Opus: Testing – In conversation with Brenden Varty, Patrick Arteaga, and Curtis Perry

In our final post leading up to Opus: Testing — Period Piece, in collaboration with Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra, Musica Reflecta and the Canadian Music Centre,  we would like to introduce composers Brenden Varty, Patrick Arteaga, and Curtis Perry.

The Opus Testing workshop is dealing with objects, and memory. How are you approaching this theme through your music?

Brenden Varty: When I was at home for the winter holidays, I found myself reading a book about ‘Frosty the Snowman’ to my younger brother, who is four—nineteen years younger than me! In the front of the book, I came across the message “To: Brenden—Love: Mom, Merry Christmas!” I must have received this book when I was 3 or 4, and it struck me as a special that I was now reading a book to a loved one who was the same age as I was when I had been given it.

This got me thinking of how the meaning of the book (both symbolically and in regards to the actual story) had changed for me since I was four years old, but was again being received by a different four years old in much the same way as previously. I started to think about how the meaning the book had for me at four years old was almost definitely similar in many aspects, but undoubtedly different in some regards, as the meaning my brother was giving it now.

Of course, the different meanings it has had over time and for different people (me at four and twenty-three, my brother at four—not to mention my mother) is removed from what the object actually is – pressed tree pulp, dyed and bound. These thoughts led me to recognize that all the decorations, movies, and other objects lying around the house that at some point had meant something to me were now being given different meanings, whatever they were, by my younger brother.

It is amazing the sentiments that we can attach to inanimate objects, how they can trigger memories in us, and how we can muse about what they might mean to others.

In my piece, I took the chord progression from Handel’s Concerto Grosso op. 6 no. 11, and wrote my own melody and arrangement to go with it. This serves as the “true form” for the object. The subsequent variation uses re-harmonization techniques and is written in a more modern style which I am partial to, serving as the meaning I might ascribe to an object. The second variation uses aspects from the theme and first variation, and through cut-and-paste and newly composed material, explores the meaning someone else might give the object—there will of course be similarities between two people’s memories of the same object, and so this variation echoes the first variation while being approached in a completely different manner.

What/who did you listen to in preparing to write for period instruments?

BV: To prepare for this composition, I listened to several baroque concertos by Bach and Handel. I wanted to approach this piece conceptually, and so rather than listening to modern chamber works, I decided to explore sounds and textures that I thought fit with my overall concept, while drawing the “nuts and bolts” of the piece from a classic baroque work.

If you could borrow someone’s musical abilities for a day, who would that someone be?

BV: The great New York alto saxophonist and composer John Zorn has been a source of inspiration for me over the past several years. Zorn fits seamlessly into both the jazz and classical avant-garde worlds, and has developed a unique voice within his compositions. His works with chamber ensembles, big bands, string ensembles, and jazz groups all drip originality, and do not often approach extremes that might deter his listeners.


Is there a particular thread running through your recent?

Patrick Arteaga: I am often working towards creating independence between voices while still having them share a contrapuntal co-dependence. For some time I have been achieving this using harmonic concepts that use very systematic approaches, though as I become more comfortable with these processes I find myself applying these systems much more organically as I am writing. Recently my focus has been shifting to include explorations in rhythm, metre and time to achieve greater distances between contrapuntal voices: an instrument may pull out of a texture by breaking out of the collective metre or tempo before re-assimilating or developing new textures based on the new temporal dichotomy. I also find myself simplifying the thematic material that I am working with, often basing a complete piece on a short gesture. The simplified material allows me to apply more distorting processes and to find opportunities to give the performer more expressive space while giving me more control over the thematic development.

If you could borrow someone’s musical abilities for a day, who would that someone be?

PA: Today I’ll be Ry Cooder touring Bugs Bunny’s folk repertoire, or Bugs Bunny touring a Ry Cooder cover band.


Tell us about your interest and existing experiences with period performance (as a composer, performer, and/or listener).

Curtis Perry: I’ve always been fascinated by the relationship between new music practices and early music practices. As early music as a re-discovered performance practice movement arguably only gained traction by the mid-20th century, I feel it has come to represent a facet of contemporary music making that was initially overshadowed by trends in serialism, and what I would call the “ripe to decayed” music of composers like Poulenc and Hindemith. Today, whether I hear the “Gouldbergs” or Buxtehude, or maybe the Brandenburgs, I hear an overall sense of lightness and un-encumbrance, because I think the idea of “freedom through strictures” reigns supreme in music the same way “show don’t tell” is the famous dictum in literature. I admire that there’s a code and a regimented obsession over accepted standards and practices for early music performance, and I was delighted to be able to drop myself into a working situation where I wanted to deliberately give performers a lot of choice in the interpretation of the score, while also writing something that cleaves to the strengths of the decisions such performers would be more likely to make.

The Opus Testing workshop is dealing with objects and memory. How are you approaching this theme through your music?

CP: I think that we—as in likely anyone taking the time to read this—live in a decadent age. The Opus Testing call for proposals made note that we live in an era of unprecedented disposability. Somewhat paradoxically, I think that precisely because of these conditions we are living in a baroque period—where the truth seems to run increasingly rare and opulence seems necessary.

But I think it’s the sense of working through all that detritus and acknowledging it and arranging it in a way that makes some kind of sense—and handling it with care—is what makes period performance the ideal vehicle for this theme of objects and memory of lasting value.

I chose my keys simply because they are some of the few objects that have consistently stayed on my body over the past five years or so. The piece runs through a standard three-part structure: slow—fast slow, anticipation—building—release. The current title, The Key Less Turned, is an allusion to The Road Less Traveled, a book by Morgan Scott Peck. In it he offers advice for a fulfilled life. One of the arguments is that “true” love is an action that one undertakes consciously. The original title for this piece was “Let Love Locks Live,” or something like this—unapologetically metaphorical and alliterative. However, that is a terrible title, so I went for something more nuanced. I have three keys on my ring—for my building, for my apartment, and one for my suitcase that I almost never use. So, the piece is a meditation on possibility and on resisting the lure of banal, everyday existence, for the purpose of seeking to know—to know the self and others, in order to better love. In a roundabout way, then, this piece is really about that memory yet to come.

What/who did you listen to in preparing to write for period instruments?

CP: Now, don’t do what I did. And that is not to worry about listening to any period instruments, composers, or performances in particular. I’ve listened to quite a bit of it, and there are only so many ways you can, say, harmonize a descending bass, and so I figured if my memories of my favourite pieces are only vague, then perhaps I might eke my way into something that is not a pastiche and not in homage, but rather, something that is clearly learned from what came before, but also clearly a new thing—just as I suspect might be the goals of early music practitioners. That is a difficult thing to accomplish. I’m not sure if I’ve done it, but that was my goal.

What have you found most surprising about working with this instrumentation?

CP: Of course, I’m going to talk about the most different instrument in this instrumentation as compared to modern ensembles. The harpsichord is not what you might think it is on recalling its pop culture representations. The harpsichord is a bad-ass beast and it will destroy you. I am not ashamed to say I was pleasantly surprised by its power in the first reading of my piece.

Who/What serves as a primary source of inspiration for you these days?

CP: I have started teaching English as a second language in the past couple of years, and I often find inspiration in my students—I have the privilege of working with adults, and I love listening to their stories, learning about cultures, and seeing new perspectives from the students as immigrants and as new Canadians. I don’t know if that manifests in a clear way in terms of creative energy, but I have consistently found working with students to be inspiring.

Is there a particular thread running through your recent compositions?

CP: I’ve only got a couple of other recordings so far, so it’s hard to say. In addition, I think it’s doubly hard to analyze your own work. It’s like understanding your own vocal accent. It takes an outsider. I hope that I might get to the point where somebody writes about my work—even if it’s not received ideally. That would be interesting.

If you could borrow someone’s musical abilities for a day, who would that someone be?

CP: I think I’d like to try borrowing William Byrd’s contrapuntal sensibilities…


Meet the other composers in previous interviews: Roydon Tse & Joshua Denenberg, and Tova Kardonne & Patrick McGraw.

We invite you to join us to hear the results of Opus: Testing – Period Piece on March 26, at 7:30pm. Reserve your free tickets here. Limited tickets available!

Opus Testing: Meet the composers – Tova Kardonne & Patrick McGraw

In a previous post, we introduced two composers Roydon Tse and Joshua Deneberg from Opus: Testing- Period Piece, in collaboration with Musica Reflecta and the Canadian Music Centre.  We would like to introduce two more; please meet Tova Kardonne and Patrick McGraw.

The Opus Testing workshop is dealing with objects and memory. How are you approaching this theme through your music?

Tova Kardonne

Tova Kardonne: My connection to baroque music originates in dance. The ballet classes of my childhood were slanted towards baroque conventions more often than I realized, and the period music of our practice became the soundtrack of my daily life for years and years. I still find my old pointe shoes evoke a lot of emotion in me, tiny, battered, and bloodstained as they are. But I’ve been struggling with memory as a source of inspiration. It has been really hard to see the object within the era in which it lived, and not impose the whole journey that was unleashed from those beginnings on these little shoes. It was fairly late in the game that I realized that there’s no getting around the present. This present reality, the artistic practice with its over-reachings and body-punishing exigencies, that’s all going to cast its light on memory. Further, that light doesn’t taint the authenticity of the memory—or perhaps, doesn’t simply taint it—but allows me to connect the disparate pieces of life into a continuous narrative. I rebel against the little inclusions of untruth that result from that process, inevitably. And I rebel against the grand, lumbering juggernaut that this piece keeps threatening to become, much too big and fraught for the little object of memory that inspired it. So it’s a fraught little seed of music that has come out of this process, and the process of finding it has been circuitous, but fruitful.

Is there a particular thread running through your recent compositions?

Tova Kardonne: I’m noticing a shift recently. I used to describe my source of music as a black box. Every time I’d look in the box, it would be empty. Just when I had decided I didn’t need to look in the box to know that it’s empty, something would jump out. Composition was a process of listening in the dark, waiting, and letting a thing be itself. Composition was discovery, or channeling. I’m noticing that I’m less able to engage in musical composition that way these days. My head is a noisier, brighter place. It’s harder to find the black box and the quiet time to listen to the dark. In fact, the surest path back to that dark quiet space is to take all the interference and write it down. When I stop condemning the noise and the light as distractions and obstacles to my compositional source, I have begun to notice that the noise itself is the music I’m looking for. I sincerely hope it doesn’t stay this way; I much prefer the previous box scenario. In the meantime, here we are. I suppose it will stay this way until I’ve made my peace with sound and fury as a default mode.


Tell us about your interest and existing experiences with period performance—as a composer, performer, and/or listener.

Patrick McGraw

Patrick McGraw: As a small child, some of the music I remember hearing most was Vivaldi and Handel, but at the time I assimilated all types of music as an undifferentiated mass with little consciousness of style periods or sense that one could (or should) listen differently to Beethoven than to Bach. Expelled from the garden, I can no longer approach music from quite the same naive perspective, but this workshop was a chance to blur some of those distinctions in a more mature if less innocent way. I had little previous experience with period instruments as a composer. Perhaps the closest parallel was last year when I suddenly had the opportunity to write for santur, an instrument that had been entirely unfamiliar to me.

The Opus Testing workshop is dealing with objects, and memory. How are you approaching this theme through your music?

PM: The practice of period performance is itself a form of memory reconstruction. Like any memory, it is coloured by subsequent experience. The object I chose as an inspiration to start the process was a small ceramic whistle in the shape of a fish. I began with the sound of its irregular trill as a musical idea, and blended this with a quotation from Handel, representing some of my earliest experiences hearing baroque music. In the end, the nostalgic feelings I have about the time when I used to own that whistle do not seem especially at the forefront of the final result. The memory, like that of early listening, has perhaps been filtered through and transformed by my subsequent encounters with Hindemith and Bartok, among others.

What have you found most surprising about working with this instrumentation?

PM: Composing for instruments always involves a type of dialog between one’s imagination and the voices and natural tendencies of the instruments. I was curious to see in which ways my thinking would be nudged toward the baroque. Perhaps the thing that surprised me most was the nature of the differences between period string instruments and their modern counterparts—I had been accustomed to imagining wind and keyboard instruments as evolving considerably more.

Is there a particular (conceptual/methodical/other) thread running through your recent compositions?

PM: I have been growing more interested in electroacoustic music recently, and trying to integrate some of those techniques more thoroughly into my practice, so that electroacoustic and conventional chamber music become complementary means rather than distinct activities. Another thread through many (but not all) recent compositions has been an interest in drawing more directly on my physics background as a source of inspiration. Another form of reconstruction, perhaps.

If you could borrow someone’s musical abilities for a day, who would that someone be?

PM: Almost anyone who plays piano professionally. Or maybe Jimmy Page—it would be pretty cool to play guitar like that for a day.


We invite you to join us to hear the results on March 26, 7:30pm! Reserve your free tickets here. Limited tickets available!

Opus Testing: Meet the composers – Roydon Tse & Joshua Denenberg

Eight Ontario-based composers have written new works for a baroque quartet that have been inspired by personal objects. These compositions will be performed by members of Tafelmusik in a casual workshop presentation part of Opus: Testing- Period Piece, in collaboration with Musica Reflecta and the Canadian Music Centre. Some of the composers sat down for a Q&A with Musica Reflecta, and we learned about their writing process, challenges, and more. Meet composers Roydon Tse and Joshua Denenberg.

The Opus Testing workshop is dealing with objects and memory. How are you approaching this theme through your music?

Roydon Tse. Photo credit: Tim Blonk

Roydon Tse: My piece for the Opus Testing workshop is titled Forgetting, and concerns the loss of memory and details over time. Memory is a subject that I have explored in previous works, and is a subject that remains relevant in my life as I witness loved ones lose their memories as result of poor health and age.  The concept of the piece is quite simple: I wrote a theme and upon each restatement, there is less and less of the theme present. In a way, it is a reverse series of variations in that I take away things from the theme that appears at the beginning, leaving a skeleton or core in its place. There is a bittersweet quality to the piece that reflects the sadness and hope in the face of loss, and I think that music is unique from other art forms in that we can witness its progression through time, and therefore I felt it was an appropriate concept to explore. The length restriction for the work was perfect as it allowed me to explore the implications of using what I call “subtractive” form in a miniature form before applying it to a larger work.

What have you found most surprising about working with this instrumentation?

RT: I was struck by the strength of the harpsichord at a close distance in comparison to what I imagined a harpsichord would sound like. It is such a different instrument from the piano, and as a pianist I assumed that I could write idiomatically for the harpsichord until this workshop …  Chris Bagan has been very helpful on that front!

Who/what serves as a primary source of inspiration for you these days?

RT: Bach. While he is such a prolific and important composer, he is inspiring to me because of his humility and faith, dedicating all of his energy to glorify God through his music.

If you could borrow someone’s musical abilities for a day, who would that someone be?

RT: The fantastic Jacob Collier, who has astounding skills as a performer on multiple instruments, arranger, and composer. He has a tremendous ear for complex harmonic progressions, and it would be amazing to hear music through his ears for a day!

Memories for harp and marimba by Roydon Tse


Tell us about your interest, and your existing experiences, with period performance, as a composer, performer, and/or listener.

Joshua Denenberg

Joshua Denenberg: I played in a baroque quartet on bassoon as an undergrad. I was terrible at it.

The Opus Testing workshop is dealing with objects and memory. How are you approaching this theme through your music?

JD: Originally there was a theme, but I gave up partway through. I more or less defaulted to a three-movement concerto-like-form—which is “period,” in a hackneyed sort of way. Some traces of my original ideas made it into the second movement.

What/who did you listen to in preparing to write for period instruments?

JD: I really didn’t change my listening in preparation. Not that I dislike baroque music or period performance (on the contrary), I just didn’t want to be “inspired by.” Aping at neo-baroque styles has been done by a lot of composers who are a lot better at writing music than I am.

What have you found most surprising about working with this instrumentation?

JD: A lot of the technical and dynamic limitations I assumed would be there are not. I also wish I had more time to dedicate to figuring out the intricacies that make this ensemble great, as the sounds and idiosyncrasies, while maybe not as complex as the contemporary, are distinct and just alien enough to the casual musician that there is a lot for modern composers to explore.

Is there a particular thread running through your recent compositions?

JD: I’m trying to be more minimal and reductive in process, probably a result of the music I’m listening to. It’s not going well.

If you could borrow someone’s musical abilities for a day, who would that someone be?

JD: Hans Zimmer, of course.


We invite you to join us to hear the results on March 26, 7:30pm! Reserve your free tickets here. Limited tickets available!

US Tour: Tafelmusik in Seattle

By William Norris, Managing Director

At the time of writing, I’m trying to think of a good play on the infamous movie title for this blog, but it may end up being plain old “Tafelmusik in Seattle.” Let us know if you have better ideas.

After our show in La Jolla, we retired to our hotel. Hotels on tour are an interesting little facet of tour life. You never quite know what you’re going to get, and they vary wildly, being usually organized by our host venue. Dominic has already described the lovely hotel in Santa Barbara. The following night we were somewhere quite a different—more of a motel-style venue, on the edge of a busy road, so really quite different, although the fact I found I could sit by the side of the pool AND still get WiFi was a definite plus!

In La Jolla we found ourselves at a rather plush golfing resort, so we were happy to retire to the bar there after the show, in the company of Amy from our agents Colbert Artists, who very kindly treated the orchestra to a round of drinks. Some however had their sights set on healthier and equally relaxing goals—the hot tub. The official closing time was 11 pm, but by the time we arrived back it was 10:50 pm. Reception was mobbed by enthusiastic potential bathers, and they very kindly agreed to extend the opening by an hour, news which was greeted by excited whoops and cheers!

After their dip, the bathing portion of the tour party dropped by those of us in the bar, in their bathrobes. I shall spare them the embarrassment of posting pictures here!

 

The next day was a long one and necessitated an early start for our 10 am flight to Seattle. At the airport, our Tour Manager Beth Anderson managed check-in as usual. No matter how much prep you do, it’s always a slight unknown as to how checking musicians with instruments, cellos with their own seats, and all the cargo including double bass will go down with the particular check-in crew on duty that day. Sometimes you get unlucky and get a (British TV reference coming up) “computer says no” reaction.

Luckily, on this occasion, the staff of Alaska Airlines came up trumps and all went smoothly. After arrival in Seattle (with the bus parking seemingly situated the furthest possible distance from baggage reclaim) we transferred to the hotel and the orchestra had a few hours to catch their breath.

This was, I think, the eight hotel of the tour. Changing hotels almost daily can be pretty disorientating—I woke up several times with zero idea where I was, frequently thinking I was in the previous night’s room. It’s one reason why touring can be so tiring—so huge kudos to the orchestra (and indeed to Tour Manager Beth Anderson and the whole technical team) for never flagging, at least not visibly.

The concert in Seattle was a fitting cap to the tour. A great venue, a full hall, and a super-engaged and enthusiastic audience. (Read a review from The Sun Break.)

Following our return to Toronto (via Vancouver, as the planes from Seattle are too small for our instruments and cargo), the orchestra had a week off from Tafelmusik duties—before we get back in to our season with The Baroque Diva next week in Koerner Hall. See you there!

Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra final bow at the Meany Theater, Seattle, WA.

Get to Know: Colin Labadie, composer

We’re excited to perform and premiere a brand new composition by Canadian composer Colin Labadie for the 150th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada. Entwined was written for Tafelmusik and commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra as part of Canada Mosaic. Leading up to the premiere on March 23, 2017 at Koerner Hall, we caught up with Colin and asked him a few questions.

Colin Labadie, composer

What got you into composing?

It’s tough to pin down. I’ve always liked making things, music or otherwise. In high school I would make these little quartet arrangements of songs I was learning on the classical guitar. When I was auditioning for university, they asked what major I was thinking about pursuing. I said composition—I’m still not totally sure why, but it seemed most interesting to me at the time. I guess it was the right call since I haven’t really looked back!

Tell us a bit about one of your “mutant guitars”?

I had been improvising quite a bit, and started building little programs that let me manipulate the sound of the guitar in really new and interesting ways. But to get the sounds I wanted, I needed to play with the program quite a bit, and at a certain point I felt like I was playing my laptop more than my guitar. So I stuck a bunch of extra buttons and gadgets onto the guitar and got them talking to my laptop, basically as a way to have more organic and sophisticated control over the sound. It’s a lot of fun to play, though it sometimes has a mind of its own.

What makes you excited to be writing for Tafelmusik?

The calibre of the players and ensemble as a whole! I had known about Tafelmusik for a long time, mostly by reputation although I had seen them a few times. When I was working on the piece, I went down the rabbit hole and listened to as many recordings as I could to get a better sense of the group (their recent recording of Beethoven’s 9th is a personal favourite), and was continually blown away by their playing. Everyone’s also been friendly and easy to work with, which is a nice bonus.

What was it like writing for period instruments?

It was less painful than I thought it would be! (kidding, mostly). There were a few things I had to take into consideration, particularly how the strings speak a bit differently, but it wasn’t a major adjustment. I’ve actually always felt that my own musical sensibilities are a bit more aligned with early music than the classical/romantic era. So even though I hadn’t really written for period instruments before, I didn’t have to change my approach too much—I found that my ideas translated well onto the instruments.

This will also be performed by the TSO (on modern instruments)—was this a factor in figuring out to write the piece?

Absolutely. On any given piece, I think a lot about the particular ensemble that I’m writing for, but this is the first time that I’ve written something that will be premiered by two different ensembles. I worked hard to come up with material that I think will work both technically and aesthetically on both period and modern instruments. I guess we’ll find out how well I did! I’m actually really excited to hear how the two orchestras interpret the piece differently. (You can hear the TSO perform Entwined on April 22.)

How does your work tackle Canada’s 150th anniversary? What are some of the underlying extra-musical ideas?

I always have mixed feelings when it comes to celebrations like Canada 150. On the one hand there are plenty of things that I love about this country, and we certainly have much to celebrate. But on the other hand there are still a number of systemic issues that we need to take a hard look at. For example, I think the way indigenous people have been treated in this country is deplorable. Canada 150 deserves some credit for making reconciliation one of its four main themes, and I hope we keep sight of that through the year. There are some who still ignore or deny the effect that settler populations have had on indigenous communities. In Entwined, I have these interwoven parts within and between the string and wind parts—I was trying to symbolize how the histories of indigenous people and settlers are diverse yet deeply connected, and consequently how I and other settlers have a role to play in reconciliation.

What’s next for you in the world of contemporary music?

Actually, a break! (sort of). I had a really busy fall/winter, with quite a few commissions and theatre projects, on top of a busy teaching schedule. So I’m excited to take a few weeks off and get caught up on life. After that, I have a choral piece being premiered by the Menno Singers in early May, performances at the Festival des musiques de création in Jonquière, Quebec and Between the Ears in Kitchener, then three commissions for the summer/fall that all involve saxophone. I’m really excited to finally write the third movement to my sax/piano piece Strata, which is something that’s been on the back burner for a couple of years.

Last three songs you listened to

I’ve been really into this German electronic label called raster noton, especially this guy Alva Noto. The last three songs I listened to were all from his 2011 album Univrs.

Most importantly, have you found your favourite BBQ joint?

It’s been Hog Tails in Waterloo for a little while. I don’t know how they make their fried chicken, but it’s bonkers how good it is. For you Toronto folk, I’m a big fan of Barque on Roncy (Roncesvalles).

You can hear Tafelmusik perform Entwined by Colin Labadie in The Baroque Diva at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre from March 23-26, 2017. Tickets are available here.

Behind the Musik: The Baroque Diva

Download the Program Notes | Download the Program Listing

PROGRAM NOTES
By Christopher Verrette

Opera was an invention of baroque Italy, and while other regions would create their own styles, opera sung in Italian would continue to be enjoyed in many cities and courts throughout Europe, including Dresden, Vienna, St. Petersburg, and London. George Frideric Handel began to present his Italian operas in London in 1711, and personally recruited singers from Italy for the task. These singers became celebrities in their new home. Contemporary accounts of these artists describe not only their voices, but also their manner on stage, and (sometimes unfavourably) their “person” or relative physical beauty. Rivalry among the singers could become quite public, with their respective fans creating disturbances during performances.

The “degrees of separation” between the various composers on this program are slight indeed. Georg Philipp Telemann holds the Guinness world record (posthumously!) for the most prolific composer of all time, at least on the basis of the sheer number of pieces he wrote. He also seems to have been one of the best-connected composers of his time. From his chosen city of Hamburg he had extensive reach. He wrote music for other courts, was involved in music education, publishing, and early copyright matters, took interest in ethnic styles of music, and corresponded regularly with many other composers and theorists, including his lifelong friend, Handel.

Another of his friends and correspondents was the extraordinary violinist Johann Georg Pisendel, a pivotal figure in music in the eighteenth century. A leading violinist with the famed Dresden Kapelle, many distinguished composers dedicated music to him, including Telemann, Albinoni, and Vivaldi. There are also strong connections between Pisendel and the Bach family. It was in fact Pisendel who brought to the attention of Telemann (also an accomplished poet) that he should eulogize the recently deceased Bach. Telemann responded with an ode, as he would for Pisendel himself some years later.

Pisendel met the violin virtuoso, composer, and priest Antonio Vivaldi while travelling in Venice with the ensemble of the crown prince of Saxony. While it is often said that he studied with Vivaldi, the relationship seems more likely to have been an opportune meeting between two peers with genuine respect for one another. He did not otherwise have the easiest visit to Italy: jealous violinists in the orchestra tried to sabotage his first solo appearance, which he survived by keeping his cool and beating his foot. On another occasion he was detained by authorities in St Mark’s Square in an apparent case of mistaken identity, and it was Vivaldi himself who negotiated his release.

Telemann Concerto in A Major

Telemann’s A-Major Concerto includes some virtuoso passagework that may reflect his knowledge of Pisendel’s style, but the dominating feature of the work is its imitation of the peeping of frogs. The soloist initiates this, after the opening tutti, with an effect called bariolage, an alternation of an open string with a fingered note on the same pitch. This figure is elaborated and imitated, and soon we hear a whole chorus of frogs that the composer takes through some extended and unexpected harmonic sequences. In the second movement we hear the frog once more before the violin embarks upon a cantabile melody, but the frogs can still be heard in the viola part at times. The concerto concludes with an elegant minuet and no further amphibian interference.

Handel Ezio

(c) The Foundling Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Handel’s Ezio had all the ingredients to be a commercial success: an excellent cast of singers, a libretto by Metastasio, and all new sets and costumes (a relative rarity), but it only lasted for five poorly attended performances at the King’s Theatre in January, 1732, although the king himself attended all but one. Its female lead was the soprano Anna Maria Strada (pictured right) as Fulvia, a woman trapped between rival lovers and the murderous machinations of her own father. “Il mio costanza” comes in Act II, when she admits in front of the emperor Valentinian, who wishes to marry her, that she is in fact in love with the General Ezio, who has just been arrested (erroneously) for an attempt on the emperor’s life. Strada was part of a second wave of talented singers imported by Handel to rebuild his company after a bankruptcy. While her singing was admired, she was criticized for her appearance and the faces she made while singing, earning her the nickname “the pig.”

Telemann Concerto in D Minor

In the D-Minor Concerto, Telemann puts into opposition a wind trio of oboes and bassoon and a string group. In the first movement, they mostly play together in similar rhythm, like a big choir, but in the fast movements the two groups rarely play at the same time, as if in conversation.

Vivaldi Motet “O qui coeli”

Vivaldi is mostly associated with the city of Venice and the solo violin concerto, but he became increasingly interested in opera over the course of his career, and this would take him to other cities such as Rome, where his operas were presented during carnival in both 1723 and 1724. At this time he came into contact with Cardinal Ottoboni, a member of one of the wealthy families that employed many of the best musicians, including Handel at one time. The motet “O qui coeli” was probably written for Ottoboni. Perhaps it was intended for one of the singers who also performed his operas. The text calls upon the listeners to turn their eyes from the transient attractions of the earthly to the eternal promises of the heavenly.

PIsendel Sonata da chiesa

Instrumental music was used widely in church to support and sometimes even replace parts of the liturgy. While noted as a virtuoso, Pisendel shows in the Sonata da chiesa (church sonata) that he can compose with disciplined contrapuntal technique. The austere five-note subject of the second movement is typical of this style.

Handel Alcina

In 1733, Handel lost most of his singers to a rival company. Anna Maria Strada stayed though, and in 1735 played the title role in one of greatest successes, Alcina. This sorceress is one of his most captivating characters, in more ways than one: she keeps people prisoners on her enchanted island in the form of rocks, trees, animals, and some as spellbound lovers. Her demise comes when she falls in love with Ruggiero: he escapes her spell and she loses her powers. She sings “Ah, mio cor” upon the realization that she has been deceived and deserted, powerfully expressed through her unaccompanied entrance. In the middle section, she breaks out of her despair just long enough to swear vengeance if he does not return.

Pisendel Concerto da chiesa

The G-Minor Concerto reveals Pisendel’s considerable talents as both a violinist and composer. The intricate high passagework for the solo violinist is typical of his style, but he was highly regarded for his performance of slow movements. The fugal opening of the last movement is unusual in a solo concerto.

Handel Rodelinda

The role of Rodelinda was originated in 1725 by Francesca Cuzzoni (pictured right), one of the notorious rival sopranos in Handel’s troupe. “Mio caro bene” is the final aria of the opera, when Rodelinda is joyfully reunited with her husband, who had been exiled and believed dead. According to Horace Walpole, her performance was upstaged by her costume, which apparently scandalized the older audience but was adopted by the young as the height of fashion.

© C. Verrette 2017


Note about Entwined, by the composer

Over the next year, Canada will see numerous celebrations as part of the 150th anniversary of Confederation. Canada certainly has much to celebrate, but it’s important to me that these celebrations don’t come without acknowledging the darker parts of our past, especially the treatment of Indigenous peoples in our country. We have taken important steps in recent years — Canada 150, for its part, has made reconciliation one of its four main themes. But I feel strongly that these steps need to be seen in the context of ongoing systemic discrimination.

Canada as a country is only 150 years old, but the shared history between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples goes back much farther. The interwoven layers of Entwined are meant to suggest how our stories are (and will continue to be) diverse yet deeply connected, and how we all have a role to play in reconciliation.


As a composer, Colin Labadie writes notably un-classical music for classical instruments. Through simple patterning and subtle variation, he seeks to build intricate yet clear structures and sounds. As a performer, he does exactly the opposite: he creates noisy and chaotic textures, usually with mutant guitars or homemade circuits. He often roots around in thrift stores, hunting for odd sounds in the world of forgotten electronics. Colin currently lives in Kitchener-Waterloo. He has been fortunate enough to perform or have his work performed across Canada, as well as in many non-Canadian countries. When he isn’t listening to music, he can usually be found trying to sniff out a good barbecue joint.


PROGRAM LISTING

Directed by Rodolfo Richter, violin
March 23–26, 2017, Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre for Performance and Learning

COLIN LABADIE born 1984
Entwined: Sesquie for Canada’s 150th
World premiere: written for Tafelmusik and commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for the 150th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada.

GEORG PHILIPP TELEMANN 1681–1767
Concerto for violin in A Major, “The Frog” (Frankfurt, c.1718)
[Allegro]
Adagio
Menuet

GEORGE FRIDERIC HANDEL 1685-1759
Aria “La mia costanza,” from Ezio (London, 1732)

G.P. TELEMANN
Concerto in D Minor, TWV 53:d1 (Hamburg)
Grave
Allegro
Affettuoso
Allegro

ANTONIO VIVALDI 1678–1741
Motet “O qui coeli terraeque serenitas,” RV 631 (Rome, 1723/24)

INTERMISSION

JOHANN GEORG PISENDEL 1687–1755
Sonata da chiesa in C Minor (Dresden, c.1721–23)
Largo
Allegro

G.F. HANDEL
Aria “Ah, mio cor,” from Alcina (London, 1735)

J.G. PISENDEL
Concerto da chiesa in G Minor (Dresden, c.1720–25)
Largo e staccato/Allegro
Largo
Allegro

G.F. HANDEL
Aria “Mio caro bene,” from Rodelinda (London, 1725)

Karina Gauvin’s appearance with Tafelmusik is generously sponsored by
John & Margaret Catto.

Colin Labadie commission funded by / financé par:

 

 

 

Join us for The Baroque Diva at Koerner Hall, TELUS Centre from
March 23—26, 2017. Tickets are available here.

US Tour: Santa Barbara, Long Beach, and La Jolla, CA

By Dominic Teresi, bassoon

Early Tuesday morning we left Winter Park, Florida, and headed across the country to begin the final West Coast leg of the tour. It probably comes as no surprise to say that Southern California is a favourite destination for everyone in the orchestra. This has been our third time in the area in recent years, and we were all excited to return to some of our favourite spots in Santa Barbara and La Jolla. The only down side was that the tour schedule was heating up at this point — four travel and concert days in a row meant there would be little time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings.

California sky. Photo: James Johnstone

Nevertheless we were all very excited at the first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean as we made our way up the coast highway to Santa Barbara. Our hotel was the same one we stayed in on our last trip here, the historic Upham. It is the oldest hotel in Santa Barbara and the rooms are all little one-room cottages clustered around a beautiful garden where one can sit tranquilly and enjoy breakfast or just soak up the sun. Given that this was the last free night of the tour a group of us set out in search of a good taqueria, which is not difficult to find anywhere in SoCal.

Photo: Dominic Teresi

We ended up at Rincon Alteña, a little hole in the wall in downtown Santa Barbara and were not disappointed. The next day we were free in the morning to explore the town. Jet lag had me up early so I embarked on a morning walk and discovered a lovely little park with a pond full of turtles!

While I certainly love California for the weather and the food, what I most enjoy about touring in my home state is seeing the family and old friends and colleagues I have scattered up and down the coast. Patricia Ahern, Patrick Jordan, Allen Whear, Cristina Zacharias and I all spend our summers in Carmel-by-Sea playing in the Carmel Bach Festival, and two dear friends from the festival, Gail and Stan Dryden, made the trip down from Carmel just to hear our concert and hang out a bit afterwards. The concert venue was the beautiful and historic Lobero Theater, which is where we played on our previous visits. The full house and enthusiastic audience was proof that we’ve developed quite a following here, and after the concert we were immediately invited back to bring our next touring program here.

Outside of Hotel Upham. L-R: Michelle Odorico (violin), Allen Whear (cello), Alison Mackay (double bass), Patricia Ahern (violin), Christopher Verrette (violin), Patrick Jordan (viola), Blair Williams (narrator). Photo: Dominic Teresi

The next day was a very full one — it began with us hopping back on the bus and heading down to Long Beach for our concert at the Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts (named after the late Karen Carpenter) at CSULB, a few miles south of Los Angeles. Julia Wedman and I were dropped off en route at the University of Southern California where we both gave masterclasses to some of the many talented students at the fine music school there. Julia worked with the USC Early Music Ensemble, and I worked with modern bassoon studio, giving them an introduction to the baroque bassoon and historical performance practice. After our classes we were rushed down to Long Beach to join the rest of the orchestra during the pre-concert warm up. The Hall was a bit too large for our group and a challenge to play in, but the small but enthusiastic crowd made up for it. An old college roommate of mine, Steve Trapani, who happens to live just a few blocks from the performance venue, generously invited the whole orchestra over to his home for a post concert party complete with his excellent home brewed beer!

Checking out the seals. Photo: James Johnstone

Our final day in Southern California began with another bus ride, this one to the lovely village of La Jolla just north of San Diego, where the La Jolla Music Society resides. Here I got to spend a couple of hours with my beautiful niece Amanda, who lives in San Diego, and nephew, Tim, who drove all the way from San Luis Obispo to come hear the concert. The concert venue was located in the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, overlooking the ocean and just a few steps from Seal Rock, where we were able to see dozens of harbour seals and their babies sunning themselves on the beach. The concert venue there is about to be renovated and ours was the last concert ever played in that space. We’ll look forward to returning to La Jolla on our next California tour and playing in a brand new concert hall!