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.

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.

Soundstreams post-mortem

It’s been about a month since I returned from Toronto and I’m just waking up from my post-masters hibernation. I’ve done no composing since the Soundstreams workshop, and after deadening my brain with hundred-year-old dust and pain fumes at a heritage house reno over the last four weeks, I feel ready to jump back into creative activities.

I had a fantastic time at the Soundstreams Emerging Composers’ Workshop with the Gryphon Trio, and our mentors R. Murray Schafer and Juliet Palmer (see this entry and this one). As mentioned earlier, we were to bring sketches for a new piece for piano trio to be completed after the workshop. I am primarily working with combining fragments from a folksong I recorded in Ukraine with the more timbral ideas and extended techniques I started exploring in The Child, Bringer of Light.

There is a loose narrative in this piece inspired by a group of folksongs dealing with the subject of young women growing old prematurely from hard labour and abusive marriages. One of these songs explores a beautiful metaphor for this idea. A lonely young woman throws a flower into a river hoping that it will reach her people. When her mother finds it floating in a still pool, she wonders why it has wilted despite being in water, why her daughter has aged before her time. My piece will follow the progression of this flower on the river starting with the woman’s excited anticipation of a new marriage, going through the rapids of all the hardships she encounters, and ending in that dark and still pool.

Soundstreams: Piano Trio, Sketch 1

The rough beginning exploring the nervous excitement of a new marriage.

Soundstreams: Piano Trio, Sketch 2

The rough ending, the wilted flower arriving in the still pool. I am exploring ideas similar to the opening, but cast in a darker light.

Soundstreams: Piano Trio, Sketch 3

This material was meant to go in the middle section of the piece, but it became apparent that the overall feel of the sketch doesn’t really fit in the soundworld I am exploring in Sketch 1 and 2. I will probably extract certain gestures from this sketch and reshape them into something more consistent with the opening and closing of the piece. 

During the first two sessions I had with the trio, I started to suspect that the traditional notational system was not really doing a great job capturing the feel I was looking for in this piece. It was too confining. I figured out that the performers needed more room for spontaneous reactions to each other and time to engage all the timbral effects I was asking them to perform. The music needed room for stretching. After rewriting one of the sketches without measures and will less rhythmic precision, I was amazed at how the music magically locked into itself. Considering the freedom that my notation implied, it was remarkable how close the performers’ interpretation came to what I had imagined. I felt like I tapped into their natural tendencies and allowed them to simply play.

Thank you so much to the Gryphon Trio for being so amazing to work with and to the workshop organizers for creating this amazing opportunity.