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Volume 21 Issue 3 - November 2015

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  • November
  • Toronto
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  • Performing
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"Come" seems to be the verb that knits this month's issue together. Sondra Radvanovsky comes to Koerner, William Norris comes to Tafel as their new GM, opera comes to Canadian Stage; and (a long time coming!) Jane Bunnett's musicianship and mentorship are honoured with the Premier's award for excellence; plus David Jaeger's ongoing series on the golden years of CBC Radio Two, Andrew Timar on hybridity, a bumper crop of record reviews and much much more. Come on in!

CBC Radio Two: The

CBC Radio Two: The Golden Years Alex Pauk’s Big Idea DAVID JAEGER The moment my new CBC Radio Two network program Two New Hours hit the airwaves in January of 1978, composers, and especially Canadian composers, suddenly had a new way to connect with audiences across Canada. The simple act of broadcasting concerts of new works from all the major production centres of Canada each week immediately allowed a growing number of people to become aware of all the diverse sorts of newly created music. And naturally, the musicians who performed in these concerts of new works quickly realized there were paying gigs for them if they were willing to learn new compositions. Musicians began networking with other musicians, often with the result that they created ensembles to play all this new repertoire. Two New Hours was an instant success. Audience numbers for what was considered highly specialized listening were at once respectable and in a short period of time grew to be more than just respectable. By 1982 Two New Hours had already broadcast more than 400 world premiere performances and commissioned more than 30 original works, composed specifically for the program. Several of these commissioned works, such as Walter Buczynski’s 1978 Monogram for solo piano, Brian Cherney’s 1979 String Trio and R. Murray Schafer’s 1981 Third String Quartet had been heard around the world through international program exchanges such as the International Rostrum of Composers in Paris. Enter Esprit: The missing ingredient in this early success story was the lack of new Canadian works for orchestra. Our symphony orchestras at that time showed no interest in contemporary repertoire. And the budget that had been established for Two New Hours productions was sized for chamber music recordings. This made sense, given that the new music ensembles across the country were all chamber groups of various sizes. This aspect changed in 1983, when composer and conductor Alex Pauk founded Esprit Contemporain, an orchestra devoted entirely to the performance of contemporary music. Alex Pauk was experienced in starting new music groups. The Toronto group Array was “born in my living room in 1972,” he told me. In 1974 Alex settled in Vancouver and founded, first Array West, a group that didn’t last, and then Days, Months and Years to Come, which did. Their concerts were heard on Two New Hours in the 1970s. He also became familiar with the CBC Vancouver Chamber Orchestra, an orchestra that often included new Canadian works in their concerts, usually blended with standard repertoire. It was at one of those concerts that Pauk met his mentor, the French-Romanian composer-conductor, Marius Constant. But in 1981, Alex moved back to Toronto and was elected president of the Canadian League of Composers. In 1982 he told me that he had started thinking seriously about creating an orchestra that would only play contemporary music. Versed as he was in the mechanics of raising support for musical start-ups, it was clear to Alex that the usual modest sums available from the regional, provincial and national arts councils would barely get him into the rehearsal room, let alone cover the costs of paying the musicians to perform a series of concerts. However, a chance meeting with a Suncor executive at the Financial Post Awards for Business and the Arts in 1982 gave him a key connection with corporate Canada. A major donation from Suncor Inc. was secured, and the company’s commitment of continuing support, together with a grant from the Canada Council gave Alex the means to mount his first concert with Esprit Contemporain in the summer of 1983, in Kingston. This concert of new Canadian orchestral music, presented in association with the National Youth Orchestra of Canada, was not broadcast on Two New Hours, but their very next concert was. It was the beginning of a The cover of our November 2000 issue. legacy of broadcasting contemporary orchestral music on CBC Radio Two that lasted 25 years. World Music Days: John Peter Lee Roberts, a former head of CBC Radio Music, and the creator, along with Sir Yehudi Menuhin, of International Music Day, had persuaded the International Society for Contemporary Music to hold their annual festival, World Music Days, in Canada in 1984. This high profile event was a made-for Two New Hours opportunity. I made sure that we were the lead broadcaster for the festival by making the case to CBC senior managers that this was our chance to show ourselves to our international colleagues as a model for contemporary music broadcasting. Alex Pauk’s new orchestra was a festival highlight, and we were there to help Alex announce Esprit Contemporain to the world via our broadcasts on CBC Radio Two in Canada and through international program exchanges with public radios in more than 30 countries. World Music Days was a watershed moment for Alex’s new orchestra, and the positive spin it created helped Two New Hours as well. Karen Kieser (1948-2002), who was Deputy Head of Radio Music in 1984, and who had helped raise budgetary support for our broadcasts of the festival, arranged that we be funded to continue including orchestral broadcasts. The addition of Esprit Orchestra concerts allowed Two New Hours to offer its listeners a full range of contemporary musical genres. Alex Pauk and I shared the conviction that developing emerging Canadian composers was a necessity. Esprit Orchestra gave young composers their first high profile presentation of large-scale compositions and Two New Hours let the network audience know who these young artists were and what they were doing. “The Two New Hours broadcasts of our concerts created a sense of camaraderie among our musicians,” Alex told me. “The CBC relationship knit the players together and helped to raise their expectations to a higher standard.” When Alex Pauk takes the podium November 15 at Koerner Hall to conduct the largest orchestral ensemble in Esprit’s history, it will demonstrate the result of decades of patient development and cooperation by those who believed it was necessary to have such an orchestra and those who insisted the story needed to be shared. Esprit Orchestra’s concert at Koerner Hall, November 15, begins at 8pm; pre-concert chat at 7:15. David Jaeger is a composer, producer and broadcaster based in Toronto. 16 | Nov 1 - Dec 7, 2015

Beat by Beat | In with the New Playing Big WENDALYN BARTLEY Once there was a time when aspiring Canadian composers were discouraged from writing pieces that required large ensembles, such as an orchestra. “No one will play it” was the advice given. But in Canada, that was before Esprit Orchestra came along. Formed in 1983 by conductor and director Alex Pauk, the orchestra is still going strong after more than 30 years of programming exclusively new orchestral music. Recently Pauk was recognized for his outstanding contributions to Canadian life and was appointed as a member of the Order of Canada. That followed on the heels of a wildly successful tour this past spring to China, where according to Alexina Louie’s blog posts, they performed to cheering packed houses, with audience members clamouring to have selfies taken with members of the orchestra afterwards. Such was the reception of Canadian orchestral music in China! To read more about the tour, I recommend reading Louie’s posts, which can be found by going to and clicking on the blog link. Play: The opportunity and possibilities that Esprit gives composers are about to be displayed to the maximum in their upcoming concert on November 15 with the programming of a piece titled Play by American composer Andrew Norman. Play is a massive and sprawling 47-minute work originally written in 2013 for the Boston Modern Orchestra Project and is described as being akin to a “Symphony No.1.” In researching Norman’s work, I came across a November 18, 2014 episode of the Meet the Composer podcast series produced by Q2, an online radio station connected to the Classical WQRX station based in New York. Luckily, the last segment of the episode (44 minutes in) was dedicated to a conversation with Norman about Play. He talked about how he was given free rein to write anything he wanted, so he decided to go “really big.” The podcast begins with a collage of different voices, each one describing their response to the piece. “Like a roller coaster ride, a jack-in-the-box, exhilarating, expansive, breathless, frightening, frenetic, and risky” are some of the terms used. With such a description, it’s best to go straight to Norman’s own words about the inspiration for the piece: the structure of video games. Although not a gamer himself, what intrigues him the most is the idea of “trying things again and again until you get it right. You try something, and you fail. You try again, and choose another door.” For him, this gaming process is very much about structural or formal design, the architecture of a piece. He even goes so far as to equate classical symphonic form itself as sharing similarities with video games. For example, in a Beethoven symphony, several ideas are first presented, but all mixed up. The ideas return in different ways until finally they appear in the right arrangement in the finale. A similar process happens in Play, where the listener is confronted with a vast array of ideas at the beginning, a “gazillion ideas,” as Norman describes it. As the piece unfolds, some of those ideas become important and are transformed, while others are like wrong doors and are discarded. There are even multiple climaxes – each one coming up with a different answer, which turn out to be the wrong one, until the final climax appears with the right answer close to the end of the piece. He also uses the percussionists in a fashion analogous to the different operations in a game environment – pause, fast forward, rewind, etc. For example, every time a certain percussion instrument is played, that’s the signal for the orchestra to pause. It’s actually how he wrote the piece, thinking “what would it sound like if I randomly paused the music at any moment, sped it up, or moved it fast forward?” Norman’s other interest in the piece is to explore the human potential of the orchestra, rather than just limit himself to using the orchestra as a field of sonic resources. Thus the orchestra members become different protagonists, interacting on an interpersonal level. This also extends to the underlying meanings of the word “play,” which suggests something both fun and also something more dark, like a chain of control with the musicians being “played” by the conductor. And given the role of the percussionists, they too become more like a conductor, playing the orchestra. In all, it sounds like it will be quite the ride on the evening Andrew Norman of November 15. Joining in on the Esprit express that night will be two other works – Tevot, written in 2007 by English composer Thomas Adès and Canadian John Rea’s Zefiro torna (Zephyr Returns) from 1994. Seismic Waves: There are several other upcoming musical events that also promise to create seismic movement in the local airwaves. In early December, Soundstreams is launching “Ear Candy,” a new series designed to engage the audience with new forms of presentation in more intimate venues. The first one happens on December 7 and 8 and features an electrified version of the Christmas classic, the Messiah. “Electric Messiah” puts together electronic musicians (John Gzowski, Doug Van Nort), extended vocals (Christine Duncan) and sound poetry (Gabriel Dharmoo) along with the Electroacoustic Orchestra of York University. The evening at the Drake Hotel will be bookended by DJ sets. Before all this gets going though, Soundstreams will be collaborating with Canadian Stage to present the North American premiere of Julie, which runs from November 17 to 29. This chamber opera composed by Belgium’s Philippe Boesmans is an adaptation of Strindberg’s 1888 play, Miss Julie, and is an example of Strindberg’s Nov 1 - Dec 7, 2015 | 17

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