Looking Back on 2014

This morning I saw this in my Facebook feed:

Maggie Smith

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.

Sins & Fantasies cover image
Sins & Fantasies cover image

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.

Performing with the VSO, Bramwell Tovey, conductor.
Rehearsing with the VSO, Bramwell Tovey, conductor. Photo by Edward Top.

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.

Aventa Ensemble performing at Roulette in Brooklyn.
Aventa Ensemble performing at Roulette in Brooklyn.

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.

Véronique Lacroix directing the flute ensemble of the ECM+ for the recording of Fitzell's Magister Ludi.
Véronique Lacroix directing the flute ensemble of the ECM+ for the recording of Fitzell’s Magister Ludi. Photo by Gordon Fitzell.

AND they used my artwork for the CD cover! How cool is that?

Cover art for Magister Ludi
Cover art for Magister Ludi

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.

Performing "recurrerre" by James B. Maxwell in the cellar of the Cultch. Photo by Jan Gates.
Performing “recurrerre” by James B. Maxwell in the cellar of the Cultch. Photo by Jan Gates.

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.

Onyx Trio performing at Open Space in Victoria BC
Onyx Trio performing at Open Space in Victoria BC

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!

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