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Volume 18 Issue 6 - March 2013

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Voyageur of ArtJohn

Voyageur of ArtJohn WeinzweigA Centenary CelebrationThird from right, at his 80thbirthday concert, March 11, 1993.R. Murray Schafer, second fromright, John Beckwith, far right.At the piano withwife Helen andsons, Paul andDaniel, 1948.Below,receiving the Orderof Ontario, 1988.Corporal John Weinzweigat the piano, RockcliffeStation 1943–1945.BY paula citronHow do you celebrate the 100th anniversary of thebirth of a composer?The obvious answer is with a concert, or even two,both of them freebies. And why not commission anew work in his name while you’re at it? You canalso mount a symposium of scholarly papers, create awebsite in his name to perpetuate his legacy, and even have the historicalsociety put a commemorative plaque on the building where he grew up.John Weinzweig (1913–2006), the recipient of these tributes, is notjust any composer. There are three words that everyone who knew himuses to describe the Weinzweig legacy: composer, teacher and activist.These are not separate threads. Rather, they are woven together into asingle tapestry. The man and his music in all its guises are inseparable.He was a force of nature. Interms of composition, Weinzweigwas a true pioneer, a voyageur of artwho introduced 12-tone serialismto Canada, and with it, the aestheticof New Music. As a teacher,first at the Royal Conservatory, thenJohn’s work was not somuch an evolution ofstyles, but a concentrationof themes and interestsat the University of Toronto (1939–77), he is the acknowledged doyenof Canadian concert composers whose legion of devoted former studentsliterally spans the country from sea to sea.How’s this for an impressive line-up of men and women of musicwho passed through Weinzweig’s influential hands? Harry Somers,Harry Freedman, Murray Adaskin, Phil Nimmons, Victor Feldbrill, HowardCable, R. Murray Schafer, Norma Beecroft, John Beckwith, MiltonBarnes, Srul Irving Glick, Brian Cherney, Robert Aitken, David Jaegerand Marjan Mozetich, to name but a few.As an activist, Weinzweig is credited with establishing the art ofcomposing as a full-time profession in Canada. Not only that, he wasalso a major player in founding the infrastructure that supports theprofessional composer — the Canadian League of Composers which isthe advocacy group, the Canadian Music Centre which is the libraryto house their scores and SOCAN (Society of Composers, Authors andMusic Publishers of Canada), to protect royalty rights.As Weinzweig himself said: “You can’t separate the politics from theart.” Part and parcel with his composing was his relentless pursuit toget the works of contemporary composers performed. (And conductorVictor Feldbrill, a longtime Weinzweig friend, adds: “Even those composershe didn’t like.”). In fact, Weinzweig was known for firing offthoughtful if hectoring letters (written on a mechanical typewriter) toCBC bigwigs and other cultural criminals whom he felt were betrayingthe cause of New Music.In Larry Weinstein’s Gemini Award-winning, 1990 documentaryfilm, The Radical Romantic: John Weinzweig, the composer succinctlystates the reasons for his activism. Declares Weinzweig: “I take action.I criticize publicly. I can’t bear to watch programming people havingno regard for artists ... composers die from frustration, not starvation.”Thus, one would think, given the importance of Weinzweig in theCanadian cultural firmament, that this centenary celebration would bea big gun affair. Not so. With a budget of just over 0,000, the celebrationis on a very modest scale. For example, the Weinzweigconcerts are taking place at the University of Toronto’s 490-seat Walter Hall. What’s more, the flashpoint for this publictribute came from a private place — the composer’s son Daniel.“We’re facing new music amnesia in this country,” says Daniel.“We idolize authors and pop artists, but not our concertcomposers. Two New Hours is gone from the CBC and so arethe guts of Radio Two. We celebrate Mozart’s birthday, but not our ownmasters. I’m my father’s son. I’m a fighter. I feel passionately aboutthe cause which is to promote my father’s music. I have taken up theresponsibility. If I don’t do it, who will?”Eighteen months ago, Daniel sprang into action by creating a22-member advisory board, primarily because neither Daniel norhis brother Paul is in the music field. Daniel is a managing partner ofSearchlight Recruitment, a head-hunter group for cultural institutions.Paul is a retired sociology professor. The advisory board, with Danielas chair and Paul as a member, was configured to make up for thebrothers’ lack of expertise by bringing together academics, composers,arts administrators, government and private sector cultural czars,and music professionals.The centrepieces of the centenary are, of course, the two concertsdevoted to Weinzweig’s music, so it behooves this writer to give a senseof Weinzweig the composer.First of all, Weinzweig came from a musical family. His father Josephwas a musician wannabe who became a furrier after immigratingfrom Poland. And then there was his father’s baby brother, Morris8 March 1 – April 7, 2013

Weinzweig teaching.“Mo” Weinzweig, a Groucho Marx lookalike, and an acclaimed Torontosaxophone player. There were also four cousins who were musicians.Weinzweig studied piano, mandolin, tenor saxophone, tuba, double bassand harmony. He both played in and conducted the Harbord Collegiateorchestra. During his high school years, he and “uncle Mo” played atweddings, bar mitzvahs, political rallies and lodge meetings. As Weinzweighas famously said, at 19 he decided to take music seriously andbecome a composer.At the core of Weinzweig’s music is modernism. When he was astudent at U of T (1934–37), he suffered through the classes of HealeyWillan (counterpoint and fugue), Leo Smith (harmony) and Sir ErnestMacMillan (orchestration) because he felt constrained by their Britishconservative tradition of producing clones of Bach to Brahms. In fact,an early Weinzweig work such as The Enchanted Hill (1938), inspiredby a poem by Walter de la Mare, was a quintessential example of lateromantic influences. “Composition was not taught,” he scoffs in theWeinstein film, hindsight being 20/20.When Weinzweig was doing his Master’s at the Eastman School ofMusic at the University of Rochester, he was introduced to composersof the 20th century such as Stravinsky. The school, however, did notteach 12-tone. In fact, an Eastman professor referred to Schoenberg as“that perverted Jew.” Weinzweig discovered 12-tone on his own by readingau courant music journals and analyzing Alban Berg’s LyrischeSuite from a recording. When Weinzweig brought 12-tone serialismto Canada, in one fell swoop, he overthrew 19th century romanticism,revolutionized the teaching of composition, and opened new doors forhis own creativity.In the Weinstein film, the composer claims that he wrote moods andfeelings, or an absence of style. “I’m a musical adventurer ... I’m influencedby everything and everybody,” he declares. Feldbrill talks aboutWeinzweig’s experiments with bending tones and playing with pizzicatoand glissando, and the fact that as he got older, his works got smaller andmore complex. In his later repertoire, he was influenced by the blues.Says Feldbrill: “Even in John’s large scale pieces, there is great clarity.The sound never seems cluttered. He also explored the possibilitiesof an instrument to its further limits by consulting with the playersto really get a sense of what an instrument could be pushed to do. Hewas not a minimalist. Rather, he wrote in small portions, an expert inminiatures. He was also a master orchestrator.”March 1 – April 7, 2013 9

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