The Child in Uruguay

On Tuesday, March 25, the lovely French violist Claire Poillion will perform the viola version of The Child, Bringer of Light in Montevideo, Uruguay. Claire and I met at the Banff Centre in 2011. She was living in the Netherlands at the time and now she will be giving my music its South American debut. Crazy how life works these days.

The Child in Montevideo

Music through fire

So I’ve been planning this idea of burning musical notation onto a wooden door for over a year now (see this post). I finally got around to trying it out on a scrap piece of wood the other day. To my intense relief, it worked! Phew!

Wood burning sketch No. 1

This is an excerpt drawn from my new violin duo Through closed doors. The Thin Edge New Music Collective premiered the musical portion of this piece in February. Soon I will start burning the score onto this lovely door.

Door layout

I was playing around with layout while I was composing (must have ripped it all off and rearranged it at least three times). I had to make sure I didn’t compose too many “inches” for any particular section. I wanted the different sections to work with the structure of the door so that musical pauses corresponded with the physical need to walk around corners. The next step is to strip off the remaining paint and varnish (breathing in some chemical fumes for inspiration) and sand the surface to a nice, smooth finish.

Piano Trio Premiere

On Wednesday (March 5), the Gryphon Trio will premiere my piano trio, Toss a flower on the water, which was created as part of the Soundstreams Emerging Composers’ Workshop. The performance will take place in the lobby of Roy Thomson Hall as part of a pre-concert event happening at TSO’s New Creations Festival, starting at 7:15 pm. The concert will also feature works by all the other workshop composers: Gabriel Dharmoo, Emilie Cecilia LeBel, Graham Flett, Adam Scime and Caitlin Smith. Click here for more info.

Toss a flower was directly inspired by my trips to Ukraine to research traditional folk vocal performance practice. In addition to recording many beautiful and often mournful songs, I also heard many stories. A common theme throughout my travels was domestic abuse, which is rampant in rural Ukraine. There are many folksongs dedicated to the subject as well.

This trio borrows thematic material, in a very fragmented form, from the folksong “Kalyna Malyna” which I recorded in October 2012 in the village Kozats’ke. This song compares a young woman stuck in an unhappy marriage to a guelder rose bush, its branches simultaneously weighed down by dew and wilting in the sun. The title of my trio refers to an image from another folksong on the same subject. Here a similarly abused young woman tosses a flower on the water to send a message to her loved ones. When her mother finds the flower wilted despite being in water, she laments the hardships which have caused her daughter to age before her time.

The original folksong is very cut up, its pieces emerging from and dissolving into shifting textures and colours, like the flower being carried and tossed by the force of the river. You can hear my original sketches here.

This trio was very difficult for me to finish. The subject matter is heavy. It was hard to keep track of the scordatura (different tuning) on both violin and cello. And I was trying to combine my love for Ukrainian folksong with my fascinating with string timbral effects. The final stages of the composing process also happened in Ukraine, right when the protests were starting up. The piece is now irreversibly tied to the momentous and tragic events, which have rocked the land of my birth in the last three months.

I am dedicating this premiere to Ukraine and its people’s ardent struggle for a better life and for freedom from corrupt governments both within and beyond its borders. Let these cycles of abuse finally break.