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.
I love road trips. Why? Probably because I never actually learned to drive, so my road trip duties have always included less stressful chores like “music selector”, “semi-engaging conversationalist”, and “occasional nap-taker”. It’s a tough life, but someone has to do it.
On June 16th, these mad skills were put to the test when five of us piled into a van and began the 10-hour drive to Prince George, BC for the 2017 Casse-Tête Festival. Helmed by Jeremy Stewart, Casse-Tête has been treating Prince George to an incredibly diverse lineup of improv and contemporary music for the last five years. The 2017 instalment of Casse-Tête was particularly exciting for us Vancouverites as it marked the official unveiling of Redshift Music Society‘s 16- channel speaker system, TheArray.
After four days of performances — including those by cellist Marina Hasselberg, soprano Cathy Fern Lewis, composer-pianist Christopher Reiche (who played Satie’s Vexations for 24 hours), and the wonderfully bizarre improv duo ManZap (which included a hair-raising performance on Casse-Tête’s resident “bass piano“) — Redshift and I took to the stage on June 18. I performed a solo set that included works by Salvatore Sciarrino and Toru Takemitsu, as well as two works from my Pacific Rim project: forever after by Calgary composer Hope Lee and the world premiere of Hiraeth by Toronto/Montana composer Emilie LeBel. Afterward, Redshift’s Array closed out the festival with three premieres: Jordan Nobles‘ Air for 17 bass flutes (or in this case, one live bass flute and 16 pre-recorded bass flutes); a scene from Benton Roark‘s forthcoming opera, The Handless Maiden, featuring guest soprano Melanie Nicol; and Fantasiae for alto flute and electronics by Victoria composer Annette Brosin, a work that playfully explores time and memory: the flutist sits at a desk, “composing” G.P. Telemann’s Fantasy in A minor, which becomes the source material for the rest of the piece (with some text quotations from Takemitsu’s Voice thrown in for good measure).
It was terrific to be part of the festival, and a great was to kick off the summer season!
Last Saturday (April 1st, 2017), the Junos were held in Ottawa, where my good friend, co-conspirator, and former co-worker at Redshift, Jordan Nobles, was nominated in the category of “Classical Composition of the Year” for his four-movement work, Immersion. Jordan was attending the awards ceremony with his wife Kelly and texting me updates. What follows is a highly edited, highly paraphrased transcript of our exchange:
J: My category’s up next
M: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE (author’s note: I was merely trying to express my support and enthusiasm. Please don’t judge me for squealing over text)
M: Lemme know what happens!
[More dead silence, whereupon I finally decide to text Kelly]
M: Kelly, Jordan isn’t responding to my texts. I need an update.
M: Uh, you’re April fooling me aren’t you. (author’s note: in my defence, the awards were being held on the 1st of April)
K: No, really! He won!!
M: Holy Sh*t!!
K: That’s what I said! He went up there and made a speech and they whisked him off somewhere. I have no idea where he is now. I have to text everyone — I feel a bit rude doing this at our table.
M: I think it’s allowed in this case!
[Several hours later…]
J: Holy sh*t…
There’s more, but I think you get the gist. I’m so happy for Jordan to be honoured this way, not only because it’s really nice to occasionally get some mainstream acknowledgement for one’s artistic work, and not only because Immersion is a truly original piece written for a very specific space, but because Immersion was, at the end of the day, a collective effort. On a chilly October morning in 2014 a whole squad of Vancouver based sound artists, engineers, and performers (yes, including me!) donned steel-toed boots, reflective vests, and hard hats; descended into the bowels of the earth in North Vancouver; and recorded, in one take, some 30 minutes of music in the Break Head Tank: an enormous concrete bunker connected to 7 km of water tunnels that allow Capilano water to be pumped to the Seymour Capilano Filtration Plant for treatment. Shortly after the recording, the Break Head tank began its service as part of Metro Vancouver’s water system, and was flooded with water forever, making the whole experience a fleeting, bittersweet thing.
It was, I have to admit, one of the stranger gigs I’ve done. Who would have thought that an underground filtration system would actually look more like the vaulted subterranean passages of Tolkien’s Moria? Seriously, check it out:
As one might gather from the photos, the acoustic in this space is really something else — and Jordan crafted Immersion to perfectly exploit the cavernous echoes of the Break Head Tank. You can listen to this beautiful, haunting work HERE. Congratulations, Jordan!
Ten years ago Rachel Iwaasa and I got a call from New Works Calgary to fill in for a last-minute cancellation. It was a huge deal for us; as Tiresias Duo, it was our first out-of-town invitation to perform and I remember how chuffed/nervous we both were to have an opportunity like that. Since then, I’ve been lucky to visit Calgary a number of times through various tours with the Aventa Ensemble — and on March 18th, I’ll be returning, this time with composer/technology guru Gregory Lee Newsome, to present (the somewhat naughtily-entitled) FLUTES GALORE as part of New Works Calgary’s 2017/18 season.
Flutes Galore features an all-Canadian programme, including Yota Kobayashi‘s Tensho for flute and electronics; Hope Lee‘s solo flute work forever after; Nicole Lizée‘s Tarantino Études for bass flute and audio/video glitch; Gregory Lee Newsome‘s Ambitus for alto flute and Max/MSP; and Michael Oesterle‘s Delilah for solo flute. The day before I’ll also be giving a flute masterclass at the University of Calgary (9:30am at the Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall, Rosza Centre).
For the uninitiated, a little sample of Lizée’s Tarantino Études (though be forewarned: in the spirit of the filmmaker who inspired it, Tarantino Études contains strong language. And gore. And swinging bass flute.):
New Works Calgary presentsFLUTES GALORE
Mark Takeshi McGregor flute :: Gregory Lee Newsome, technology
March 18 2017, 7:30pm
Leacock Theatre, Mount Royal University, 4825 Mount Royal Gate SW