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!

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