Times are strange right now, so one needs to create reasons to celebrate where one can. And for me, the above video is absolutely a cause for celebration, because it represents the end of a major multi-year project for me: to create three music videos of solo flute music by Canadian composers with strong connections to Pacific Rim culture and/or heritage. Nova Pon‘s piece Wrenegade is a virtuosic showpiece inspired by the call of the Pacific Wren — but more than that, it’s a response to my lifelong fear of birds (and also my fascination with that fear). By presenting the wren’s song at various speeds (including “as fast as humanly possible”), Pon gives us a glimpse into the sound world with which birds communicate, all the while lightheartedly playing with the old trope of the flutist as the extrovert, flamboyant exponent of birdlike virtuosity. The video was filmed by Mark Mushet in Musqueam territory (aka Pacific Spirit Park on UBC campus) with the playful, oh-so-kawaii animations of Cindy Mochizuki.
This next video is very much a response to current events. As the coronavirus began shutting down public gatherings across Canada, the Canadian Music Centre BC Region quickly realized that local musicians would be deeply affected. Their response is Unaccompanied, an online concert series that showcases Vancouver musicians performing solo works by Canadian composers. I’m feeling very honoured to be the first of this series, performing the beautiful work Four Directions by Vancouver composer (and dear friend) Jennifer Butler. Four Directions was originally composed as a piece to announce the day at R. Murray Schafer’s Wolf Project — but here, with the chiaroscuro camera work of Jordan Nobles, the work takes on a more sombre, pessimistic tone.
This week saw the release of the second of three music videos I’ve been working on for Lutalica, my ongoing performance and recording project that focuses on the flute music of Pacific Rim composers. I’m so excited to present Notgnirrac: a video by Bernardo González Burgos and Kiné Producciones, featuring the music of the Canadian-Mexican composer Alfredo Santa Ana.
Notgnirrac takes its name and inspiration from the British-Mexican surrealist artist, Leonora Carrington (spell Carrington backwards and you’ll get Santa Ana’s piece title). After the devastating end to her relationship with the surrealist painter Max Ernst, Carrington moved to Mexico City, where she established herself as one of the country’s leading artists, a primary figure in the international surrealist movement, and a founding member of the Mexican Women’s Liberation Movement.
For this piece Santa Ana was specifically inspired by Carrington’s visual and literary artwork. “I consider her artistry to be a path of self-discovery and a blend of psychological and physical geographies… Carrington displays a self-reflecting attitude inwards, to one’s own identity, culture, and work. This, I believe, is an awareness that is also at the core of McGregor’s examination of Pacific Rim music through the lens of identity. His use of ‘lutalica’ invokes the notion of never really being captured within the narrow categories that we use to describe ourselves.”
It’s almost too perfect that this video was, in fact, filmed on location at the Museo Leonora Carrington in San Luis Potosí, Mexico; throughout this video you’ll see a number of Carrington’s sculptures haunting the various courtyards and galleries of the museum, bringing an eerie surrealist energy to Santa Ana’s rhapsodic and virtuosic music. I’m deeply indebted to Museo Leonora Carrington for providing us the unique opportunity to film there, and to the Canada Council for the Arts for their support.
As we head towards the end of 2019, I’ve had the chance to reflect on a year that has provided artistic challenges, growth, and travel — in particular an exceptional five days spent in San Luis Potosí, Mexico this past November.
There’s a bit of exposition required for this story: part of my LUTALICA project (which you can read more about HERE) involved commissioning three new works by Canadian composers, including the Mexican-born composer Alfredo Santa Ana. Santa Ana’s piece, which I premiered in April, is called Notgnirrac and is inspired by the work and words of the British-Mexican surrealist artist, Leonora Carrington. Sometime after the premiere I discovered that there is, in fact, a museum dedicated to Carrington’s work, Museo Leonora Carrington, located in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. Formerly a colonial-era prison, the city transformed the space into an arts centre that includes the museum, an art gallery, and a music and dance academy.
I reached out to the museum director, Antonio García Acosta, asking about the possibility of filming a video of Santa Ana’s piece within the museum’s galleries and courtyards. This grew into an invitation to not only record the video on museum grounds, but to perform at the museum’s monthly event, Noche de Museo. So on Friday, November 22nd I performed works by Nicole Lizée, Jordan Nobles, and Alfredo Santa Ana; and on Monday, November 25th Alfredo and I filmed for a solid nine hours with Bernardo González Burgos and his team from Kiné Producciones. Below you can see pictures from both the performance and the video shoot — it gives one an idea of the incredible artwork of Leonora Carrington (particularly her sculpted works), as well as the museum space itself.
The Notgnirrac video should be ready in early 2020, completing the trio of videos I set out to make for the LUTALICA project, including forever after by Hope Lee (which can me viewed HERE) and a forthcoming video of Nova Pon’s virtuosic solo flute piece Wrenegade (made by filmmaker Mark Mushet and animator Cindy Mochizuki).
Friday, April 26 will see the third installation of my LUTALICA PROJECT, my exploration of Pacific Rim composers, music, and cultural identity, co-presented by Redshift Music and Vancouver Inter-cultural Orchestra. This has been a tremendous ongoing journey: to date, I’ve performed and recorded roughly half of the twenty pieces selected from an international Call for Scores by composers who live in, or hail from, countries along the Pacific Rim. LUTALICA Part III will feature music by Nirmali Fenn (Australia/Sri Lanka/ Singapore), Mario Mora (Chile), Chun-Ju Yen (Taiwan), and a newly commissioned work by Canadian-Mexican composer Alfredo Santa Ana: Notgnirrac, a piece inspired by the British-Mexican surrealist painter, Leonora Carrington. For this concert I’ll be joined by the Taiwanese-Canadian zheng virtuoso, Dailin Hsieh. Together we’ll perform Kan-Kin by the late Canadian composer Elliot Weisgarber.
For a lot of people I know, the New Year simply can’t come fast enough. And admittedly, this year there was a lot of bleak news in political, environmental, and human rights circles — news that gets heaped upon whatever personal challenges we may have had to deal with in 2018. For me, this year saw upheavals in a few different areas of my personal life, the ghosts of these events having a pesky habit of rearing their ugly heads in unexpected (and often poorly timed) ways. But the year also had its share of wondrous moments as well, moments that make you realize what a privilege it is to be able to travel and to play music for a living. One of those moments happened rather recently: this past November I performed as concerto soloist with the Little Giant Chinese Chamber Orchestra in Taiwan. The LGCCO, led by Chi-Sheng Chen, is one of Taiwan’s premiere traditional Chinese-instrument orchestras: instead of Western violins, violas, harps, and woodwinds, the ranks of the LGCCO consist of erhus, gaohus, guzheng, yangqin, sheng, and dizi — a truly gorgeous and, to the uninitiated, entirely unique sound world.
As you might imagine, there aren’t a lot (read: any) concertos for Western flute and Chinese-instrument orchestra, so the Canadian-Iranian composer Farshid Samandari created a new, 20-minute work, Phoenix Rising, thanks to generous assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts. It’s an exciting, virtuosic work that begins with an extensive orchestral tutti (symbolizing the “absence” or “death” of the phoenix); followed by the gradual emergence of the flutist/phoenix, who “activates” the various orchestral instruments (which can be heard in excerpt one, below); before finally transforming into a triumphant climax (excerpt two, below). Phoenix Rising isn’t just a fantastic piece that I’m proud of having a hand in creating; it’s also an apt metaphor for any of us who, after a turbulent year, are looking forward to 2019 for a chance at rebirth or renewal.
LUTALICA (n. The part of one’s identity that doesn’t fit into categories. From the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows)
This Friday I’m continuing my exploration of of Pacific Rim composers, music, and cultural identity with the LUTALICA PROJECT, presented by Redshift Music Society and The Little Chamber Music Series That Could. Just over a year ago I asked composers from around the Pacific Rim to send me their works for solo flute — I was curious to see what commonalities might exist outside of what has essentially been a very Western European tradition. On Friday I’ll be presenting music by Etsuko Hori (Japan), Emilie LeBel (Canada), Hope Lee (Taiwan/Canada), Eve de Castro-Robinson (New Zealand), Jeffrey Ryan, as well as an old favourite of mine, “Air” by Toru Takemitsu. The concert takes place in the beautiful acoustics of Celebration Hall at Mountain View Cemetery (5455 Fraser Street, Vancouver) at 8pm. And, in the traditions of both Little Chamber and Redshift, the event is absolutely free to attend.
THE LUTALICA PROJECT
Music by Hori, LeBel, Lee, de Castro-Robinson, Ryan, & Takemitsu
Last week I spent a couple of wonderful days at the University of Montana in Missoula at the invitation of Emilie LeBel, who helms the School of Music’s composition program. While there I had the opportunity to speak to composition and woodwind students about my experience working with composers, commissioning new music, and life in general as a freelance musician. I also had the opportunity to present an evening performance as part of the Faculty Guest Artist Series — a concert that included LeBel’s own Hiraeth for solo flute, Yota Kobayashi‘s Tensho for flute and tape, and Kaija Saariaho‘s NoaNoa for flute and electronics — a piece I haven’t played in over a decade! (And boy, that Max patch sure has changed in the meantime.) Our performance at the UM Recital Hall was recorded and can be heard below:
LeBel’s Hiraeth is an intensely beautiful work that explores a more subtle side of microtonality and multiphonic writing. The title is Welsh: Hiraeth has no direct English translation, but means something along the lines of “homesickness tinged with grief, knowing one can never return.” LeBel’s Hiraeth — like so much of her music — is lyrical, introspective, and bittersweet. You can hear the live performance below:
LeBel’s ethereal melodies were floating through my head the entire day after our concert and inspired me to take a few pictures of Missoula’s Clark Fork River. The river was absolutely stunning in February, with its drifting ice patches evoking some alien arctic landscape:
Please note that I restrained myself from photoshopping Imperial Walkers and fleeing rebel troops into the above photos. (Actually, that’s a bald-faced lie; I have no frigging idea how to photoshop anything. It’s a minor miracle that I can post photos at all.)
I realize we’re well into 2018 now, so posting about something that happened in November of the previous year may seem a bit odd — except that “something” was the ISCM World New Music Days, that took place November 2 – 8, 2017 in Vancouver. The festival was covered in thorough detail by wordsmiths more clever than me (including a great review in MusicWorks magazine by Alex Varty), but I wanted to share three personal highlights:
This performance came with its fair share of drama: Krithara’s piece was originally supposed to be performed on another concert, but was cancelled because one of the performers fell ill — all the more unfortunate as Maria Christina Krithara had flown in all the way from Athens to hear her piece! At the eleventh hour, François Houle and I were asked to play the duo — which we learned over the course of a single, evening-long rehearsal. The performance was absolutely one of those flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants experiences, resulting in moments of synergy that surprised perhaps even François and myself.
II. Solo flute performance: A Walk in the Countryside by Gonçalo Gato
This solo flute piece by the Portuguese/British composer Gonçalo Gato was such an intriguing study in contradictions and thwarted expectations. For starters, the work’s title, A Walk in the Countryside, implies bucolic melodies and whimsy — nothing could be further from the truth. Gato presents us with an arsenal of seemingly disparate gestures that gradually form a sense of cohesion as the piece progresses, resulting in a sort of “action landscape”. Commissioned by Ensemble Recherche, Gato developed the piece with Recherche’s flutist Martin Fahlenbock — resulting in a piece that is as idiomatic as it is virtuosic.
III. Curating and performing for Powell Street Festival’s ISCM concert
Back when I was still AD of Powell Street Festival Society, ISCM2017 artistic director Dave Pay and I spoke about giving Powell Street Festival a presence in World New Music Days. It was an idea that I found really attractive: PSFS’s mandate of connecting communities and supporting diversity was, I felt, very sympathetic to the ideals Dave envisioned for the WNMD festival. Dave also introduced me to the music of the Japanese composer Yasunoshin Morita, specifically his ReincarnatiOn Ring II for sho and half-broken iPods — a luminously beautiful piece performed by the Japanese sho virtuoso Ko Ishikawa. We decided to build our programme around this piece, with myself, pianist Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, and percussionist Brian Nesselroad joining Ishikawa on the performers roster. And while the concert was not without its hiccups, I’m intensely proud of what we presented: the Canadian premiere of Morita’s piece, alongside works by Justin Christensen (Canada), Etsuko Hori (Japan), Murat Çolak (Turkey), and Laura Manolache (Romania). My performance of Hori’s solo piccolo piece, Tamazusa (singled out as a “perfectly crafted” highlight of the festival by Alex Varty) can be heard below:
The concert was a fitting swan song for my role as an artistic director and programmer for Powell Street Festival Society, and the World New Music Days festival as a whole was an unbelievable way to connect with composers, musicians, and new music concert programmers from around the world. Kudos to the incredible ISCM Vancouver team for turning out this monolithic event, and in particular Morna Edmundson, Jim Hiscott, and Dave Pay.
When you spend years commissioning and performing new music for your instrument, a funny thing begins to happen: you gradually acquire a repertoire of exceptional works. Pieces that beg multiple hearings beyond their premiere. Pieces that need to be shared. I’ve said before that one of the greatest affirmations we can receive as performers of new music is when other musicians begin performing the works you’ve commissioned — and this remains entirely true. But occasionally one needs to simply get off one’s tush and bring the music to the people. Occasionally one must tour.
And tour we did! Throughout September and October, Toronto-based composer Gregory Lee Newsome and I presented a programme of works for solo flute and flute + electronics clear across the country: Winnipeg (Sept. 14th, presented by GroundSwell), Moncton (Sept. 16th, presented by Le Hum), Saint John (Sept. 17th, presented by Open Arts), Toronto (a self-produced event on Sept. 19th, at the Canadian Music Centre), and Montreal (Oct. 1st, presented by Innovations en Concert). The repertoire was eclectic, diverse, and, I’m proud to say, all-Canadian:
At our performance for Innovations en Concert, we mixed things up a bit: I joined forces with Montreal flutist Jeffrey Stonehouse and we presented the premieres of “double” versions of the pieces by James O’Callaghan (Is Doubt a Way of Knowing?) and Nicole Lizée (Tarantino Études: Doppelgänger and Duel). Many thanks to the BC Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for supporting this tour so generously, and thanks as well to Matthew Fava at the Ontario chapter of the Canadian Music Centre for making our show there happen with such support and ease.
The first piece from my Pacific Rim Recording Project (PRRP) is (after an appropriate amount of blood, sweat, and tears) finally ready to see the light of day! Here is Jingzhe, by the Taiwanese composer Kaiyi Kao. Over the coming months I’ll be posting more works which will eventually form the first of three PRRP digital albums, all of which explore solo flute works by Pacific Rim composers (you can read more about this project HERE).
Of the piece, Kaiyi Kao writes: “Jingzhe” means the awakening of hibernating insects. According to traditional Chinese folklore, early March thunderstorms and warming weather awaken the dormant insects hiding in the soil and stone crevices. Gradually they emerge and begin their Spring; with the expression of the flute, we can also feel the warmth of spring and flowers that now begin blooming everywhere.