“Mirror, mirror” on display

My recently completed set of prints, which make up the illustrated manuscript for the mini-opera Mirror, mirror, are now on display at the Vancouver office of the Canadian Music Centre located at 837 Davie St. This is one of seven such sets and is available for sale.

This opera is based on the Grimms’ fairy tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. During performance, the five panels are to be laid flat on a table with the Queen’s and Snow White’s lines appearing on opposite sides. The timing of each vocal entry is coordinated through small square symbols. The staves change size and shape to indicate changes in dynamics and accents.

Mirror, mirror

The prints were carved into linoleum sheets and printed with oil-based ink on handmade paper from Bhutan. Each sheet is hand-coloured and features inserts made from fine tissue papers from Japan, Nepal and Thailand. After printing and colouring, I also wove through threads of woolen, hand-died yarn. Though there are seven copies of each print, each one is unique because it incorporates so many hand-worked elements.

Mirror, mirror

Mirror, mirror

Wild Dogs Project

I am super pleased to finally announce that for the past year I have been involved in the development of a brand new chamber opera based on Helen Humphrey‘s novel Wild Dogs. The project is being produced in Vancouver by Robert Carey and his black bachx opera lab. The opera is set in a small Ontario town plagued by unemployment and a pack of feral dogs made up of former pets, which have either escaped or been thrown out by their struggling owners.

I recently participated in a three-day libretto workshop with librettist Val Brandt, dramaturg Ann Hodges, producer Robert Carey and a crew of six fantastic actors (Kyle Jespersen, Heather Pawsey, Julia Arkos, David Adams, Shawn Macdonald and Kayla Dunbar). Ann led the workshop in a beautifully smooth and professional manner getting all of us to articulate our interpretation of the novel and our vision for the opera. She expertly mined the actors for feedback using them as a kind of “consumer testing” group. These super talented performers truly inhabited the world of the libretto and gave remarkably insightful comments. Val pulled some all-nighters to make significant revisions, which could be workshopped yet again the next day. She’s a superhero! The libretto has a solid dramatic arc and is well on the way to completion. It was a remarkably productive and inspiring process, and I’m grateful to have been involved.


From top left: me, Kyle Jespersen, Heather Pawsey, Julia Arkos, David Adams, Ann Hodges, Val Brandt, Robert Carey; Bottom left: Shawn Macdonald, Kayla Dunbar

In the evening of the final day, we held a reading and information sessions for some invited guests. The actors were fabulous, the atmosphere buzzing with excitement. The workshop and reading session were held in the East Studio at the Post at 750, the new downtown Vancouver venue inhabited by PuSh International Performing Arts Festival, Touchstone Theatre, Music on Main, and the DOXA Documentary Film Festival. Our time in the studio was generously donated by Music on Main.

In the next few months, Val will turn the currently more play-like libretto into a form more suitable for opera. I will start working on the music at the end of this year in preparation for the first music workshop scheduled for June 2016.

I would like to thank the Shevchenko Foundation and our private donors for sponsoring this project. I can’t wait to begin the music!

SF logo NS OCT 2013

Mirror developing

Work is progressing on what is turning out to be quite a monster score for the mini opera Mirror, mirror. I have finished carving the first two and a half sheets of linoleum and did some test prints. Here’s me painting on various red accents with watercolour. Stay tuned for photos of the complete score in the next week or so.

Photo by M. Teresa Simao
Photo by M. Teresa Simao

Thank you to M. Teresa Simao for the photos. And thank you to Princeton University and the Lewis Centre for the Arts for giving me these wonderful resources.

Laces and stays

Last year, I transformed my part-time work as heritage wood-restorer into Through closed doors, a piece for two violins notated on an antique door. Now I’m working on a new illustrated and hand-printed score, which combines my love of lace, luxurious yarns, fancy paper and dark fairy tales. The project is a reworking of my mini-opera Mirror, mirror, which explores the story of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.” The original version was premiered by Janice Jackson in 2012. Stay tuned for more pictures in the coming weeks.

Materials: 100% merino wool from Uruguay, papers from Nepal and Japan, linoleum printing
Mirror, mirrorMirror, mirrorMirror, mirror

I am eternally grateful to Princeton University for giving me the space, time and resources to pursue this project.

P.S. – The only other composer I know who has managed to combine composition with knitting was Jocelyn Morlock, when she offered blue hand-knitted wear as rewards for the crowdfunding campaign for her album “Cobalt” (which is beautiful, by the way).

Weeping premiere

I’ve been in Toronto for a few days preparing for the upcoming premiere of my newest piece Weeping, which will be presented by New Music Concerts on Saturday, April 4th. The piece is based on traditional Ukrainian grieving songs (golosinnja). Since this is an exclusively female tradition, it amuses me greatly that all the performers in this case are male. They’ve been really great sports about trying all the funny squeaky sounds that I’m asking them to produce in an attempt to imitate vocal cracks, hiccups and the raw timbre of older, worn out voices. This performance is also going to be my conducting debut and I am eternally grateful to the performers for being so patient and kind to me.

The premiere will take place on Saturday, April 4th at the Betty Oliphant Theatre located at 404 Jarvis St. in Toronto. There will be a pre-concert talk at 7:15 and a reception following the 8:00 pm show.  The concert also features music by Ukrainian composers Karmella Tsepkolenko and Valentin Silvestrov, as well as Canadian composers of Ukrainian origin Gary Kulesha and Alex Pauk.

For more information on Weeping and my composing practice in general, I invite you to listen to this podcast recently produced by Paul Steenhuisen.

This commission and my presence in Toronto is generously funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Shevchenko Foundation.


Interview on SoundLab

Paul Steenhuissen recently interviewed me for his podcast series SoundLab. The interview was commissioned by Toronto’s New Music Concerts in preparation for the Ukrainian-Canadian Connection concert happening on April 4th, which will feature the premiere of my piece Weeping. Paul asked some very probing and difficult questions, which forced me to define my compositional practice and goals.

We discussed my work with Ukrainian folk music, focusing specifically on Weeping and the grieving songs which inspired and shaped it, as well as an earlier piece Bridal Train, which was commissioned by the Thin Edge New Music Collective. We also talked about my explorations of childhood, Carl Jung’s archetypes and the cello in the piece The Child, Bringer of Light premiered by Paul Dwyer at Carnegie Hall. Finally, we discussed my work with graphic notation and unusual materials in the piece Through Closed Doors, also commissioned by Thin Edge.

In addition to recordings of my music, the podcast includes archival as well as my own recordings of Ukrainian folks music, and a bit of my singing. You can listen to the podcast online or download it here.

Premiere at La Chapelle tomorrow!

Today I had the privilege of hearing Katelyn Clark rehearse my new piece for harpsichord …the obsessive circularity of thought… on the lovely harpsichord at La Chapelle in Montreal. The instrument is an original from 1772 and sags a little at the corner, but sounds absolutely gorgeous! We’ve had to make some adjustments to the piece because the upper manual is quite a bit higher on this particular instrument than I had anticipated and it is harder to play across manuals. And because it is an antique, we are not allowed to play under the lid. But, the sound is beautiful so I’m not complaining!

The concert, happening on February 11 at 8 pm, also features Luciane Cardassi performing on the Fazioli piano. The Rockeys Duo will perform music by Jimmie LeBlanc, Louis Andriessen, Linda Catlin Smith, Isaiah Ceccarelli and Antonio Celso Ribeiro, as well as my new work for solo harpsichord. More info here.

Harpsichord at La Chapelle in MontrealLa Chapelle in Montreal

Obsessive circularity

I just finished my first ever piece for solo harpsichord, …the obsessive circularity of thought…, commissioned by Katelyn Clark. She will premiere the work at 8 pm on February 11 at Chapelle historique du Bon Pasteur, 100 rue Sherbrooke E, Montreal.

The piece was inspired by the tendency to obsessively replay certain conversations in our minds, wishing we said something different and analyzing each phrase from a million different angles. Musically, I concentrated on the slight differences in colour and tuning between the two manuals found on some instruments, obsessively repeating the same pitches and patterns through interlocking hands.

The harpsichord, which I used to compose this piece, located at Princeton University, made in Pennsylvania in the 1980s. 

One of the harpsichords at Princeton University   Inside the harpsichord

“Through closed doors” video

At the end of September, Thin Edge New Music Collective performed Through closed doors at the Array Space in Toronto. Ilana Waniuk and Suhashini Arulanandam did a fantastic job. Here’s the video I put together using footage by A.J. Gray and audio recordings by John. S. Gray, as well as some great photos by Terry Lim.

The door score

The door score

Prints and Postcards for sale

I am now selling art prints and postcards derived from my hand-drawn scores. I will be adding more items as they become available so check the Purchase page or follow my Etsy store to stay in the loop. I ship the items from Princeton, New Jersey.

Art Prints

Through closed doors, Illuminated manuscript, page 1
$40 CAD
This 11×14″ art print is a high-quality copy of the first page from the hand-inked score for Through closed doors. It is digitally printed on thick watercolour paper with hand-made deckle edging. Available from Etsy.

Post Cards

Through closed doors, Illuminated postcard, page 1
$6 CAD
This 5×7″ postcard is based on the first page from the hand-inked score for Through closed doors. It is digitally printed on cardstock.Send through the mail as a lovely greeting or frame as wall art. Available from Etsy.

Through closed doors, Illuminated postcard, page 2
$6 CAD
This 5×7″ postcard is based on the second page from the hand-inked score for Through closed doors. It is digitally printed on cardstock.Send through the mail as a lovely greeting or frame as wall art. Available from Etsy.