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!
Composers! Composers! I’m teaming up with my old pals at Redshift Music Society: we’re putting out a Call for Scores for solo flute written by composers who live or originate from countries situated along the Pacific Rim. Selected works will be performed in Redshift’s 2016/17 season and then recorded for CD release on Redshift Records. Why do this? Because, more than anything else, I’m really curious to see what’s out there. Why Pacific Rim countries? That’s a good question. So many aspects of my life are “Pacific specific”: I’m half Australian, half Japanese, and I live on the West Coast of Canada; Vancouver is a nexus of Asian, Australasian, North, Central, and South American cultures. And while contemporary art music is very Eurocentric thing to specialize in, much of what I do is informed by a heritage that is rather non-European — and this seemed like a cool way to make connections with emerging and established composers who I might (or might not) think along these same lines. All submissions can be sent to email@example.com. The Official Call is below. Please share widely!
Call for Scores: Solo flute
Submission Deadline: August 30th, 2016
Send submissions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Redshift Music Society is seeking scores for solo flute (C concert flute, piccolo, alto flute, and bass flute) for a 2016/17 season performance event in Vancouver, Canada, by flutist Mark Takeshi McGregor. For this event we are specifically requesting works by composers who live in or originate from countries situated along the Pacific Rim: submissions from Canada, United States of America, Mexico, Central America, Columbia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Russia, Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, Philippines, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, East Timor, Australia, Papua New Guinea, New Zealand, and all Oceanian countries will all be considered. There is no restriction regarding age, race, or gender.
Available instrumentation: solo C concert flute; alto flute in G; bass flute in C; or piccolo in C. Pieces involving electronics or tape cannot be accepted at this time;
Scores must be submitted in PDF format. Do not send hard copies;
Scores must be written in traditional western notation, or provide very clear explanations, in English, of any non-standard notation;
Works that include extended techniques, microtonal writing, and/or alternative tuning systems are welcome;
For solo flute works containing vocal writing: please note that vocal effects and singing should accommodate a tenor/baritone voice range. Text in non-western languages should be written using either western alphabet (preferable) or International Phonetic Alphabet;
Composers may submit multiple works, provided all submitted works are for solo flute;
Duration: each submitted piece not to exceed 15 minutes;
There is no age limit;
By submitting your work(s), you consent to having it (them) performed and recorded.
With your submission, please include your name, one paragraph biography (in English, if available), website link (if available), and country of origin/residence. All submissions must be sent by email to email@example.com. Deadline for submissions is August 30th, 2016.
About the project
Redshift Music Society is working with Canadian flutist Mark Takeshi McGregor to create a performance project that explores new and recent contemporary works for solo flute by composers who live in or originate from Pacific Rim countries. McGregor, a Pacific Rim hybrid himself (a Canadian/Australian citizen based in Vancouver, the product of Japanese and Australian parents), has spent much of his recent career exploring western art music through a non-European lens. This project is an opportunity to connect international composers, explore and celebrate commonalities/differences, and to create professional bonds that may lead to future collaboration.
Selected works will be performed by McGregor in Vancouver during the 2016/2017 concert season. Depending on the number of submissions, there is a possibility for multiple concerts in order to include as many works as possible. Following the performance, these works will be recorded for release on the Redshift Record label (approximate release date: 2018). Selections will be made by McGregor and a panel of professional composers and specialists. All decisions are final.
To learn more about Mark Takeshi McGregor, click HERE.
To learn more about Redshift Music Society, click HERE.
I’ve known Michael Oesterle way longer than I’ve known his music: we were students together at the University of British Columbia back in the 90s. I knew him primarily as a violin player in the orchestra (and once, he even played mandolin for a performance of Respighi’s Roman Festivals). It would be many years later when I got to know Michael the composer, primarily through my work with the Aventa Ensemble: Urban Canticle,territio verbalis, and tell tales (the latter two pieces written especially for Aventa) are all beautiful, colourful, and deftly wrought ensemble pieces. But it wasn’t until I heard Stand Still — his solo violin piece that he wrote in 2011 for Aisslinn Nosky — when I realized that here was a composer who understood the complexities and subtleties of writing for an unaccompanied instrument; who could reference the instrument’s incredibly rich history of both hedonistic folk music and 18th century polyphony, all the while cunningly maintaining his own unique voice. I cautiously approached him to ask if he’d consider writing a piece for solo flute… and after much scheming and generous support from the Canada Council for the Arts, Delilah was born in September of 2014.
Delilah was inspired, like many of Oesterle’s works, by the British mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, philosopher, computer scientist, mathematical biologist, marathon runner, and persecuted homosexual Alan Turing (1912-1954). In 2012, Turing’s 1944 reports on his “speech system” Delilah, were finally pulled from the British National Archives and opened to the public. This functional machine, designed to scramble and descramble voice messages, was so far ahead of its time that it resembles the way we currently store music in digital format. The musical construction of Delilah for solo flute was motivated by Turing’s unorthodox search for humanity or human intelligence within patterns and systems. It searches for answers to an unasked question, allowing this systematic approach to create subtle emotional shifts. Like Turing, it presents its puzzle playfully: in its persistence it becomes serious and then, as it begins to wallow in the process itself, lightens its mood again: a simple arc in a pattern of system, method, and discovery, its greatest motivation the joy of moving forward (from Oesterle’s programme notes).
A couple weeks ago I headed over to Jordan Noble‘s abode in North Vancouver and we spent the good part of the morning laying down a proper studio recording of Delilah. Thanks to Jordan’s editing skills and a bit of reverb you’d never know that this piece was recorded… in his bedroom. Delilah is joyful, mesmerizing, virtuosic, and bittersweet — and it’s a delight to be able to share it.
Anyone who has ever had to work towards a looming deadline will appreciate (or resent) the passage of time. For composers, time is of course the canvas on which they write — and if you’ve ever had the opportunity to talk to a composer working on a commission, you’re probably familiar with time-related statements like “I need to write another five minutes of music,” or “My piece is longer than what they asked for,” or even just plain old “Oh God, I need more time!” For us listeners, pacing and duration are key ingredients in how a piece of music impacts us emotionally: the 17-second brevity of Schoenberg’s Galgenlied from Pierrot Lunaire Op. 21 instantly conjures up images both horrific and humorous; whereas an hour+ long performance of Terry Riley’s In Ccan lull us into a trance-like state where an entire evening can slip by unnoticed.
Next week I’ll be giving the Vancouver premiere of a piece that definitely makes its home on the large-scale end of the time spectrum. On Wednesday, March 9th, 2016, Redshift Music Society and Little Chamber Music Series That Could will present Piling Sand – Piling Stone 4 for flute and MaxMSP by Moncton-based composer André Cormier. There are few artists I know who play with the concept of time like Cormier: Piling Sand – Piling Stone 4 is part of a series of pieces that gradually reveal themselves to the listener over the space of 90 minutes. One by one, notes are played by the flutist, which are recorded and looped back every six minutes through a multi-channel speaker installation. Ever so slowly, the piece becomes layered through the speaker playback: it becomes denser, richer, and more elaborate, until the final six minutes reveal the “complete” piece, with swirling flute lines and Tibetan finger cymbals.
In particular, the opening of Piling Sand – Piling Stone 4 is worth mentioning: essentially a blank canvas for sound, the piece begins with a full six minutes of silence. Some people have given me double-takes when I tell them this, but this extended silence serves an important role: the first two minutes is spent wondering what the hell is going on; after four minutes, your inner clock begins slowing down; and by six minutes, you’ve truly entered a deeper listening state, making the first utterance of the flute — a pianissimo F# — seem like a shattering intrusion. It’s a very special listening experience, the likes of which is almost impossible to achieve in our 21st century “Age of Instant Information”. Piling Sand – Piling Stone 4 is unquestionably challenging — and I’m the first person to say that it’s quite possibly not a piece for everybody. But after premiering this piece in New Brunswick back in 2013, I know that this piece can have a very powerful effect on those who are willing to be openminded to truly new listening experiences.
Piling Sand – Piling Stone 4 takes place this Wednesday, March 9th, at 8pm at Celebration Hall at Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery (39th off Fraser St.). This event is FREE. There will also be a free artist chat at the Canadian Music Centre‘s BC Region (837 Davie Street) on Monday, March 7th at 4:30pm. Both André Cormier and myself will be there to talk more about the piece!
And just to give you a tiny, 21st century “Age of Instant Information” taste of what to expect, here is an excerpt from the final six minutes of Piling Sand – Piling Stone 4:
Last night was a sad night indeed: the final drops of my Slivovica — the plum schnapps of Slovakia — was shared among friends and loved ones… and I’m left wondering how one can acquire more of this in Canada. But while the schnapps may be gone, there is no lack of fond memories of the week spent in Bratislava, where I gave the premiere of Nicole Lizée‘s Tarantino Études at the Melos-Ethos Festival. We heard some incredible performances, met lovely people, ate excellent food, and I spent a good part of an evening discussing the movie “Slap Shot” with a bartender who was kind enough to introduce me to his country’s national drink.
Bratislava is a beautiful city, situated on the Danube River and extremely close to neighbouring Austria and Hungary. The old town is closed to motor vehicles, so it’s easy to get the sense of what the place was like in ages past. Tarantino Études was premiered on November 12, 2015 to a packed hall at a4-Zero Space, a contemporary/experimental performance venue with a diverse and enthusiastic following. Those in the know will appreciate the unbelievable amount of work that goes into creating a festival of this size: we’re talking fifteen events over seven days. Kudos to everyone at the Melos-Ethos Festival, especially Festival Director Ol’ga Smetanova.
Almost immediately after the premiere, Lizée and I were back in Vancouver for the North American premiere at Music on Main, which was celebrating its tenth anniversary with its largest Modulus Festival to date — all the more impressive when you consider that the number of MoM staff who made the week happen could all fit comfortably in the back of a Škoda (bravo to Dave, Melody, and Genevieve!). The evening of November 17th included music by Stefan Prins and Caroline Shaw, as well as Lizée’s Tarantino Études and Karappo Okesutura, featuring the Music on Main All Star Band with the incomparable Charlotte Cumberbirch.
And what about the piece itself, you ask? How is the Tarantino Études? Well, I’m perhaps a bit biased, but Lizée has created a serious multimedia masterpiece: hours and hours of film footage were obsessively combed through to find a handful of incredibly potent but unlikely moments musicaux, which are looped and glitched. The result is an audio-visual world that is at once mesmerizing, visceral, disturbing, and hilarious. For a wee taste, here’s an excerpt from the premiere performance at the Melos-Ethos Festival in Bratislava — but be forewarned: it is the Tarantino Études after all, so there is some, uh, “language”.
I first met Montreal-based composer Nicole Lizée almost exactly two years ago: the Little Chamber Music Series That Could and I had co-commissioned her to write a new work that dealt with grief for LCMSTC’s All Souls event at Vancouver’s Mountain View Cemetery. The resulting commission, Ouijist, is a piece that still haunts me: dark, touching, and a warhorse virtuoso role for percussionist Ben Reimer. After the performance, emboldened by a post-concert repast of fried chicken, waffles, and bourbon, I asked Nicole if she’d consider writing a new piece for flute and electronics. She agreed (such is the power of fried chicken, waffles, and bourbon), but immediately stipulated that the new piece would be written for bass flute.
Bass flute, baby. Bass flute.
As Nicky and I started talking about this new commission in more detail, I knew she was in the midst of composing a series of pieces that explored the works of particular film directors — she called these her “Criterion Collection”. Lizée’s music is infused with tributes to popular culture, whether it be film (Hitchcock, Kubrick), music (Rush, DJ turntable art), or even toys (those of us born in a certain age will remember the Omnichord or the electronic game “Simon”, both of which have made appearances in Lizée’s music). She remains unique in her ability to create music that is chilling, funny, and occasionally flat-out demented while referencing iconic moments of 20th century popular culture — this is new music steeped in 70s/80s pop nostalgia. So I was surprised when she proposed that her new piece for bass flute and glitch would pay tribute to the work of Quentin Tarantino — a cultural phenomenon firmly rooted in the 90s/21st century. I should probably clarify that: when I say “surprised” I mean “peel-me-off-the-ceiling excited”, not just because Tarantino is one of my all-time favourite film directors, but because so many aspects of his style — the juxtaposition of humour and violence, soundtrack-driven narratives, a love of pop culture iconography — are things that, I feel, resonate very strongly with Lizée’s music.
The world premiere of Tarantino Études was originally planned to be at Music on Main’s 2015 Modulus Festival — but in a fit of incredible generosity, MoM’s artistic director Dave Pay arranged an introduction with Olga Smetanova of the Melos-Ethos Festival in Bratislava. As a result of this introduction, Nicole and I are on our way to Slovakia this weekend to give the European premiere of Tarantino Études on November 12th at the Melos-Ethos Festival, followed by the North American premiere at Modulus Festival in Vancouver on November 17th. This past week my email correspondence with Nicky has been dealing primarily with extra-musical devices and props for these performances — some of these requests have been entirely sincere, others… not so much: whistling, guitar playing, sword swinging, and Japanese school girl outfits have all been discussed at length. Which of these are fact and which are fiction, you ask? I suppose there’s only one way to find out.
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.