-deep in preparations for what certainly has to be our most ambitious project yet: a concert in Victoria presented by Open Space and the Blue Moss Ensemble. Taking place this Saturday at 7pm at Open Space (510 Fort Street, 2nd floor, Victoria), we’ll be presenting a programme of new works, mostly written especially for us, by Victoria composer Mitch Renaud, Toronto composers Anna Höstman and Emilie LeBel, Vancouver New Music Artistic Director Giorgio Magnanensi, and an older work (if 1996 counts as “older” in the world of classical music) by Giorgio’s mentor, the Italian modernist Franco Donatoni. Random facts you may or may not know about these composers: 1.) Anna and I go back as far as 2007/08, when I premiered her flute concerto, Trace the Gold Sun, with the Victoria Symphony; 2.) Giorgio’s new piece, written for Onyx, features an electronic soundscape that makes us feel like we’re trapped on the spaceship Nostromo shortly following its encounter with planetoid LV-426 (but only in the most awesome ways possible); 3.) Franco Donatoni’s Small II is virtuosic, visceral, and exploits the colours of the three instruments in ways I’ve never heard. Also, the handwritten score and parts bring new depth to the term “chicken-scratch” — seriously, we’re talking about the penmanship of a serial killer after six cups of coffee. For more information about this audacious concert, visit Open Space’s website by clicking HERE.
This past weekend I teamed up with cellist Marina Hasselberg, bassist Mark Haney, and pianist Corey Hamm to form the newest incarnation of the NOVO Ensemble for the first of two performances of LUX. This concert, featuring music by Jordan Nobles, James Maxwell, Nico Gonzales Thomas, Michael Oesterle, Luc Martin, and Owen Underhill, played to an enthusiastic audience at the Pyatt Recital Hall at the VSO School of Music. On Sunday, November 23 I’ll be rushing back from the Island to repeat this concert at St. Philip’s Anglican Church (3737 27 Ave W, Vancouver) at 4pm. Click HERE for more details. And if you’re the type that enjoys visual stimuli, I invite you to get a gander at these lovely shots from our Pyatt Hall concert, courtesy of Carol Carson.
Finally, the month ends with another trip out to Victoria, BC to make music with my “second family”, the Aventa Ensemble. We’ll be presenting our first concert of the season, entitled Schnee, on Sunday, November 30 at 8:00pm, at the Phillip T. Young Recital at the University of Victoria. This concert features the Canadian premiere of the Danish composer Hans Abrahamsen‘s Schnee, as well as La Chambre des cartes by Tristan Murail and two recent works by Giorgio Magnanensi. In addition to their love of all things Canadian, Aventa directors Bill and Darnell Linwood have been staunch supporters of new Danish music — a passion that has resulted in two tours to Denmark and even the opportunity for me to premiere Anders Nordentoft’s solo flute piece, Turmalin, in New York City back in 2009. Schnee continues Aventa’s exploration of the music of this amazing country — and, if the title of Abrahamsen’s piece is any indication, provides evidence that the Danes are far more comfortable glamourizing cold weather than your average West Coast Canadian.
Alan Turing rode his bicycle,
He rode his bicycle to work.
He rode it to Bletchely Park.
Riding, the chain on his bicycle came off.
He rode his bicycle, counting — until the chain came off,
He rode his bicycle, counting.
Counting, he stopped the chain before it came off.
He fixed the chain.
Riding again, counting,
He rode his bicycle to Bletchley Park,
- From the preface to Delilah for solo flute (2014) by Michael Oesterle
Music on Main‘s Modulus Festival kicked off a couple days ago and so far it’s been a fantastic few days. Tonight’s concert (October 28), entitled “machines think love“, pays tribute to a number of composers I love: George Crumb, Arnold Schoenberg, and Canadian composers Rodney Sharman and Michael Oesterle. This evening I’ll be giving the world premiere of Oesterle’s Delilah for solo flute. This piece — along with therefore for solo soprano, also making its debut tonight via the mindblowing voice of soprano Carla Huhtanen — is inspired by Alan Turing: a British mathematician, logician, and philosopher; a tormented homosexual; and father of the modern computer. The above poem recounts how this eccentric genius rode a dilapidated bicycle to work, counting how many times the wheels rotated, anticipating the moment before the chain fell off. He would stop the bicycle, one rotation before this happened, readjust the chain, and carry on. Numbers, patterns, and systems were of incredible importance to Turing — so much so that he would use them to find new ways of understanding humanity and human intelligence. “Delilah” was the name of a “speech system” Turing designed in 1944 to scramble and descramble voice messages. As Oesterle notes, Delilah “was so far ahead of its time that it resembles the way we currently store music in digital format.” Oesterle’s flute piece is a tour-de-force, perfectly balancing the constantly evolving, Turing-like patterns with a playful, elegant charm. Nevertheless, the arresting sense of joy in Oesterle’s Delilah is undermined by the horrific means of Turing’s demise: prosecuted for his homosexuality by the very country he helped save in World War II, he was chemically castrated and committed suicide shortly after. Delilah, for all its ebullience, possesses an undercurrent of heartbreaking injustice.
Machines think love also features the incredible talents pianist Rachel Iwaasa, Rebecca Wenham, Tawnya Popoff, and the Cecilia String Quartet. Concert begins at 7pm, (note early start time), October 28th at Heritage Hall (3102 Main Street), Vancouver.
Why am I posting about a trombone CD, you ask? Well, this is a very special trombone CD, for a number of reasons. First of all, this is the first solo release by my very dear friend and trombone virtuoso, Neal Bennett, which focusses on new (and to a large extent, Canadian) works for trombone. But it wasn’t enough for Neal to make a plain old trombone CD; four of the seven works presented here are scored for anywhere between eight and ten trombones. And Neal, being the overachiever that he is, recorded all the bloody parts. All in all, it was a gargantuan amount of work for Neal and the end result is fabulous: recorded here are four works for trombone ensemble by Canadian composers Scott Good, Roydon Tse, Jocelyn Morlock, and Farshid Samandari (whose work for eight trombones and bass drum, Ziggurat, inspired the name of the album). Stealthily slid in between these tracks are solo trombone pieces by Morlock, Rob McKenzie, and Swedish composer Folke Rabe. Finally, Ziggurat marks the second time I’ve sat in the producer’s chair for someone else’s CD recording (the first being for pianist Rachel Iwaasa‘s Western Canadian Music Award nominated album, Cosmophony). Being a producer for a multi-track classical album can be an anxiety-inducing task, but Neal and I were surrounded by tremendous help through all stages: Brian Nesselroad adding some percussive magic on Morlock’s Sequoia and Samandari’s Ziggurat; recording and editing by Ryan Noakes and Brian Garbet; Don Harder on mastering; graphic design by Simon Butler; and beautiful artwork by Vancouver painter Kevin Snyder.
Ziggurat is released on the Redshift Record label (and is, in fact, the thirteenth release for the label!) and will be available soon through the Canadian Music Centre and iTunes.
Check out the excerpt from Ziggurat below: Morlock’s Sequoia for eight trombones and percussion — it gives you an idea of the incredibly beautiful music on this album and the cuh-razy amount of work Neal put in to this whole project!