7 months ago

Volume 27 Issue 3 - December 2021 / January 2022

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Many Happy Returns: the rebirth of Massey Hall -- from venue to hub; music theatre's re-emergence from postponement limbo; pianist Vikingur Ólafsson's return visit to to "Glenn Gould's hometown"; guest writer music librarian Gary Corrin is back from his post behind the scenes in the TSO library; Music for Change returns to 21C; and here we all are again! Welcome back. Fingers crossed, here we go.


JOHN LAUENER/QUEEN OF PUDDINGS MUSIC THEATRE Composer Ana Sokolović in conversation continued from page 11 Svadba-Wedding: (from left) Shannon Mercer, Krisztina Szabó, Jacqueline Woodley (the bride, in front) Carla Huhtanen, Laura Albino, and Andrea Ludwig. Commissioned by Queen of Puddings Music Theatre, in June 2011 at the Berkeley Street Theatre, Toronto. porous. A lot of modernists are using extended techniques, which they borrow from, say, world music, folk, East European or South American nations, tribe cultures… That would technically make them post-modernists, no? We can have these conversations. But when I’m in my creative stage, it’s something I don’t think about. I do what I feel I have to do – what is urgent for me to do. It’s a necessity, creation. That’s what guides me.” So, what to say to those who say contemporary music just doesn’t grab them? Or to music programmers who give living composers only the first ten minutes of a two-hour symphonic concert. “OK, but there are so many contemporary musics,” she counters. “You can’t decide about the entirety of visual arts by looking at one or two paintings. The tricky thing about music is, it demands time. It can’t be compressed or abridged.” So composers have to open their pieces with clickbaity things, like newspaper articles? I ask. “Sometimes!” she laughs. “I think more of us are aware of this demand than we admit.” And composers have to be aware that they are making music for all kinds of audiences: specialist, well-informed non-specialist, nonspecialist, and even hostile. A filled concert hall is always a mix. Besides, composer is a fairly recent line of work, says Sokolović. “In a lot of early eras you are always something else – a cantor, an aristocrat’s entertainer, a singer, an instrumentalist. I find that today a lot of composers are building their careers in that very old school way. A lot of them are working musicians, or perform their own pieces, or write ‘applied’ music for film. It’s a very lively scene.” As a professor at Université de Montréal who works with a lot of young musicians, what advice does she give them? “Now this is going to sound cheesy, sorry! The thing that’s most important to me is that they are good people. And that does include traditional university fare such as composition skills, knowledge of history of music, orchestration, instruments. But I also include in that knowing how to collaborate. Being aware that you’re not the centre of everything. Knowing that you’ll have to work with many, many other people, that you’ll have to write for them. You are in effect never alone. Others will be catalysts of your music. A lot of us composers say, Well I just write for myself. Well then, fine, you never have to leave the room and work with other people. But the job requires the opposite.” And how much do you want your music to be heard? “That’s the next question,” she says. “There needs to be a desire to communicate. Ask yourself, why would anyone want to hear your music? And to hear it again, and for the third time, and then maybe get the CD? I’m not talking about the commercial side of things. I’m talking about communication.” What about the notorious Milton Babbitt article “Who cares if you listen?”, a phrase which haunts contemporary music like phantom tinnitus? Do composers genuinely want to communicate? “Not all music is expressive in the same way, nor should it be,” Sokolović says. “Sometimes you want to create a distance, and that’s OK. But your piece has to be an event of some kind. Something must happen. You’re communicating something of human interest. Something that the person listening would want to experience again.” We’re all reacting to our own time, she says, and Babbit reacted to something in his. That context called for that article, and those particular words. “Every age has boring music, good music, all kinds of different music,” she says. Another tack: Standard gossip of late 20th-century music is, I venture, that Boulez was the alpha and omega of French musical life and that unless you were one of the “Boulez mafia” you could expect your career to be somewhat complicated. “But in Boulez’s time, someone like Ligeti existed! He had a different path, while he was also a modernist. I think Ligeti, unlike numerous other 20th-century composers, is more influential now than in his own time.” Was he an influence for you? “Yes, and for many others. Ligeti was hugely important for me, as was Gérard Grisey. I really feel Grisey’s music.” Sokolović is one of those composers who happily seek out the work of their colleagues and students, and is always curious about what else is happening on the music scene. “Two of my former students are really interesting, Keiko Deveau and Ofer Peltz. And I went to Ostrava Days Festival last year and discovered Czech composer František Chaloupka, who is completely his own.” How does she explain the international popularity of Claude Vivier, probably the only Canadian composer regularly performed abroad these days? “I did not mention him, because it almost goes without saying, but I adore Vivier’s work. I think Ligeti might have had something to do with his later rise. One of Ligeti’s students, Denys Boulianne, great Canadian composer, brought Vivier’s work to Ligeti’s attention, and it struck Ligeti as important.” What Sokolović loves about Vivier, she says, is that he found his unique voice. “Vivier at first wrote dodecaphonic music but then left Canada and went to Darmstadt to work with Stockhausen, and started composing as Vivier. He found a way to write his own music. Like many others, he had to leave his home to find his voice.” IN THE WORKS The new Boston Lyric Opera production of Svadba will be the first cinematic version of the opera. The three-time winner of the New York Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, African- American soprano Chabrelle Williams sings Milica, who is to be married – it will transpire – to a woman. Available to stream in winter 2022. The COC commission The Old Fools, to the libretto by Paul Bentley based on Philip Larkin’s poem, is near completion – give or take a few months of work on orchestration, says Sokolović. The verses “Perhaps being old is having lighted rooms / Inside your head, and people in them, acting” inspired this story of an old man near the end of his life who’s having to move out of his house into a care home. Sokolović collaborated on the shaping of the opera, across the Atlantic, with the original Svadba music director Dáirine Ní Mheadhra. Chabrelle Williams Dáirine Ní Mheadhra, Queen of Puddings Music Theatre Lydia Perović is an arts journalist in Toronto. Send her your artof-song news to IRISH LANGUAGE SONG PROJECT 58 | December 2021 and January 2022

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