Wild Dogs in Vancouver

For the last three years I have been involved in the production of a new opera Wild Dogs based on a novel of the same name by Helen Humphreys. This project is being produced by Vancouver’s start-up opera company black bachx opera lab in collaboration with Standing Wave and Music on Main. Producer Robert Carey and librettist Val Brandt brought me into the project in the libretto writing stage so that I could have some artistic input into the text I am setting. This has been a long, but fascinating process and I thank Val Brandt for her flexibility and openness. It is no easy task to stay faithful to the spirit of the novel, while at the same time creating a text that the composer is excited to work with. I started work on the music just over a year ago.

At the end of May, Vancouver’s contemporary music ensemble Standing Wave presented three scenes from the opera with soprano Carla Huhtanen singing the role of Lily. In these scenes, Lily, a twenty-something-year-old woman who suffered brain damage as a child, goes into the woods to find her beloved dog, Dog. She is instead found by the feral dog pack that Dog has joined. The pack takes her in as one of their own, and Lily begins a new life free of the prejudices and fears which have haunted her in the human world. Here are some excerpts from this performance.

The opera will continue going through a series of workshops over the next year or so. Keep tuned for more updates and performances!

Mise-En Festival 2017

I am exited to participate in the Mise-En Festival 2017 taking place June 20-25 in New York City. The festival will feature works by several dozen composers from around the world with concerts, workshops and presentations happening in different locations throughout the city. My piece Weeping, originally commissioned and premiered by New Music Concerts in Toronto, will be performed as part of the 7:30 pm set of the multi-hour marathon taking place on June 24. I am excited to share the program with Nick Omiccioli, whom I met in Ottawa at the NAC Emerging Composers Workshop back in 2012.

For more information about the festival, click here.

Weeping is my exploration of the nearly extinct tradition of weeping or keeping songs sung by women in rural Ukraine to mourn those they lost. I transcribed a number of recordings matching them with specific instruments based on timbral similarities. I endeavored to capture the idiosyncratic qualities of each voice using the idiosyncratic qualities of each instrument, often asking them to play against their classical training. The overall structure of the work is inspired by an archival recording made at a cemetery on a prescribed day of mass mourning. Here is an excerpt of the piece performed by the New Music Concerts ensemble.

For more information on Weeping and my composing practice in general, I invite you to listen to this podcast produced by Paul Steenhuisen before the work’s premiere.

“Waiting” premier in Vancouver

Tonight Ensemble Paramirabo will be premiering my piece Waiting as part of their joint tour with my long time collaborators Thin Edge New Music Collective. The concert, titled Raging Against the Machine: Coming Together, is presented by Music on Main and will take place at the Fox Cabaret. It’s a very special honour for me to finally be presented by this much beloved music series, which my family has been frequenting for many years. This is also my first time working with Paramirabo and I am super excited about tonight’s performance. More info can be found here.

The piece was inspired by a Ukrainian folksong I found in a printed anthology, which so elegantly and succinctly explores the state of waiting for someone much longed for. It is a complex mixture of conflicting emotions, which gives a great sense of meaning and poignancy to the simplest elements of one’s life. It is a state characterized by obsessive creation of many scenarios, both positive and negative, but always extreme. The image of weeping willows swaying in the wind inspired the structure of the piece. Thoughts of wind and breath were very much on my mind. Fragments of the folksong melody are constantly replayed and reworked, and the first four lines of poetry are obsessively repeated in three languages. 

Here’s my rendition of the song.

“Хилітеся, густі лози,
Звіткіль вітер віє!…
Дивітеся, карі очі,
Звіткіль милий (мила) їде!…

Хилилися густі лози,
Та вже й перестали…
Дивилися, карі очі,
Та й плакати стали.”

“Bend, O, bend, you thick willows,
From where does the wind blow?
Watch, O, watch, you brown eyes,
From where will your beloved come?

Bent, and bent, the thick willows,
And then fell still…
Watched, and watched, the brown eyes,
And began to weep. “

“Obsessive circularity” in Montreal

I was very pleased to find out recently that Katelyn Clark will be performing my piece Obsessive circularity of thought on Wed, February 22 (8:00 pm) at Chapelle St-Louis (4230, rue Drolet) in Montreal, QC. She commissioned and premiered the piece back in early 2015 and made this lovely recording at the Banff Centre. More info on the concert can be found here.

Forms of Sound 2017

I am excited to be a guest at University of Calgary’s Forms of Sound 2017 festival starting today. Tonight I will be performing my very first ‘invented folksong’ Weeping for a dead love with the university’s percussion ensemble. They have been fantastic and we’ve had two amazing rehearsals. This work is my take on traditional Ukrainian weeping songs known as holosinnya, though instead of mourning a person, I will mourn a dead relationship.

Tomorrow’s concert will include a performance of my piano trio Like doves with grey wings embracing originally written for the Gryphon Trio and here performed by university faculty and students. This work is an instrumental reinterpretation of Weeping for a dead love.

The concerts also features works by Michael Horwood, David Berezan, Tawnie Olson, Analia Llugdar, and Guidonna Lee Terzi, Alyssa Aska, J. Alex Young and Abdullah Soydan.

The festival will continue on February 3 and 8th. All concerts take place at the Eckhardt-Gramatté Hall in the Rozsa Centre at 8 pm. More info here.

Drowning in Princeton

Later today I will be performing a revised version of my invented folksong Drown in the depth, which was commissioned by the 21C Festival in Toronto and premiered there last May.This time I will be joined by composers Matt McBane on violin and Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade on cello, and Mark Eichenberger on percussion. Drawing on and subverting Ukrainian folk imagery, this work explores female erotic fantasy. In this performance, I’m continuing to experiment with theatrical lighting design as well as some interesting props. The concert also features new music by Ninfea Cruttwell-Reade, Noah Kaplan, Matt McBane, Juri Seo and Kendall Williams. You can hear the show live at Taplin Auditorium in Fine Hall (Princeton University) or through this live stream link at 8 pm EST.

Unruly Sounds in Princeton

I am excited to be performing my piece What else can I give him? at the Unruly Sounds Festival taking place tomorrow (Sunday, Oct 2) outside of the Princeton Public Library in Princeton, NJ. I will be joined by Nick Tolle (cimbalom), Mark Eichenberger (percussion) and Florent Ghys (bass), who premiered the piece with me in December 2015. We are welcoming a new violinist, Andie Springer, for this performance.

The festival is free and will run from 12:30 to 7:00 pm. I will be performing around 2:00 pm. The rain location is inside the public library’s community room. For more info on the festival, visit this Facebook page.

What else can I give him? is part of a growing cycle of pieces I call ‘invented folksongs’ – pieces which draw heavily from the Ukrainian folksong tradition and marry it with a more contemporary compositional approach. Here’s a recording of the premiere performance with super duper violinist Courtney Orlando:

Leading up to the festival, composer-vocalist Annika Socolofsky and I got to visit Community Park Elementary school to chat and play with some kids in grades 4 and 5. Annika showed them some really cool ways to use their voices, and I told them about my upcoming opera Wild Dogs. We did some great howling, yipping, barking, chirping and croaking together. The kids made particularly great frogs hoping up with every “Enid” croak. I’ve never done something like this before and was surprised at how much fun I had with the kids.

The frogs say “Enid”

Continuing my exploration of the sonic world of my in-progress opera Wild Dogs, I give you a chorus of frogs that say Enid…Enid…Enid……Enid…Enid……..Enid.

This opera, with a libretto by Val Brandt, is based on Helen Humphrey’s novel Wild Dogs and will be produced by black bachx opera lab in collaboration with Standing Wave and Music on Main in Vancouver, BC.

Spirit of the pack

I am currently in the thick of a new chamber opera based on Helen Humphrey’s novel Wild Dogs. Set in a small town with crumbling industry and high unemployment, it features a ragtag group of individuals who lost their beloved dog. The novel explores the relationship, harmonious or opposing, between wilderness and domestication in the wider world and in our own psyche.

What made this opera project appealing to me was the opportunity to explore the sounds of animals, birds and the forest environment as a whole. As part of my research, I recently spent afternoon in the studio imitating wolf and dog howls, really exploring my voice to see how close I could get to the sound of a howling pack.

Drown in the depth

Tomorrow (Saturday, May 28) I will be premiering my new piece Drown in the depth at the 21C Festival in Toronto, along with Andréa Tyniec (violin), Amahl Arulanandam (cello) and Chung-Ling Lo (percussion). This ‘invented folksong’ borrows familiar formulas and structures from Ukrainian folk music, subverting them and pushing them beyond their traditional limits.

My text explores the richness of the female erotic imagination, contradicting the common myth that female sexuality is naturally dormant and passive until ignited by the more sexual and aggressive male.

The piece will be performed, along with my older work Bridal train, on Saturday, May 28 (5 pm) at the Conservatory Theatre at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto.