This past Thursday was, in many ways, a personal “season finale” — and I can’t think of a better way of spending it than with friends and colleagues from across the country. The Four Elements featured a roster of amazing Vancouver flutists (known collectively as the Tempest Flutes) performing new works by Canadian composers, each inspired by one of the Four Elements: Emily Hall (Air); Edward Top (Earth); Jocelyn Morlock (Fire); and Éric Champagne (Water). Véronique Lacroix, artistic director of Montreal’s ECM+, steered us through these challenging and fascinating works, and guest cellist Mariève Bock was a star in Top’s quasi-concerto for cello and multiple flutes, AS8 Earthrise. Morlock’s piece, Salamander, featured some of the most satisfyingly extroverted piccolo writing I’ve ever played (even if you weren’t at the concert, chances are you heard it). Another highlight of the show was Champagne’s piece, Rivières et marées, scored for a massive twenty-two flutes plus cello. For this piece, the Tempest Flutes were augmented by an additional fourteen players from the community; it was a unique opportunity for young players and adult amateurs alike to participate in the performance of a major addition to the Canadian flute ensemble repertoire — and, I might add, they sounded fabulous.

The concert also featured two solo flute performances: Paolo Bortolussi performed East Wind by Shulamit Ran and I performed Foundry by the Canadian composer Paul Steenhuisen. It was an extra special treat to have Steenhuisen in town for this event — I had the opportunity to play Foundry for Paul before the show, and his insights really helped make the piece come alive for the performance.

Below are some pictures from the dress rehearsal and concert, courtesy of Jordan Nobles, who was suspended in a net above the ensemble for most of the evening! Also, hats off to our production manager, Nicholas Jacques, who helped make everything go so smoothly on the day — and who helped bring the set to life with lighting that reflected the spirit of each piece.

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Véronique Lacroix, Mariève Bock, and the Tempest Flute Ensemble rehearsing Rivières et marées by Éric Champagne.

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…

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Véronique Lacroix, Mariève Bock, and the Tempest Flute Ensemble rehearsing Rivières et marées by Éric Champagne.
The Four Elements
A co-presentation with the Tempest Flute Ensemble, ECM+, and Redshift Music Society
Thursday, May 23, 2013
8:00 pm @ Orpheum Annex
823 Seymour St

Vancouver

$20/$10 (student, senior, artist)

 Trade Winds new

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!

Trade Winds example 2

Trade Winds example 1

“Energetically” from Untitled Scenes: Two Remembered and One Imagined by Kara Gibbs:

“Misty Evening at Saga” from Miyako Sketches by Elliot Weisgarber: