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!

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