Week of July 29th

Back again, but still only for a bit. I’m looking forward to what the new season has to offer. That’s still a bit away though. Here’s what’s on this week.

Tuesday July 29th

7:30 PM: Flautists Izabella Budai and Alheli Pimienta take on a programme of works that shine a spotlight on the music of Latin America and Eastern Europe. Together, these two formidable musicains form the duo, Flautas del Fuego. The conert will include works by Piazzolla, Corigliano, Bartok, Schocker, Doppler, and  the Canadian premier of Samuel Zyman’s Fantasía Mexicana for two flutes.

It’s rare to hear a flute duet in concert, so get out to see this one.

Details here.


That’s all there is this week. Really. There’ll be more to come though, so don’t you worry.


- Paolo Griffin

Preview: Weekend of June 28th

Two  events are happening this weekend, all of which are a bit off the beaten path, so I’d suggest getting out to see them.

Friday June 27th

8:00 PM: One event that I neglected to mention during my week preview, but which runs Thursday and Friday, is When the Sun Comes Out, a chamber opera by composer Leslie Uyeda. The opera had its premiere last August in B.C., but from what I’m hearing, the work as a whole is fantastic. Poet (and librettist), Rachel Rose joins Uyeda in this venture. An interesting note, the timing of the opera, whose plot involves the lesbian community, coincides with World Pride which is happening in Toronto this year. If you don’t go for the music, go to support the LGBT community. Details here.

Saturday June 28th

6:30 PM: Music Reflecta hosts the first of its new workshop initiative, OPUS: TESTING. The object of the workshop is to offer Toronto composers the opportunity to compose for a variety of instruments (the ensemble changes month to month), and to then workshop their pieces with the musicians. It’s a brilliant idea and here’s hoping it really gets off the ground. Details here.


As I said, music and events that are off the beaten path. It’s beautiful in Toronto (or so I’ve heard), and so there’s little excuse not to go out, see some music, and grab a pint (or whatever your poison may be) afterwards.


- Paolo Griffin

Preview: Weekend of June 23rd

Hello again. It’s been a few weeks since I posted much in the way of a preview on the site. Much of the fault for that falls to myself, as I’ve been taking a few weeks off at the end of a packed concert season. At any rate, there are two concerts this week in Toronto, both of which I’d highly recomend.

Tuesday June 24th

6:00 PM: Rosedale Winds presents a concert of three works for wind quinet and guest artists. The standard for the evening is Francis’ Poulenc’s 1932 Sextet for wind quintet + piano. The other works on the programme are Philip Bimstein’s Casino for quintet + tape (a rare combination), and Peter Hatch’s Endangered Worlds, for quintet + bass clarinet. That’s quite a lineup, so I’d highly recommend getting out to see this concert.

Wednesday June 25th

7:30 PM: One of my favourite new ensembles in Toronto, Reverb Brass, plays their second (and last) concert of their season which started earlier this year. Works by Bartok, Jan Bach, Alan Hovhaness, and the Canadian premiere of a work by James Hesford (British), are on the slate. There’s no end to the contemporary music here, and new brass music of this kind is fairly rare in Toronto. Get out and see this show. Details here.

That’s all this week. More to come on the weekend and next week, but until then, have a good week. I’ll be eating a pizza here in Florence, Italy.


- Paolo Griffin

Announcements for the Future II

When I left for Europe just over a week ago, I did so under the assumption that I would be returning to begin a Master’s Degree in Music Composition at the University of Toronto. I assumed wrong. I have been offered a spot at the Royal Conservatoire of the Hague in the Netherlands, a spot which consists of three years of study. I will be taking the offer, and so my near future (at least), remains in Europe.

I will not be returning to Toronto for now, and I will make all attempts to keep New Music Toronto alive while I am gone, however expect to see some reviews from the other side of the Atlantic.

There will also be more reviews of summer concerts coming out soon enough, however for now, I must give my thanks to you, my audience, for reading my reviews and previews, e-mailing me with questions, and perhaps most importantly for those entrenched in the music community, for listening.


- Paolo Griffin

Preview: Weekend of June 6th

As a result of June’s arrival and the imminent end of the season, there is nothing going on this weekend in the world of contemporary art music.

I would however like to point out the Lulaworld Festival taking place tomorrow all day, hosted by the Lula Lounge. You can find details here, however it should be pointed out that there’s almost no excuse to get out and enjoy the fabulous weather with some great fusion, jazz, and world tunes.


- Paolo Griffin

Preview: Week of June 2nd

After the hecticness of this past weekend, there’s only one event happening this week, but it’s a big one.

Tuesday June 3rd

8:00 PM: Soundstreams kicks off a set of shows lasting until June 8th, of Toronto composer Brian Current’s new opera, Airline Icarus. The opera, with libretto by playwright Anton Piatigorsky is about an airplane flight en route to Cleveland. Things happen (as they usually do in operas), and the crew and passengers will be strapped in for an eventful trip. The opera stars, among others, Alexander Dobson, Geoffrey Sirett, and Vania Chan, and is directed by famed British director Timothy Albery. This is Soundstreams last concert of the season, so get out and support them. Details here.


- Paolo Griffin

Review: Kafka & Kurtág Hit Toronto

Soprano Stacie Dunlop

Soprano Stacie Dunlop

I recently had the pleasure of listening to No Going Back, presented at Gallery 345 by Stacie Dunlop and Andrea Neumann, with Peter Lutek. Dunlop and Neumann have teamed up in a country-wide set of performances of Hungarian composer György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments. With each performance, the duo team up with a local composer or performer who presents his or her work, acting as the first half in a two section show. Peter Lutek, a Toronto-based clarinet and bassoonist who works in improvisation, joined them.

Personally, I don’t think I could find a better first half to a show such as this. Lutek’s work with the two instruments, and electronics (of which he is a practitioner) was the perfect counterpoint to Kurtág’s intense work. Lutek worked with long tones this time around, using a laptop placed in front of him, as well as a number of pedals which triggered different electronic effects. His performance travelled the spectrum, from long, relaxed sections, to tense, driving moments where sounds rubbed up against one another, creating a beautiful friction. It was a 20 minute performance, which I felt was the perfect length for a demonstration of Lutek’s skill as a performer, composer, and user of electronics.

György Kurtág’s Kafka Fragments is a song cycle for soprano and solo violin that bring together 40 extracts from Kafka’s writings, diaries and letters. It’s a lyrically beautiful work, that’s sparse, lean, and entirely capable of standing on its own in a concert. it’s a work of sparse, lyrical beauty, that is essentially self-sufficient. Having played the Fragments myself before (on violin), I know what a challenging, yet rewarding experience this piece can be.

Requiring levels of extreme virtuosity from both performers, it can only be accomplished successfully by seasoned professionals, which, luckily for the audience, is exactly what Dunlop and Neumann are. Dunlop performed the work in the original language (there are English translations, which are nice but don’t quite cut it), and the translation was presented behind the performers in an surtitle-esque format. Favourite movements of mine throughout the work included fragments 4, and 18 from Part I, 3 and 8 from Part III, and 6 from Part IV. Dunlop handled the material with a great deal of care, clearly sensitive to the text, and Neumann worked the violin part with technical excellence, providing a worth accompaniment to Dunlop’s voice. If there are ever any more performances of this work featuring Dunlop and Neumann, I fully encourage everyone who is able, to go see it. It’s worth every second.


- Paolo Griffin.

Preview: Weekend of May 30th

As May comes to a close, we have a number of very exciting events happening. Here’s what’s going on.

Friday May 30th

5:00 PM: The CCOC presents East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon, a new children’s opera by composer Norbert Palej. The story is based on a Norwegian folk story, so it’s the perfect material for children. The performances run until the 1st of June. Details here.

Coriolis & Spectrum

Coriolis & Spectrum

7:30 PM: A team-up of ensembles, Coriolis Brass and Spectrum Percussion combine their forces for a concert of 20th and 21st century music, featuring two new works by composer Emily Walker. The performance is at the RCM, details here.

8:00 PM: The junctQtin Keyboard Collective, a trio of pianists, celebrate their fifth anniversary of existence at Gallery 345. The concert features some new stuff, but also works from their past concerts. Details here.

8:00 PM: The Music Gallery celebrates Canadian electronics composer Hugh Le Caine with a concert of his works. Highlights of the night include a multi-media presentation, and new commissioned works in celebration of his 100th birthday. Details here.

Saturday May 31st

3:00 PM: The Array Emerging Composers Workshop draws to a close with a concert featuing the music of the participants. Works by Jason Doell, Ivana Jokic, Tyler Versluis, and Andrezj Tereszkowski will be played. Details here.

Elizabeth Raum

Elizabeth Raum

Sunday June 1st

4:00 PM: Sneak Peak Orchestra closes out their season with a concert of exciting works. Bernstein’s Overture to Candide, and four works by Canadian composers Kevin Lau, William Rowson, Ian Chan, and Elizabeth Raum. It’s Kevin Lau’s last concert as Sneak Peak’s director, so be sure to come congratulate him on his successful run. Details here.


Plenty to do. The nice weather should encourage you to get out just as much as the slew of concerts, so you don’t really have any excuses.


- Paolo Griffin

Preview: East O’ the Sun, West O’ the Moon

Composer Norbert Palej

Composer Norbert Palej

On Friday, composer Norbert Palej’s new children’s opera, East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon, will be making its premiere at the Enwave Theatre at the Harbourfront. The opera, composed for the Canadian Children’s Opera Company (CCOC), is a Norwegian fairy tale about a princess quest to find her prince.

We caught up with Norbert Palej, currently on sabbatical from his position as professor of composition at the University of Toronto, and asked him a few questions about the opera, and what it was like composing a work for children.


Q) What was it about this story that first piqued your interest in it? Why a Norwegian fairy tale? Every child grows up hearing fairy tales, and we in the West, particularly in North America, are fairly well versed in the fairy tales of Germany and Western Europe, however many people aren’t familiar with these Norwegian fairy tales.

A) I started out by looking for Polish fairy tales. I found one that I really liked and thought about writing a libretto based on it. Just then, Ann [Cooper Gay] suggested I should take a look at K. T. Bryski’s libretto, based on a Norwegian fairy tale. I immediately fell in love with it. Strangely enough, the story almost perfectly resembled the Polish one I wanted to set originally.


Q) The make-up of the cast and choir, all children or at least, young adults, must have meant you had to alter the musical material to fit not only different abilities, but vocal ranges. You’ve written for the CCOC before, and of course, written choral music for adults. Are there any differences in writing for the two different choirs (children and adults) that wouldn’t be fairly obvious?

A) Here are the two main differences from my point of view:

- You can write harder music for kids. I know this sounds like the exact opposite of what you’d expect, but it is true. Kids have unlimited potential and absorb material much more easily than adults. They can learn anything, and quickly.

- Writing for kids imposes a higher quality standard of the music: 1) because of the responsibility to give only the best to kids, and 2) because kids quickly realize if something is not up to snuff, so every moment needs to be fun and engaging.


Q) How has the collaborative process been with the CCOC and the children? Is it all a very professional, straightforward atmosphere during rehearsals and workshops, or does the presence of children add a bit of levity to the occasion?

A)  Having toured with the CCOC around Europe three years ago, I found working with them a sheer pleasure: the most satisfying experience any composer can wish for. Since kids are always sincere, earning their respect is very meaningful. You can tell if they like your music or not; they won’t pretend to like it if they don’t.


East o’ the Sun, West o’ the Moon runs from May 30th – June 1st, with four performances. You can find details and ticket information here.


- Paolo Griffin


Review: Esprit Caps Off 21C

Esprit Conductor Alex Pauk

Esprit Conductor Alex Pauk

Sunday night’s Esprit Concert, the last concert of the RCM’s first annual 21C New Music Festival, was a grab bag of different things. In general, I enjoyed the concert, however there were a few moments I was unsure of.

Out of Black Dust, by English composer Mark-Anthony Turnage, was one of those uncertain moments. The advertisement for the concert claimed that Turnage’s piece was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Black Dog, and uses the rhythms and blues elements present in that kind of rock. At times the music seemed more than a bit disorganized, not helped by the fact that the piece was so hectic that it was difficult to follow clearly. I enjoyed the last section; wherein the writing got caught up in the same repeating figure appearing over and over again with the different instruments, and at last I felt that sense of rock and blues inspiration, however it was a bit of effort to get to that point.

I had a more favourable view of Christopher Mayo’s Under Dark Water, which utilized material from Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder. Indeed Mayo seems to have drawn his inspiration from Mahler in more ways than one. The piece had a brilliant, earthy, quality to it that I’ve always associated with Mahler, and the four singers performed beautifully, although if I had one complaint, it would be that I couldn’t hear the singers well enough, even sitting smack in the middle of the ground floor.

New York-based Composer Zosha di Castri

New York-based Composer Zosha di Castri

If Mayo’s piece had an earthen feeling to it, then Zosha di Castri’s new work, Serfainiana was very much the opposite. Scored for orchestra and amplified violin and harp, the work was inspired by Luigi Serafini (an Italian artist and architect) and his Codex Seraphinianus. True to the source material, di Castri created a mysterious, colourful world, utilizing sound combinations and effects from the orchestra and contrasting them with the amplified instruments. The amplified violin was showcased here, and Claudia Schaer did a wonderful job handling the different techniques thrown at her by the composer. I wish the amplified harp had played a more central role in the work, however that’s a small complaint for an otherwise beautiful piece.

I wasn’t as enthused by Louis Andriessen’s Mysterien as I was hoping I’d be. Split into six section, the work explores the text of a Dutch mystic named Thomas van Kempen, who described, in a treatise, how to lead a good Christian life. It was a large, opulent work that at times displayed the Andriessen of days  past, when pieces like De Staat were being constantly played, but it was also synthesized with the Andriessen I had heard earlier in the festival (his Anais Nin stage work). The final product ultimately came together quite well, however I felt that it was quite inconsistent in mood and material, particularly towards the end, though I enjoyed the fifth movement very much. The sixth movement, as beautiful as it was, felt more like an addendum than anything else, though it played a nice counterpoint to the brilliance of movement five.

This is a concert which Esprit should be applauded for. Pauk and the orchestra tackled some truly challenging material, some of it Canadian, and it incorporated three generations of composers, vastly different in styles and aesthetics, into a cohesive whole.


- Paolo Griffin