8 years ago

Volume 11 Issue 5 - February 2006

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  • Toronto
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Earliest musical

Earliest musical memories ... ? James: My mother singing to me: " Daisy, Daisy", " Early One Morning"-lyrical wistful songs and lullabies. Juliet: Around age 5, at the piano playing the Volga Boat Song for my mother: " Yo ho heave-ho!" How did music fit into your family life? Juliet: My mother was my first piano teacher, my grandmother was a singing teacher and my great grandmother had been the queen of the local music theatre scene (in the remote part of New Zealand where they filmed "The Piano"). Whenever we gather there's sti II music- singing, playing, and ifthere are kids, the inevitable song-and-dance routine. James: Going to events at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa: the orchestra, some chamber music, the opera. Classical music on the radio or on LPs. Did you begin with singing, an instrument? Who was your "first teacher "? James: Singing- I remember choir in Grades I and 2, the teacher was Mrs. Pulker, who loved what she did, and kept us very involved. I really looked forward to choir. Choir lapsed around Grade 3 (don't remember why) but in Grade 6 I began trumpet (band at school, plus lessons) and practised fairly faithfully. Juliet: I studied piano with my mother, then her emotional health no doubt dictated that I seek professional help! I picked up the clarinet at age I 2. I remember making a tape collage with insect sounds and my clarinet for my music correspondence school teacher. I was really excited that I wasn't just playing other people's music (though that was great too). Then I kept on going till I had a masters degree and was gigging in orchestras. How does someone teach composition? (Lots of people wonder about this, especially if they have never studied composition). James: Patiently. A composer only really learns by trial and error: by experiencing a performance and seeing how it feels. The teacher can help get a piece performed, can suggest appropriate pieces and composers to listen to, can check the work-in-progress for lapses in logic, dead spots, redundancies, etcthings that an editor of prose would look for- and discuss these issues. Juliet: The teachers I valued most were the ones who encouraged me to take risks. Louis Andriessen told me "Fear is a bad counsellor". I always remember those words when I need an extra push. In terms of technique, I was extremely grateful to those teachers whose knowledge of music was deep and wide - they knew the old stuff, but they also knew what had just been premiered in New York ( or London or Tokyo or Vancouver ... ) . 56 How I met my teacher PERSONAL REFLECTIONS ON FORMATIVE RELATIONSIDPS compiled and edited by mJ buell The sheer pleasure of sound: James Rolfe & Juliet Palmer with daughter Miriam Your bias list numerous composition mentors. Is there one who was particularly influential? James: Brian Ferneyhough for the most detailed and patient insight into issues of structure and motivic logic; Louis Andriessen more by example, as a composer who is able to take influences from all over the map and come up with music unmistakably his own, clear and unpretentious. John Beckwith also set an important example as a hardworking perfectionist, someone who tackled vocal writing, opera, and the issues arising from trying to create Canadian music. Juliet: Louis Andriessen ... Anna Lockwood never officially taught me composition, but I would meet her every now and then when I had just moved to New York from New Zealand. She taught me, by living example, that someone could travel the world and make a career as a composer. She is an incredibly positive person and I am still inspired by her passion for music. What are the impacts of being in a life-partnership with another composer? James: When one of us finds something Cheeses from around the world, meats, groceries, dry goods gift baskets ... Everything you need for reception planning. 416-364-7397 16 Goodrich Rd., Etobicoke (south of Bloor, west off Islington) exciting- be it music or theatre or dance or art or writing- we can share the experience, talk about it, digest it in a communal way. Practically, more connections are made professionally too, by proximity. Juliet: We understand each other's work in an immediate intuitive way - the music, but also the demands it places on our time and energy. I like being able to sound out ideas with James. We give each other critical feedback - even when it may not be what the other wants to hear! Do you work much collaboratively? James: Not so far on actual pieces, but certainly we talk about each other's worksin-progress, ask opinions, etc. There are unglamourous but important tasks like copying and proofreading which can be better as a team. Juliet: Our current collaboration revolves around our curatorial role at Continuum. We just reviewed over 450 works from the International Call for Scores. On top of that we are commissioning a number of Canadian composers for 2006-2007. It's been great fun brainstorming ideas and we're looking forward to presenting three premieres on February 5th. Producing is nervewracking, but worth it to share the buzz of creativity with an enthusiastic audience. Music doesn 't get much fresher than this! Where does music fit into your relationship(s) with your child? James: Every day! We all like to sing, madeup songs or real ones, a cape/la or with the piano, listening to CDs, etc. Miriam sings in VIVA! Youth Choir, which she enjoys a lot. Juliet: We sing a lot together - I' ve loved having the chance to reconnect with performing (even if it's only in my living room). Miriam is an inspired performer - she teaches me a lot about spontaneity and the sheer pleasure of sound. It's a bit like living with a performance artist who's always ON. Juliet Kiri Palmer and James Rolfe are curating Continuum s 20th Anniversary Season (next concert, playing in tongues, Feb. 5). And 'New at New Music Concerts ' premieres one of Juliet s works on Feb.26. Juliet's upcoming projects include an atomic clown opera/or Tapestry New Opera Works and a project with urbanvessel, SLIP, to be performed on the 2006 vernal equinox at Toronto s Grange Park and the Harrison Street Baths. Juliet works in diverse media and with an international palette of collaborators. James Rolfe's operas Beatrice Chancy (libretto by George Elliott Clarke) Orpheus and Eurydice, (libretto by Andre A lex is) Rosa (libretto by Camyar Chai) have been well received in Canada and the United States. His two operas for children, Elijah's Kite, and Enid and the Swans will premier in 2006. James was awarded the triennial Louis Applebaum Composers Award in 2005 for excellence in the field of opera. F EB RUA RY 1 - M ARCH 7 2006

DIS ~ OPERA at Home by Phil Ehrensaft A Ring Cycle for the Era of Climate Change ,~ ....... ~ ··­ .-t·r~ .......... r,_..L",., ,-.-~ ..,..,.... _ ,..,_...,. ., ~ i String Instrument Makers Experts & Dealers Since 1890 Giil1erdammen.Jrig Fine old and contemporary master violins, violas, cellos and Bows • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • 'L CLASS STRUGGLE permeated Patrice Chereau's centenary production of • Student Instruments and outfits, providing the Ring Cycle at Bayreuth in 1976. That was quite consonant with a Western Europe that was still trying to digest the ramifications of the best value and quality in every range upheavals of 1968. When the Met celebrated the centenary of its first production of the Ring in 1889, the target was fidelity to Wagner's naturalistic romanticism, albeit on a very grand scale. Again, quite • Expert repairs, bow rehairing, tone adjustments consonant for a country where authenticity was a primary theme of its l 960's upheavals. Stir in a big boost to self-confidence as the USA's main rival disintegrated, and you have the Big Apple of international opera's conviction that their Ring is tried and true and right. Because contrasting ways of staging Wagner's Ring Cycle can be fine litmus tests for a culture's preoccupations and quandaries, two new DVD box sets of the Ring performances are profoundly disquieting. Opus Arte, distributed by Naxos, has just issued Harry Kupfer's 2004 production of the cycle at Madrid's Gran Teatre del Liceu, conducted by one of the justly rising lights of international opera, Bertrand de Billy. Then there 's the Stuttgart Opera's idiosyncratic cycle, performed in 2000 and issued in 2004 by TDK, also distributed by Naxos. Stuttgart gives us, among other gifts, Siegfried as a motorcycle punk. I'll come back to Stuttgart in a subsequent column. Here I'll focus on the more artistically important Kupfer/de Billy cycle. The World Ash Tree is a central symbol in the Ring Cycle, and that's especially the case in the Kupfer/de Billy production. Wagner derived this symbol from Teutonic mythology: the backbone of the cosmos is a World Ash Tree, the only living inanimate object associated with creation. It would outlast both the gods and humans. Trees in general were simultaneously deemed part of the Earth and part of the Heavens. Ecological pessimism upends Teutonic eternity in the Kupfer/de Billy Ring. From the moment that Wotan, the king of gods, carves hi s spear shaft from the World Tree's trunk, the Tree progressively shrinks into nothingness as we pass through Das Rheingold, Die Walkiire , Siegfried and, finally, Gotterddmmerung. The term for costumes and decor is "science fiction glum." It could fit right into sci-fi films like Escape From New York. Act 3, for example, opens up with Hagen, • • Flexible rental programmes: quality instruments for better results Sheet music: solo, chamber and Conservatory repertoire . Gotterddmmerung's half-Nibelung/half-human evil plotter, surveying 210 Bloor St. W. Toronto Oust west of Avenue Rd.) the terrain from atop a satellite antenna tower. Tel: 416.961.3111 Toll Free: 1.800.667.6925 Bizarre but visually stunning, and very, very interesting are terms that I would readily apply to the Kupfer/de Billy cycle. Also off on a plane of its own. Perhaps the proper phrase is a " brilliant theatrical North: 1455 16th Avenue #6, Richmond Hill Tel: 905.881.3400 extrapolation inspired by Wagner's Ring." The singing and CONTINUES F EB RUARY 1 - M ARCH 7 2006 WWW. TH EWHOLENOTE.COM 57

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