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
Natural history museums have to be some of the most wonderfully macabre places on earth. But Vancouver’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum, located on the campus of the University of British Columbia, manages to be both macabre and beautiful, with its signature 25-metre blue whale skeleton suspended in the atrium. It’s one of those places where, the moment I walked in, I thought, “OH MY GOD, I HAVE TO PLAY A CONCERT IN HERE.”
Well, what can I say: sometimes dreams come true.
On January 19, 2017, the Beaty Biodiversity Museum will present Nocturnal, from 5pm to 8:30pm. During this time the museum is pay-what-you-can and there are a number of special programmes and activities. At 6pmRedshift Music Society will present yours truly in a free one-hour concert that features six recent works for solo flute, selected from the Pacific Rim Call for Scores we had last year. Coincidentally, these works reflect the six permanent collections housed in the museum: tetrapods, fish, marine invertebrates, insects, herbarium (plant life) and fossils. The works to be performed are:
Pedro Alvarez (Chile/Australia): De Mares Imaginados (Fish and Marine Invertebrates Collections)
I’m particularly excited to be performing this programme at the Beaty Museum, whose collections focus in particular on species of the Pacific Coast. As a venue, the Beaty ties in beautifully with the Pacific Rim theme of the music; as a music programme, these pieces resonate uncannily with the museum’s collections — it’s all delightfully symbiotic.
:: :: :: ::
NOCTURNAL :: presented by the Beaty Biodiversity Museum with Redshift Music Society
Mark Takeshi McGregor, solo flute
Works by Alvarez, Brownlee, Flett, Kao, Lindquist, & Pon
Thursday, January 19, 2017 at 6pm (note start time)
The ability to travel is a privilege — one that, under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be able to afford. Artist life doesn’t typically generate a whole lot of income and those who know me know that I’m pretty dreadful at keeping track of what little money I earn. So I’m extra grateful for organizations, like the Canada Council for the Arts and the BC Arts Council, that provide travel assistance so that folks like me can share what we do with people around the world.
During my stay I was overwhelmed by the generous spirit of practically everyone I met. I was delighted to meet Natalia Solomonoff and Hans Tutschku — both marvelous, original composers; and I’m particularly happy to have met flutist Valentina Daldegan and her husband, the composer Maurício Dottori, who went out of their way to show me their city and share their enthusiasm for new music and music education (and for gifting me with a beautiful bottle of cachaça!); and I’m especially grateful to the festival organizers, Felipe Ribeiro and Caio Nocko, for inviting me and taking care of the myriad details that a symposium of this size and scope requires.
Back in April, I sat down with Redshift Music Society artistic director Jordan Nobles and discussed the possibility of putting out an international Call for Scores for solo flute. I think, living and working as a musician on the West Coast of Canada, it’s easy to become focused almost exclusively on those composers immediately around you (and easier still because so many of them are truly excellent). I was fascinated by the idea that there were any number of good composers out there who I knew absolutely nothing about — whether because of language, culture, geography… or simply because we all get busy and the world is a bloody enormous place.
For this particular Call for Scores, we decided to take it one step further: we asked for pieces by composers who live (or who have lived) in countries bordering the Pacific Rim. This might initially seem like a random stipulation, but lately I’ve been thinking more and more about the Eurocentricity of Western Classical Music and how this might be changing, particularly in our international Age of Instant Information. My practice as a musician is undeniably informed by its Western European roots, yet I myself am anything but Western European: I’m half-Japanese, half-Australian, born and raised on the West Coast of Canada. Does this change or inform my relationship with Western music? How do other non-European musicians and artists address the bridge/divide, if at all? Limiting submissions to the Pacific Rim, I felt, might produce results that were, at the very least, different than a simple international Call for Scores; but my hope was that it might provide some insight into how non-European artists view their relationship with Europe, with their homeland, and how this may or may not reflect itself in their craft — but what I wasn’t expecting was the sheer volume of submissions.
By the time August 31st rolled around, we had received just under 200 submissions from around the world. The idea of picking five or six for a single concert seemed outrageous, especially given the calibre and diversity of what was submitted. Fortunately, Jordan was gracious enough to suggest that, instead of a single concert, I could present three different concerts over the course of 2017, each featuring different submitted repertoire — increasing the number of presented works to seventeen (even still, there’s over a dozen excellent works that there simply wasn’t room to program). The selected composers/works are as follows, listed in alphabetical order:
Pedro Alvarez (Chile/Australia) – De Mares Imaginados
Phil Brownlee (New Zealand) – Harakeke
Eunho Chang (South Korea/Poland) – Sanjo III
Nirmali Fenn (Sri Lanka/Australia/Singapore) – Scratches of the Wind
Graham Flett (Canada) – Stratus and Shale
Robert Hansler (USA) – Broken Branch
Gleb Kanasevich (USA) – DUDK*=*FLÖT
Kaiyi Kao (Taiwan) – Jingzhe
Hope Lee (Canada) – forever after
Ellen Lindquist (USA) – Nakoda for solo alto flute
Mario Mora (Chile) – DOO
Rosalind Page (Australia) – courbe dominante
Maggi Payne (USA) – Reflections
Nova Pon (Canada) – Wrenegade
Thierry Tidrow (Canada) – Né à L’envers
Chun-Ju Yen (Taiwan) – Invisible Wings
Stephen Yip (Hong Kong/USA) – A Spring Morning
Because the number of concerts has increased from one to three, we’ve yet to nail down exact dates and locations. My personal feeling is that I would like the concert venues to reflect the Pacific Rim theme — forthcoming discussions with the folks at Redshift will reveal more very soon. Until then, my sincere thanks to everyone who took the time to submit their works. I can’t wait to begin this very exciting project.
I speak, of course, as a thankless artist: We are capricious, volatile, and greedy; We spend our lives desperately seeking out patterns, rhythms, and order — and then, upon finding them, we immediately reject them; We begin every project, every endeavour, with the understanding that nothing will be good enough; We make unrealistic demands and, even when those demands are met, we’ll find a way to undervalue or abuse what we’ve been given. The pianist Rachel Iwaasa once shared with me the encapsulating words of Martha Graham: “No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching…”
Of course, there very well might be artists out there who completely disagree with the above, who are satisfied and thankful, who do not crave/despise the approval of others, who thrive on order. To you, I can only say this: I’ve got Martha Graham backing me up; you don’t.
This week, it is with mixed feelings that I step down from my position as artistic director of the Powell Street Festival Society, Canada’s largest expression of Japanese Canadian culture. I’m happy and humbled to pass the baton to the incredible Leanne Dunic, whose background in the literary, visual, and musical arts will energize and inspire the Society as it moves into its fourth decade. I’m entirely thankful for the experience: over the course of two seasons I learned about the complex and dark history of my Japanese Canadian heritage; I engaged with artists and communities I would never have had the opportunity to otherwise; I learned the nuts and bolts of curating a major Canadian festival (and for the record, there are a lot of nuts and bolts); and I learned how important it is for an artistic director to be surrounded by good, patient, informed, and inspired people. Most importantly, I learned that daily coffee breaks with Diane Kadota are generally awesome — they provided insight, inspiration, therapy, and caffeine. It doesn’t get much better than that.
But throughout my tenure, that “blessed unrest” was percolating beneath the surface, reminding me that, ultimately, I’m a musician before anything else. And so it is to music that I return, with renewed and refocused energy. This September I will join the faculty of the University of Victoria’s School of Music as their interim flute instructor (filling in for the sabbatical of my friend and colleague, Suzanne Snizek). It will mean a term of craziness as I zig-zag between the mainland and the Island, but it’s an experience I’m thrilled to begin.
September will also see my first sojourn to South America, as I join the faculty at the third International Symposium of New Music, presented by Grupo de Pesquisa Núcleo Música Nova in Curitiba, Brazil. From September 11 – 17 I’ll be giving masterclasses, workshops, and performances that will include the South American premieres of works by Nicole Lizée and Dániel Péter Biró, in addition to works by Sciarrino, Solomonoff, Feldman, and Ferneyhough, whose Carceri d’Invenzione IIb (inspired by the infamous etchings of Piranesi, pictured above) remains one of my all time solo flute faves.
But for now, it’s a whole lot of practising, score study, cautious stabs at beginner Portuguese, and coffee. A vida é maravilhosa!
Confession: I have always been a flute choir nerd. I love the idea of creating community and camaraderie within what’s really a very competitive profession — and let’s face it, flutists can be quite competitive with one another. So an environment where we convene in large numbers to work towards a common goal is, I’ve found, always a nice change. I can only assume, of course, that this warm, fuzzy, socialist euphoria is what violinists feel every day of their orchestral lives, right? Am I right??
Well, at any rate, multiple flutes sound bloody awesome.
This past May I packed my bags and headed over to Montreal for an intense and hugely rewarding week with Ensemble Contemporain de Montréal plus (ECM+), specifically the ECM+Flûtes with cellist Chloé Dominguez, under the direction of Véronique Lacroix. On May 18, we presented Les Cavaliers de l’Apocalypse, which featured the premiers four new works by Canadian composers, each inspired by one the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Charles-Antoine Fréchette‘s Torpeurs d’été was, in fact, an older work (2009/10), but its sparse, spectralist soundscapes perfectly captured the essence of the Black Horse, Famine; Brian Harman‘s virtuosic Dans la nuit profonde, complete with echoes of military marches and cannons, was inspired by the Red Horse, War; James O’Callaghan took the Green Horse, Pestilence, as the point of departure for his Into Sections — a work that cunningly fused the extended technique palette of the eight flutes with field recordings of insects; and Paul Steenhuisen wrote a kaleidoscopic (and not entirely pessimistic) take on Death — Y la conciencia-espejo se licua — complete with an extended slide whistle solo for yours truly. Don’t believe me? Check it out:
The evening was completed by a theatrical flutist tour-de-force: Dissection de l’oubli by Evelin Ramon, performed by the jaw-dropping Marie-Hélène Breault. The beautifully made video below provides some tantalizing glimpses into these complex, bizarre, and alluring sound worlds. Here’s to a Four Horsemen remount in Vancouver soon!