7 years ago

Volume 14 - Issue 4 - December 2008


MUSICAL LIFE (1)Multi-faceted: ROBERT AITKENinterviewed by Pamela MarglesCost: The Whole Day 0 (.23 + 4.77 GST)Afternoon Workshop and Speaker Only: (.80 + .20 GST)Historic Fort York, 100 Garrison Road, Toronto416.392.6907 ext.221 I aflutist, composer, conductor, and teacher Robert Aitken hashad an impact on musical life in Canada that is hard to over-estimate.But his highest profile locally is with New Music Concerts, which hefounded in 1971 with composer Norma Beecroft. As its long-timeartistic director, he has put Toronto on the map as an internationalcentre for contemporary music. He has attracted the top composers inthe world here -like lannis Xenakis, Witold Lutoslawski, Pierre Boulez,Gyorgy Ligeti, John Cage, Elliott Carter, Toru Takemitsu, HelmutLachenmann and Mauricio Kagel. As well, he has premiered manypieces by Canadian and international composers. His own compositionshave all been published and recorded. As a conductor in Canadahe leads the New Music Concerts ensemble, and has been involved ina great variety of performances including the turbulent CanadianOpera Company production of R. Murray Schafer's Patria I in 1987.Yet ironically, outside Canada, Aitken is known more for his virtuosicflute-playingin a broad range of repertoire from the baroque,classical and romantic eras than for his work in contemporary music.As well, his conducting and teaching take him throughout the world. Jnfact, for sixteen years, up until 2004, he was professor of flute at theStaatliche Hochschulefii.r Musik in Freiburg, Germany. His techniqueof flute-playing has even been the subject of a Ph.D. thesis, "A Descriptionand Application of Robert Aitken 's Concept of the PhysicalFlute, "by Robert Billington.Born in 1939 in Nova Scotia, Aitken counts as his main teachersNicholas Fiore in Toronto and Marcel Moyse at Marlboro, and then inFrance. For many years Aitken played in the Lyric Arts Trio with hiswife, pianist Marion Ross, and soprano Mary Morrison. He alsoteamed up with pianists like Glenn Gould and William Aide, harpistErica Goodman and harpsichordist Greta Kraus. Aitken joined theToronto Symphony in 1965 but left five years later to pursue his solocareer. It was the next year that he started New Music Concerts.1 met with him at the office of New Music Concerts in downtownToronto. Before 1 even had a chance to ask him a question, he jumpedin to voice his frustration over having so many things to get done beforehe heads off to Europe to give concerts and sit on a competitionjury.Aitken: There's so little time to do everything. That was alwaysthe story of my life, and it hasn't changed now that I'm older. I loveeverything that I'm doing - there's almost nothing that I do that Idon't like. But there's not enough time to enjoy it, and sometimes notenough time to do it to my total satisfaction.Margles: ls it difficult to find the time to compose?I've been trying for a couple of years now to finish a piece for theAmerican Flute Association. The phone keeps ringing, or personalthings come up. You can' t just shove them away in order to compose,because our families are a big part of our lives.WWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COM DECEMBER 1 2008 - FEBR UARY 7 2009

GREAT CHAMBER MUSIC DOWNTOWNWith Elliott Carter, in 1978 and 2006I'm also trying to finish a chapter I'm writing on John Weinzweig,who was my composition teacher at the University of Toronto. It's for abook that John Beckwith and Brian Cherney are editing on his music. Hewas a great orchestration teacher. When you look at his music, it looksalmost naive, and it's never virtuosic. But you can get into real troubleperforming it. So I'm calling my chapter, "How To Play Weinzweig".On top of everything else you 're involved in, you do the pre-concertinterviews with guest composers and players before performances at NewMusic Concerts. Do you enjoy doing those?I'm always very nervous about those talks - more nervous about the talksthan the concerts. So I'm in a bad mood most of the afternoon before theconcerts just worrying about them. I'm always trying to get someone elseto do them. But people say they really like them because I ask questionsthat are sometimes surprising.You ask questions that 1 want to hear the answers to.I try to ask questions that I want to have the answers to.Have they ever been published?Unfortunately most of them were not recorded. But we did just produce avideo of a pre-concert talk I did with Elliott Carter, along with a recordingof our most recent concert of his music. He has his lOOth birthday inDecember.And he's still writing. You've had such a long relationship with him - doyou.find his music has changed?It's warmer and more affectionate.Yet he hasn't compromised his style. Are you surprised that such a supposedlydifficult composer has achieved so much success?Now - but before, people stayed far away from playing his music. Thatchanged when he started to write single-voiced pieces in the early1990's.He wrote his first solo piece, Scrivo in Vento for me in 1991 . Many ofus had been asking him for a long time to write a solo piece for them. Butbecause he only wrote contrapuntal music, he didn't want to. I was livingin Freiberg, and he had come to Basel, which is close by, to bring somemusic to the Sachar Institute, where they keep all his manuscripts. Whenwe went out for supper, I said he should write a fifth movement forBach's Sonata for Flute Solo because it ends with the bourree, and Bachnever ended with a bourree. He listened - he's a very good listener, andhe remembers everything. About three weeks later, he phoned me andsaid that the piece was almost done, but he just had a few questions. Isaid, "You're kidding!" Now he writes solo pieces without end.Carter, Boulez, Xenakis, Lutoslawski - you've given Toronto audiencesa chance to hear the most important composers of our time. Do youfind that the composers ever get influenced by their experiences here withNew Music Concerts?For a lot of people we've brought, it was their first time in North America.When oboist Heinz Holliger made his first trip here, we had Carteron the program with him. Heinz is very outspoken. He said, "Why areyou doing Elliott Carter? That old fogey - his music's not interesting."But then, after doing that program, he became a great lover of Carter'smusic, one of Carter's biggest supporters. He phones him probably everyweek. That's amazing, because he had been totally against Carter until then.Holliger's career strikes me as being similar to yours because, as wellas performing contemporary music and composing, he played the wholerange of repertoire including baroque.I just wish that I would get concerts playing traditional music in Torontotoday. I seem to be labelled a contemporary music specialist here. Before,especially when harpsichordist Greta Kraus was alive, I STRINGQUARTETcelebrates its 20thanniversary with itsToronto debutThursday Dec. 4 at 8 pmEVEEGOYANNew music across twocenturies!from Scriabin & Satie toTanaka & SouthamTuesday Dec. 9 at 8 pmDARRETT ZUSKORising Canadian pianistplays Schubert, Morawetz,Scriabin & BartokTickets just !Thursday Jan. 15 at 8 pmTOKYO STRINGQUARTETbeginning the BeethovencycleThursday Jan. 22 at 8 pmBARRY DOUGLASmaster Irish pianist playsRavel, Scriabin andSchumannTuesday Jan. 27 at 8 pm416-366-7723 • 1-800-708-6754order online at www.stlc.comDECEMBER 1 2008 - FEB RUARY 7 2009 WWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COM 13

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