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.

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