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Intriguing new works explored

Roy Thomson Hall
11/30/2019 -  
Jared Richardson: Race to the Horizon
Fjóla Evans: Lung
Matthew Emery: Unanswered Letters
Ian Cusson: Tableau Vivant for Orchestra

The Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Gary Kulesha (conductor)

G. Kulesha (Courtesy of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra)

“Explore the Score” is an annual open rehearsal event that the Toronto Symphony Orchestra has been holding for several years for which new works (which might be works in development) by emerging Canadian composers are chosen by a jury from among dozens of works submitted. The Canadian Music Centre collaborates.

Each of the four pieces was given a work through, with conductor Gary Kulesha, the TSO’s composer advisor, occasionally interrupting to hone in on problematic passages, with the composers at hand to answer questions and make adjustments. Most of the questions focused on the balances between sections. (Kulesha wore a head microphone so his comments could be clearly heard by the audience.) Each piece was then given an uninterrupted performance.

First up was Jared Richardson’s Race to the Horizon, a vigorous, even brash, work that conjures up big band jazz and the likes of Leonard Bernstein’s dances from West Side Story. It comes as no surprise that the Victoria, BC composer is a graduate of Boston’s Berklee College of Music which focuses on jazz and musical theatre.

Presenting a contrast was Fjóla Evans’s Lung, a slow, brooding piece that features, among other things, 95 continuous bars of subtle percussion ostinato, although a lot more also occurred - this was not an exercise in repetitive minimalism. At one point the composer stated she wanted the subtle work to be played even more quietly. She has completed a master’s degree in composition from Yale University and is currently studying for her Ph.D. at New York’s Columbia University.

All four composers seem to be well-launched on their careers especially the very youthful-looking Matthew Emery of Toronto who has had works performed by an impressive list of orchestras and choirs and published by quite an array of publishers. His Unanswered Letters is inspired by “the mundane chores of everyday life” which sounds like it might be deadly - but not so. It is in three parts which struck me as making up an engaging prelude-interlude-postlude sequence which left me thinking there could have been (or still could be) something more eventful on either side of the interlude.

The final composer, Ian Cusson, was recently composer-in-residence at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, and currently holds the same position with the Canadian Opera Company. His Tableau Vivant for Orchestra is inspired by Michel Marc Bouchard’s play L’Histoire de l’oie (translated as The Tale of Teeka) about a boy’s friendship with a goose. It is an intricate work with passages where solo players or small groups emerge briefly from the orchestral milieu. It ends with an ominous bit of musical violence.

In closing the session Gary Kulesha stated that the way to learn how to write for a orchestra is to write for an orchestra - and the best way to find out if it works is to hear it played. I look forward to next year’s session.

Michael Johnson



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