Preview: October 21st – 24th

This week is no different from most other weeks during the Toronto concert season. That is to say, there are a number of events for you to see and listen to. I’ll cover the weekend later on, but here’s what is going on this week.

Wednesday: Composer Sammy Bayefsky and vocalist Bryanna Petrie present “We Will Be the Ones”. A two day, independent concert series with a focus on crossing genre barriers. The program will consist of five original pieces Bayefsky and others, as well as five arrangements of popular songs by Arcade Fire, Joni Mitchell, Metric, Hey Rosetta, and Neil Young. Bayefsky is a talented young composer, and I encourage you to go and show your support for not only his work, but the independent concert scene across the city.

The concert is being held at Array Space at 7 PM.

Thursday: “We Will Be the Ones” presents the second of two concerts starting at 7 PM.

Also on the docket is Esprit Orchestra’s first concert of the season ‘New Era Launch’. I’m not quite sure what the new era is, but the programme for the night is impressive and bound to be entertaining.

Under the baton of conductor and founder Alex Pauk, Esprit will play Alfred Schnittke’s great Concerto for Viola and Orchestra (1985) with soloist Teng Li, as well as works by Claude Vivier, R. Murray Schafer, and a new work by Samy Moussa: Gegenschein and Zodiakallicht (2013). If you have the time, get out to Koerner Hall and enjoy Esprit’s new season.

You can find details at

CMC Direcotr Elisabeth Bihl to Step Down

I should have posted this a few days ago, but life got in the way.

On October 17th, 2013, Elisabeth Bihl, Executive Director for the Canadian Music Centre announced her plan to step down by the end of December 2013. Elisabeth has guided the CMC through a great period of transition, and her presence will be missed.

You can read the full press release here:

– Paolo Griffin

Weekend Preview: October 18th – 20th

This weekend has another slew of concerts lined up for those eager to listen. Three days, three concerts, all with different things to offer.

Friday October 18th: The X Avant VIII Festival at the Music Gallery continues on Friday and Saturday. Friday features Montreal ensemble Ensemble Supermusique playing a concert of their compositions. The works will vary between graphics scores and traditional notation, as well as orally transmitted instructions. These soloists are a must see.

Saturday October 19th: Saturday offers us First Nations DJ group ‘A Beat Called Red’, along with Nunavut throat-singer and beatboxer Nelson Tagoona as well as the DJ collective ‘MAMA’. If you’re interested in hip hop, DJ’s, electronic music, and music stemming from little known musical traditions, check out this concert.

Sunday October 20th: Musica Reflecta kicks off its 2013-2014 season with an event for people of all ages at Gallery 345. ‘Peter in the Gallery: Children’s Tales for Woodwind Ensemble’ combines the new children’s music, with the classics. Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf (1936) will be performed alongside Toronto composer Chris Thornborrow’s Mini Piano Concerto No. 1 (2013), and canadian composer Harry Freedman’s Tiki Tiki Tembo (1971). Bring your kids and have a blast. This is a short but sweet concert, perfect for an afternoon out.

Review: Toy Piano Composers Celebrate

Last night the Toy Piano Composers turned 5. To celebrate they held a concert. Not a grand, dramatic concert filled with long speeches and tears; A concert that wasn’t too long, but wasn’t too short. It had short speeches, good music, and a welcome atmosphere. Last night’s TPC concert was nothing short of enjoyable, and should act as a reminder and example to people both in the music community and out of it, of how entertaining new music in this city has the potential of being.

Last night’s TPC concert was a celebration of five years of concerts. It consisted of 8 works that had been shown in previous TPC concerts, a sort of ‘best of’ list, as well as two new pieces, commissioned for the concert. A few of the pieces were re-tooled slightly to suit the new space as well as new ideas by the composer, however most of the pieces remained in their original format.

TPC has had a good history of creating and commissioning pieces that aren’t too long. It’s a firm belief of mine that audiences in this day and age can’t really wrap their heads around music longer than 12 or so minutes, and so composers must adapt to this. Obviously composers would like to be able to write whatever duration music they want, however the harsh reality is that most audiences (even ones well versed in new music) simply tend to blank out after a certain point. That being said, the TPC tends to create and commission pieces in the range of 10 minutes or less, and this is something that works wonderfully; All the pieces tonight were in this time span. Some were as short as four minutes, and some were longer, however they were of a duration that kept the audience’s full attention. Composer Igor Correia’s first piece of the program One Short Piece for my Short Attention Span (2011) was thus aptly named.

Moving on.

Ten pieces total. Two premieres. My three favourite pieces of the night were easily Chris Thornborrow’s Walking (2013), Half Broken on the Wheel (2013) by Ruth Guechtal, and Fiona Ryan’s incredibly entertaining A Geology Lesson (2009).

Walking (2013) is a piece that was inspired by an animated short of the same name by Canadian animator Ryan Larkin. Larkin, whose only other work is a short film titled Street Music (1972), battled a cocaine addiction and spent four decades of his life homeless. His film however is a much less depressing affair. It is a study on the movement of the human body, and the act of walking and of people in motion. In some ways, this was also the feeling I got from Thornborrow’s piece. A constantly moving affair, it consisted of smooth, sometimes uplifting, sometimes melancholy lines punctuated by changes in metre and dynamics. It kept pace and didn’t sag at any point during its performance,

Half Broken on the Wheel (2013) by Ruth Guechtal was the third piece on what in my opinion was a very well programmed programme. According to the composer this work was a result of her explorations of the term ‘masochism’. This was a rich, enthralling piece for solo piano, where the pianist played both on the keyboard, and inside the piano. The sheer number of effects and textures coaxed out of the piano was both astonishing and fascinating, and enveloped the hall in a deep, dark, yet smooth sound.

A Geology Lesson (2009) by Fiona Ryan was definitely the most lighthearted piece of the night. A tour through the different categories of rock and including an electric violin (always a fun instrument to see) and a narrator (here narrated by Elisha Denburg). The piece began with the narrator welcoming us to the world of science, and introducing today’s subject. Some well placed dialogue, a few really great moments where the narrator exclaimed ‘SCIENCE!’, as well as a pair of cool shades, was the recipe for a science lesson I would watch again any day.

The rest of the pieces in the concert were all enjoyable in their own right. Modus Operandi (2010) by Nancy Tam had a jazzy feel, reminiscent of private eye movies, and Glenn James’ Crosscurrents (2011) was a smooth, lush ride of a piece for piano, toy piano and music box. The music box here was well used, adding some delicacy to the piece that I appreciated. The strangest piece on the programme was $100 000 Noise Enclosure (2013) by Daniel Brophy. The pianist sat on the bench which was close mic’d and amplified so that every small movement by the pianist resulted in a great amount of sound. This joined with the pianist playing as one normally would and created an otherworldly, grating, loud, at times overwhelming amount of sound. To be honest, when the piece began, I thought that there was a small error in amp levels and that they had to adjust the feedback, however the pianist began playing and I quickly realized that that was the piece itself. Credit has to be given to the composer for knowing how long to make a piece of this kind. It was long enough to fascinate me and keep my attention, but not so long that it would begin to get on my nerves and become too much to listen to.

With this concert, TPC showed the audience what it was all about. New music that is fun. New music that you can sit and listen to and really take it all in and come out with favourable opinions about everything on the programme.

Well done TPC. Happy fifth birthday.


– Paolo Griffin

Preview: TPC Turns 5!

This Saturday marks the 5th anniversary of the Toy Piano Composers. A group of some of the most imaginative composers and talented musicians I have had the pleasure of meeting, as well as one of Toronto’s most refreshingly entertaining music collectives.

5 years ago, the Toy Piano Composer were formed with the goal of engaging listeners with imaginative and entertaining new music. These composers and musicians realized that in the world of new music, often you must make your own opportunities, otherwise you’ll simply be waiting for your pieces to be played. Thus, this group of composers and musicians, having met through their respective places of study, created the Toy Piano Composers.

Members of the Toy Piano Composers at work.

Members of the Toy Piano Composers at work.

The group has had stunning success in their concerts until now; Regularly packing their concert space with people. This is thanks to, in no small part, a combination of affordable ticket prices ($15-$20 is quite a good rate), a more relaxed and welcoming concert environment, those great little pins that they sell or give away at every show, and a slew of music that is complex, yet simple. Both serious and still thoroughly entertaining. These composers aim to bring everyone in on the fun, and attracting people outside the usual milieu of new music concert goers is no easy task; yet, the TPC have succeeded in bringing forth new faces, and this is what makes them one of Toronto’s best up and coming music collective.

If you have a chance to get out to see their concert on Saturday, October 12th, do it. No if, ands, or buts. If you have no experience with new music, this is the perfect way to get to know some new work. If you do, come out anyway and enjoy a great concert.

You can also check out the Toy Piano Composers on their website:

– Paolo Griffin

Preview: A Busy Weekend for Music in Toronto.

This is a busy weekend for all those interested in music in Toronto.

In addition to the usual Thanksgiving/holiday feasting, there is also a plethora of concerts for listeners to feast on.

Concert weekend kicks off on Friday, with the X Avante New Music Festival returning to the Music Gallery with three nights of great music. Friday offers Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring (1913) as reimagined by Montreal-based group Quartetski. Their Rite will feature a smaller, more diverse instrument group, as well as some improvisation and general re-working of the original piece. Having just seen the Marinksy Orchestra play Rite of Spring this past Sunday, I’m looking forward to hearing what Quartetski has come up with.

On Saturday, there is a concert double header. At 6 PM, the X Avante Festival continues at the Music Gallery with the Flux Quartet performing Morton Feldman’s String Quartet No. 2 (1983). Those familiar with the work of Feldman will recall that this particular piece is a whopping six hours long. This piece was first premiered by the Kronos Quartet in the fall of 1983 on CBC radio. It outlasted its two-hour radio spot and pre-empted the national news before finishing just before the stations blackout period at 1 AM. In addition to the music, there will be various rooms to hang around in, as no one expects you to sit through a whole six hour piece. There will be a relaxing room and a video game room, as well as food vendors on site. OCADU is also offering some of its space, and its students will be showing work as well. If you feel like a 6 hour party, come out to this event.

The second concert on Saturday begins at 8 PM at Gallery 345. The Toy Piano Composers are a composer/musician collective who make it their aim to create fun, livley music for people to listen to. This is their 5th anniversary concert, and it will consist of re-worked favourite from past seasons. Special guests junctQin keyboard collective join them for a great night of music.

Finally, on Sunday the X Avante New Music Festival ends with a presentation of music by Charlemagne Palestine, a contemporary of the American minimalist school’s practitioner’s in the 1960’s, but in no way  a minimalist himself. He has described his music as more like “trance music”. Toronto composer Rose Bolton will also be there to present new work.

If you like music at all, and not just new art music, I encourage you to get out this weekend and check out these concerts. No matter what your taste, there really will be something for everyone.

– Paolo Griffin

Review: New Music Concerts Entertains

New Music Concerts’ 2013-2014 season got underway last night at the Betty Oliphant Theatre with a genuinely entertaining night of music by Morton Feldman, John Cage, Stefan Wolpe, and Anton Webern.

For those who don’t know (and I myself didn’t until a few months ago), Edgard Varèse, Wolpe, Cage, and Feldman were members of the Eighth Street Artists Club of Abstract Expressionist Painters (Varèse and Cage were both visual artists as well as composers ). The 1950’s was a time when the arts flourished in New York, and these men were at the forefront of it, both as composers and as artists and being members of this club brought them into contact with intellectuals, artists, and all other manner of people.

Wolpe had been a student of Webern’s in Germany for a number of years, but had to flee in 1933 when Hitler seized power. Feldman was Wolpe’s student, and so you can see the line of musical tradition that both Wolpe and Feldman were a part of and that Webern helped create. Upon Wolpe’s return to Europe he gave a series of lectures on changing musical styles in the United States that had a profound impact upon musical development in Europe; Particularly in the area of stylistic integration and the opening up of the imagination of European composers and musicians to ideas not belonging solely to the Western art tradition.

This concert was a tribute to that period of time from the 1930’s to the 1960’s when the music of these men changed the face of music itself. The threat of a program such as this is that it would repel audiences due to the complex nature of the music. Twelve-tone music, serial music, and mid-1900’s ‘avant-garde’ music have a bad reputation among  the general public as being incredibly inaccessible, hard to listen to, and really not that fun. However what I heard last night was a successful attempt at making this music really entertaining in a way that would have the potential to attract greater audiences. I don’t want to say too much about the music and the structure and nature of the music itself, since it is old enough to have been raked over with a fine-tooth comb already, however I will speak generally about the concert and what I enjoyed.

The highlight of the night was without a doubt Wolpe’s Chamber Piece No. 1 (1964). Originally commissioned by The Koussevitsky Music Foundation and performed at the Library of Congress, this piece was filled with instrumental colour and was a great reminder of how entertaining Wolpe’s music can be. The combination of jazz inspired moments on the trumpet, with interplay between the winds and the violin, and the number of ideas all deriving from a single original thought was a delight to listen to. Credit too is due to Robert Aitken and the musicians for successfully pulling off a no doubt challenging piece.

On the other end of the spectrum was Feldman’s Structures for String Quartet (1951), and John Cage’s String Quartet in Four Parts (1949-50), both of which were much calmer, longer, and flatter than the Wolpe. These pieces too were played with a great amount of delicacy, as they require, and the string players delivered mesmerizing music with an equally mesmerizing performance.

Webern’s Konzert, Op. 24 (1931-1934) was played twice, once at the beginning of the concert, and again in the second half. I enjoyed the piece far more the second time, though that may be because one time is not enough to take in everything that a Webern piece has to offer.

This was an enjoyable concert, and a truly great way to kick off a promising new year with NMC. I’m looking forward to seeing what else they have in store for us.

– Paolo Griffin