Vancouver's Fox Cabaret, the perfect venue for National InQueeries. Photo by Jan Gates.
Vancouver’s Fox Cabaret, the perfect venue for National InQueeries. Photo by Jan Gates.

I secretly love a good pun. When pianist Rachel Iwaasa and I were scheming about our next Tiresias Duo concert — one that would commission four young LGBT composers to write new works inspired by historic queer trailblazers — we were wracking our brains for a good title. It finally came to me while standing in the checkout line at the grocery store, surrounded by tabloid papers that were, coincidentally, insinuating that some B-list actor had a secret gay lover. “National InQueeries“, I thought, encapsulated what we were out to create: a nationally focused exploration of queer culture and heritage; something that asked questions about who we are and who came before us; and something that preserved an element of the campy and the taboo, especially as queer rights begins to lumber its way towards a very peculiar and selective kind of mainstream acceptance. Four composers were approached: German-born, Victoria-based Annette Brosin; BC-born, Denmark-based Justin Christensen; Toronto-based president of the Canadian League of Composers, Brian Harman; and New York-based composer-in-residence of the Victoria Symphony, Jared Miller. And on October 20th — after a year-and-a-half of plotting, scheming, commissioning, rehearsing, and nail-biting — National InQueeries came to life at the Fox Theatre as part of Music on Main‘s series, “A Month of Tuesdays“.

On one level (and I suppose one could argue that it’s the level that matters most), we were über prepared. Rachel and I had spent a week at the Leighton Artists’ Colony at the Banff Centre, rehearsing the four new works as much as eight hours each day. Moreover, we were working with four composers who are on absolutely top of their game. But what I was entirely not prepared for was how a programme like this would affect me emotionally. I had never stood before an audience and tried explaining that 1.) I’m gay, 2.) it’s an identity that I spent years struggling with, and 3.) the evening’s programme was a way for all of us to learn more about a cultural that isn’t always recognized, but continues to exist and thrive thanks to extraordinarily brave and creative individuals. But what was perhaps even more overwhelming was how each composer responded to the challenge of writing a new work that paid tribute to our shared inheritance: Brian Harman wrote a haunting and often playful piece that paid homage to two exceptional gay composers, Claude Vivier and Benjamin Britten; Justin Christensen’s piece explored the complex homoerotic roots of tango while brilliantly utilizing the spoken text of Judith Butler; Annette Brosin wrote a fascinating piece that looked at two pop songs she loved, one by Björk, another by Radiohead — neither song being specifically queer, but both with messages that, for her, changed dramatically after she came out to herself; and Jared Miller wrote a virtuosic (and occasionally quite savage) tribute to Leonard Bernstein. The evening was one of the most artistically satisfying things I’ve done, and I’m so thankful that 1.) after more than a decade, Rachel Iwaasa remains my Tiresias Duo partner-in-crime 2.) each composer gifted us with such beautifully wrought, intensely personal pieces, and 3.) David Pay and all the folks at Music on Main gave us the chance to share this programme. To each and all of you, I want to shower you with love, gratitude and the queerest of Hollywood movie star kisses.

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Anna Banana
Anna Banana’s exhibit at Open Space. Photo credit: Jacquelyn Bortolussi

I actually came up with at least half-a-dozen banana jokes for the opening of this post — all of them in poor taste. At best they were a little green; at worst they were highly un-apeeling. So suffice to say that Open Space in Victoria is presently exhibiting an Anna Banana retrospective, and on October 16th you can expect the oblong imagery to increase ever so slightly… when I present a concert of new and recent works for solo flutes, with and without electronics.

The lion’s share of the programme is the result of a Call for Scores from Victoria-based composers. I was thrilled by the response and blown away by the diversity, skill, and beauty of what was submitted. My concert on October 16th will include:

Diane Berry: Calling
Liova Bueno: Poema para Paola
Brandon Chow: Asthma 
Nathan Friedman: La double a remplir
Julio Lopezhiler: Lip, Stitch, Tether
Maria Eduarda Mendes Martins: Wandering Somewhere for bass flute
Marcilio Onofre: Marionette de Vento
*                    *                    *                    *
The programme will also include two newly commissioned works for flute and electronics: a new work by Stefan Maier; and Ambitus for solo alto flute + Max/MSP, by Gregory Lee Newsome. Ambitus was commissioned by Daniel Cooper, a Toronto-based philanthropist who has commissioned a number of new solo works by key Canadian composers. Maier lives in New York now and Newsome lives in Toronto — but they both used to called Victoria home, which ties the programme together very nicely. Special thanks to Chris Reiche, Open Space’s new music coordinator (and a formidable composer in his own right), for initiating this event and organizing the Call for Scores. The concert takes place at 8pm, Friday October 16th, 2015 at Open Space (510 Fort Street), Victoria, BC.
Gregory Lee Newsome, whose piece Ambitus will be premiered on October 16th
Gregory Lee Newsome, whose piece Ambitus will be premiered on October 16th
So, Lots. Of. Music. Fortunately on Sunday I’m off to spend a week at the Leighton Artists Colony at the Banff Centre, thanks to generous assistance from the Canada Council for the Arts. The English language is insufficient to accurately describe how much I’m looking forward to hiding away in the Cardinal Studio in preparation for this programme as well as another, very special programme with pianist Rachel Iwaasa (who’ll be nestled away in the Valentine Studio, just a few trees away). But more on that later…